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A Guide To BCycle Bike Share For Tourists

This A Guide To BCycle Bike Share For Tourists post is not sponsored.

The BCycle bike share program is a great way to see a city. But, it's a little confusing for tourists. Learn what you need to know, as a tourist, here.

When we were researching our trip to Texas, I wanted to know how to get around to see the five missions in San Antonio. Obviously, there are taxis and ride share apps available, but those costs add up. And we could have walked, but it’s 10 miles from end to end … and that wouldn’t end us near our hotel.

So I did what anyone would do. I googled.

The Internet told me there’s a bike share in San Antonio. Cool. So Pete and I decided that would be our plan.

San Antonio Bike Share is part of BCycle, a bike share program in multiple cities across the United States.

If you’re a local, a bike share program is so easy. And we actually got the hang of it pretty quickly too. But if you’re a tourist, it just feels complicated and filled with rules. And unnecessarily intimidating.

So I put together this guide to BCycle bike share for tourists. If you’re planning on using the BCycle bike share program, this should answer all your questions and help you feel really comfortable about your rental.

A Guide To BCycle Bike Share For Tourists

The BCycle bike share program is a great way to see a city. But, it's a little confusing for tourists. Learn what you need to know, as a tourist, here.

What is BCycle Bike Share?

BCycle is a bike sharing program with locations nationwide. There is a corporate headquarters in Waterloo, WI, but each city’s BCycle program runs independently. 

How much is a pass?

Tourists can purchase a one-trip pass for a 30 minute ride or a 24-hour day pass. There are also options of monthly and annual passes, but those are definitely more beneficial to residents.

The fee varies per city, but in San Antonio, as of November 2020, one-trip rides are $3 for 30 minutes (down from $3.25) and a 24-hour day pass is $9.75 (down from $12).

If you head to the BCycle map online, then choose your city, you’ll be able to see rates for each individual city.

Does everyone need a pass?

Any riders will need a pass. So if two of you are riding, you will need to purchase two passes. You can purchase multiple passes per credit card, however, you can only purchase one pass at a time.

So. After buying your pass, you just go through the entire process again and buy a second pass.

You’re only able to buy four 24-hour passes per credit card.

How do you pay?

You need a credit card in order to pay for a BCycle pass. No cash is accepted because rentals are handled at electronic terminals. There’s no clerk at any of the stations.

You can either pay by sliding your credit card into any of the BCycle Bike Share stations or you can download the BCycle app and pay that way.

When I tried to use the BCycle app, I only had the option of paying for a one-trip pass, so I personally had to pay at the terminal.

The BCycle bike share program is a great way to see a city. But, it's a little confusing for tourists. Learn what you need to know, as a tourist, here.

How do you take out a bike?

Taking out a bike is the most confusing part for us, as tourists, so I really want to walk through it.

First, you touch the screen at the BCycle station. The screen may be dark when you pull up to the station, but touch it. It’ll turn on. There is a delay between when you touch and when the screen actually turns on, so give it a second (or 15).

You can choose “languages” at the bottom left if you want to change off of English. If English works, choose “start” on the right side.

You’ll then be prompted to buy a pass. Assuming you already have one, choose the middle option which is “I already have a pass.”

You’ll then be prompted to put in your phone number. Type that in. You’ll then be texted a code that you’ll need to enter on the screen. Once you’ve typed the code in, you’ll see circled numbers. Each one represents a dock. There will be plain numbers, which represent petal bikes, numbers with lightning bolts, which represent electronic bikes, and spots with a no sign on them, meaning those are empty docks.

Touch the dock with the bike you want to take out. There will be a beep and that bike will unlock. You’ll have 30 seconds to pull the bike from its dock. If you don’t, the bike will lock back and you’ll have to go through the process again.

Once you go through the process, just start it again if you have a second person with you.

How do you return the bike?

Returning the bike is so easy. When you’re at a station with an open dock, simply slide the bike into the dock. It will lock in place and won’t be able to be pulled out.

Once the bike locks, you’ll hear three beeps and see a green light.

You’ll also get a text message thanking you for returning the bike. If for some reason you don’t get the text, just push the bike in to make sure it locks into place.

The BCycle bike share program is a great way to see a city. But, it's a little confusing for tourists. Learn what you need to know, as a tourist, here.

Can you return your bike to any station?

The short answer here is yes, you can return your bike to any station. But, that’s not 100% true. You can return your bike to any station as long as there are open docks. If there are no open docks available, you can’t just lock up your bike and leave it there. You need to return it into an open dock.

Can you ride for 24 hours straight?

So a 24-hour day pass doesn’t mean that you can take out a bike and keep it out for 24 hours. It sounds like that, but it doesn’t work like that.

You have to dock the bike at least once per hour to avoid additional fees.

Remember, BCycle is a public transportation system. It’s a bike share, not a bike rental. So you do have to return the bike every hour to give someone else a chance to use it. If you don’t want to adhere to that, I would suggest looking for a bike rental company in the city you’re visiting.

So, what you should do is bike to your destination (a brewery, a landmark, a park, etc.) then dock your bike. Take your hike, drink your beer, eat your lunch, whatever. When you’re ready to leave, take a new bike.

That way, you don’t have to worry about someone stealing your bike if you park it in front of a restaurant or brewery (and you would be responsible for replacing the bike if it is stolen). And, you won’t have to rush your activity, worried about docking your bike within the 60-minute time limit.

Can you reuse the same bike you docked?

This is a yes and no answer.

You have to dock the bike at least once an hour. Then, the bike has to sit in the dock for a certain amount of time before you can check it out again. And I mean the actual you, not the royal you.

