The Bikes of Silicon Valley
Finally… the post I’ve been promising for a while… the one about company bikes in Silicon Valley. Surprisingly, there’s not a lot of information out there about the specifics of campus bike sharing programs. I had to talk to a lot of people and wander a lot of campuses to merely scratch the surface of what I consider a fantastic “perk” that many SV companies offer.
The first time I encountered “campus” bikes was in Los Angeles at Warner Bros Studios in 2010. The Ellen Degeneres show had colourful bikes parked outside their studio that they used to get from one location to the next. They were large cruisers with traditional wicker baskets; the only thing missing was a bouquet of flowers or a puppy in the basket.
What a great idea, I thought to myself. Sharing bikes seemed like a novel concept. But the WB bikes weren’t for sharing; you needed a key to take a bike because their use was reserved for a small number of people (including Ellen).
The concept of bike sharing has been more widely adopted in Silicon Valley where time and distance can impact productivity. And, campuses like Apple and Google have their buildings scattered over a 5-mile radius (with limited parking), which makes it practical for people to grab a bike and go… rather than drive and try to park.
Below are a list of some companies who have campus bike programs and a bit about each company’s unique pedal program.
The Gbikes (a.k.a. Google clown bikes) are *quite possibly* the most photographed bikes in Silicon Valley. They are not locked up and are used frequently used by employees, guests, and even tourists to get from one part of the campus to another. I often wonder why at lunch time the streets aren’t shut down, because there are so many bikes in motion that it almost begs for a car vs. cyclist incident.
Having bikes unlocked does cause problems for Google. They lose about 40% to theft every year. And, when there are concerts at Shoreline Amphitheater the bikes are rounded up and locked away to keep them from disappearing with drunk concert attendees.
But theft still happens and inevitably bikes end up around the Bay area and even for sale on Craigslist (the unique design was developed by Google engineers, so don’t expect to get away with selling a stolen Gbike online). I once saw a group of teenagers heading into the mountains on Gbikes. I can’t even fathom how difficult that would be on a onesie (one geared bike).
My favourite Gbike is the conference bike. These can seat up to 7 people at a time and looks like a giant crab scuttling sideways down the street when in action. The original “pre-clown” Google bikes were blue cruisers (you can see one in the intro photo at the top of the page).
In the almost two years I’ve been in Silicon Valley, I’ve seen the LinkedIn bikes change colours three times. My favourite is the pink version of their Electra bike (above).
Recently, I’ve also started to see “RideIn” bikes around their buildings. I don’t know for sure but suspect that these are different from the bike-share-bikes and are leased to individuals for use in commuting. This is a new trend that is emerging in SV and many companies offer a leasing program for employees and interns who want to bike commute.
The Intuit bike program is one that was directly inspired by Google. It launched in 2012 and started with model of bike shown above; they later added larger Electra type cruisers to their fleet. The Intuit campus is much smaller than others in Silicon Valley and distances between buildings shorter… unless someone decides they want to bike the 17km between Intuit’s Menlo Park and Mountain View offices.
Instead, the goal of the employee bike program here is to get people out and away from their desk. The thought is that a bit fresh air and a healthy break make happier and more productive people.
It’s rare to see Mozilla bikes in Silicon Valley, but these bright orange bikes do appear in San Francisco. They come in two flavours: a full sized, seven speed Citizen commuter and a smaller Brompton style folding bike for people who take the Caltrain.
Mozilla lends their bikes to employees using a check-in / check-out system. Their goal is to try and solve the “last mile” problem that the Bay Area has: the Caltrain and commuter buses only take people predefined locations and it’s up to individuals to find a way to get to their final destination. Bikes make the last mile much more tolerable.
Facebook bikes are elusive… mostly because they stay within their inner courtyard and don’t venture out into the community. In the early days, the company used to have branded Facebook blue bikes with a hideous “FACEBOOK” banner across the “boy bar” of the frame. I can’t imagine how comfortable that was for people who were not avid riders and who fell onto it while trying to get on or off.
Facebook has since evolved their campus bike fleet and now have cruiser style bikes labeled by size (most companies have one size fits all). They’re neutral and unbranded, which *I suspect* helps prevent theft. The company also has a second loaner bike program to encourage employees to bike to work. This is part of a larger company initiative to get 50% of their employees to use alternate and green ways to commute.
Finally, Google isn’t the only company to have “fun” bikes like the conference bike. Facebook also has pulled rickshaws. In this case, I wonder who does the pulling… and to where!
There was a phase a few years ago where SV companies went nuts for unique and creative ways to use bikes. Yahoo had it’s Purple Pedals program, Facebook had the blue banner bike, and Google has the conference bikes. All screamed “look at me.”
Apple doesn’t fall into this category. Their bikes have always been simple, silver, and nondescript. They don’t have baskets but do have panniers for carrying your laptop and stuff.
I’ve seen a couple of varieties of bikes around Apple. The first is above. The other is a simple Linus bike with a wicker basket; there aren’t as many of these but there are enough to indicate they are stock bikes and not owned by individuals. But, I’m not sure if these are Apple bikes or if they belong to another company (or subsection of Apple) who visit the campus frequently.
I would endeavour to say that Apple’s bikes program saves them from immoveable gridlocked traffic. Scores of people exit the campus on bikes at the end of the day and everyone else is left to slowly inch their way out of the Infinite Loop. The main Apple campus is at the end of what it can handle in terms of traffic… more so than what I’ve seen at Google and Facebook.