Adelaide free city bike hire
(This article is several years old and likely out-of-date. Enjoy it if you like, but be aware that the rewrite it deserves is awaiting a long-overdue return trip to this fine city.)
Adelaide is an Australian city about 1150 kilometres west of Sydney and 650 kilometres northwest of Melbourne. It is the capital of the State of South Australia (yes, Australian state names can be that unimaginative) and home to around a million people. The inner city is compact and square, with the streets arranged in a grid pattern. The perimeter of that square comprises beautiful parkland from which one is never far from the sights and sounds of the bustle within.
On a short stay in May 2014 I discovered Adelaide's free bicycle hire scheme. This great service allows visitors and locals to explore at a leisurely pace. The terrain is flat, the streets are wide and the bikes are available at a range of handy locations. It sounds perfect, and it should be, but…
On-road cycling in inner city Adelaide is unsafe for casual cyclists. This is because the main on-road cycle facilities are mostly limited to the type that places cyclists in the 'door zone', the narrow space between the moving and parked motor vehicles (i.e. the space frequently and suddenly occupied by car doors). This is despite the streets being very wide, and it suggests to me that the battle between the pro- and anti-cycling factions amongst the city councillors has a long way to go. The good guys are trying their best to introduce proper cycling facilities, but for now most roads are largely out of bounds for all but the confident, experienced cyclist. This deficiency is exacerbated by an aggressive minority of motorists who resent the presence of cyclists and pedestrians in their 'their' space.
However, all is not lost, and exploring the city by bike remains an option. This is because shared paths meander through the aforementioned verdant city fringe, and from there almost anywhere in the city proper is within walking range. Ride around to the closest point to where you'd like to go and walk the bike in (or leave it locked up). Alternatively, you can still ride safely within the city by sticking to the small back streets and wider footpaths and walking when necessary. The parklands themselves are a beautiful, refreshing environment in which to cycle, with direct access to the botanic gardens, Adelaide Zoo and the River Torrens.
Another highlight was riding to the seaside suburb of Glenelg (which could be the only Australian palindromic place name), about 11 km to the south-west of the city centre. The ride along the off-road route, which follows a tramline, is mostly flat and pleasant. However, one cannot take a bike on the tram for the return trip, so be prepared to ride both ways.
Bike hire is free of charge and available all day, every day, and there are various bike depots around the city. All you need do is provide an ID, fill out a form and you're on your way. The bikes themselves are of the loop-frame type with an upright riding position. They're heavy, comfortable and slow, but they're easy to use and well suited to their intended purpose. They are fitted with a three speed hub, with coaster brake (and a rim brake on the front), and they have a handy basket for your bag and shopping. A lock and helmet come with the bike. Adelaide will be even nicer than it is when it has a network of cycleways, but for now I still recommend a visit.