So let’s say I took a bike and docked it in spot one at Hotel Havana in San Antonio. Another guest could immediately walk out of the hotel and rent the bike docked in spot one. But I can’t immediately rent it back out of spot one.

If I docked that bike in spot one, went inside the hotel and had lunch at Ocho (the hotel’s restaurant) and then came out and the bike in spot one was still there, I could check it back out.

What if you go over your time?

There is an additional fee if you don’t return your bike within 30 minutes (if it’s a single trip rental) or within 60 minutes (if you have a daily pass).

The BCycle bike share program is a great way to see a city. But, it's a little confusing for tourists. Learn what you need to know, as a tourist, here.

How do you find stations?

The BCycle app is amazing. If you turn on your location settings in the app, the map will load exactly where you are. You’ll be able to see stations via the app, how many bikes are available at that station, and how many docks are available.

You’ll also be able to see grayed out stations, meaning they’re offline. There are some stations that may be under construction or currently out of service, so you won’t be able to rent bikes from those stations or return bikes to those stations.

Do you need the BCycle app?

You don’t need the app, but I’m really going to suggest you get it. When we were first planning to ride bikes, I looked at the BCycle website for San Antonio. I saw that there was a station at the art school down the block from our hotel. Cool.

We walked there … only to find out that station was under construction and not currently active. So we had to walk to another station. Luckily, I remembered seeing a bike station at a hotel close to ours, so we walked there. Had I looked at the app, it would have told us that station was down and we wouldn’t have wasted our time.

What if there are no open docks?

If you get to a station with no open docks, you can’t park your bike there. So, if you’re coming up on your one hour time limit, you’ll need to look at the app and find the next closest bike station.

If there are two of you and only one open dock, we came up with a solution (because this had happened to us). One of you can park a bike at the open dock. Then, that same person can take out another bike. Then, the second person can dock their bike at that brand new open dock. And finally, the second person can take out a new bike.

What if there are no bikes at a bike station?

Since you’re not able to take out a bike you just returned, if there are no bikes available at a bike station, you’ll want to ride to the next station. If you dock your bike there, you won’t be able to check it back out.

Can you take out electric bikes?

Many BCycle stations have electric bikes (e-bikes) now. It looks like every bike in Charlotte is electric. San Antonio had a mix between electric bikes and petal bikes.

In Houston, there are different prices for e-bikes and petal bikes. In San Antonio, there is not a premium fee for e-bikes. So be sure to keep that in mind when you’re purchasing your pass.

If you do decide to rent an electric bike, make sure it is charged before taking it from the station. E-bikes can ride about 30 miles on a charge. That depends on the terrain, speed, and various other factors.

E-bikes can get up to 15 mph with petal assist, so that’s a great way to cruise around town.

If you’re looking at the BCycle app, e-bikes will be indicated by a lightning bolt. You’ll also see this on the BCycle station screens when you’re trying to take out a bike.

Can you ride at night?

BCycle bikes have autogenerated headlights and taillights, so you can ride at night. We actually did take a ride after nightfall and we were able to see really well between the headlights and streetlights.

Can you return after hours?

BCycle stations, in San Antonio at least, are open from 6am to 11pm. You can return a bike outside of this timeframe, but you’re not able to take out a new bike outside of this window.

Is there a basket?

Each bicycle has a basket on the front of it. What I really appreciated is the basket isn’t a traditional basket that you think of when you think of a bike basket. This one takes a bit of effort to open, so you don’t have to worry about riding and your belongings falling out of the basket.

Can you use your pass in other cities?

Some, but not all, of the BCycle cities have reciprocal programs. So if you have a monthly pass for San Antonio, you’re able to use it in Austin. But not all programs are reciprocal, so if you’re traveling to multiple cities, be sure to double check that before you buy your pass.

What if you need help?

If you need any help with the BCycle bike share system, you can call the phone number on the bikes or stations for the city you’re in. To my surprise, when we needed help, someone actually answered.

A woman on a bike with the words "10 Bike Safety Tips" digitally written below her.

Remember Bike Safety

It may have been a while since you rode a bike. So, while you are using the BCycle Bike Share program, be sure to keep these 10 Bike Safety Tips in mind.

The Alamo in San Antonio, Texas.

Planning a trip to San Antonio?

If you’re planning on using BCycle Bike Share in San Antonio, definitely check out our list of 10+ Outdoor Things To Do In San Antonio, Texas. One of the outdoor suggestion is using BCycle Bike Share to tour the city.

Did this A Guide To BCycle Bike Share For Tourists help you decide if you want to rent bikes or not?


Sunday 22nd of May 2022

This is a great and comprehensive article. I am a customer service rep. for a few bcycle systems and wish that ALL riders would see this before purchasing a pass. I just have one partial correction. I'm not sure about San Antonio bcycle because that city is not one for which I provide service, but the systems that I DO operate do not require you to leave the bike docked for a while before checking it out again. Once the bike is registering as returned, you can take the same bike right back out. You just have to assure that it registers by pushing the bike hard enough into the dock to hear three beeps and receive a text (PLEASE opt in for text messaging!) stating that the bike is returned. Once you receive that-in a matter of seconds- that same bike is available for you to release it again. Also, some of the systems require that you return the bikes within 30 minutes. As the well informed author of this blog stated, check the system requirements by visiting the websites before hand! That's all, folks!

Tom Smalltownplussize

Thursday 21st of October 2021

I haven’t thought about a bike share before but now I’m sold. Great idea and we’ll keep an eye out wherever we are.