TAMPA — Sure, riding a bike is fun, but Tampa's new Coast Bike Share rental program aims to create something more ambitious.
"A new type of urban transportation," said Ryan Rzepecki, founder and CEO of bike manufacturer Social Bicycles, "rather than something that's just purely recreational or something you may have done as a child."
Coast, a partnership between New York-based Social Bicycles and CycleHop of Miami Beach, did a soft launch Monday for its founding members. It's a service aimed at commuters, tourists and those who want more than a windshield tour of Tampa's neighborhoods.
"It's all about the serendipitous trip," Coast director Eric Trull said.
To start, Coast has put about 50 of its 300 bikes at several hubs in downtown and in Ybor City. They're generally near the apartments where many of its founding members live.
The sky-blue bikes come with three speeds, a grease-free drive shaft instead of a chain, Kevlar tires, GPS tracking, a basket on the handlebars and seats that adjust for riders from 4 feet 8 up to 6 feet 7.
Starting next month, Coast's entire fleet will be stationed at 30 hubs around downtown, Ybor City, Hyde Park, Davis Islands and along Bayshore Boulevard.
City officials expect the program to change Tampa's transportation culture — and reputation as one of the nation's deadliest metro areas for cyclists and pedestrians.
"We want this city to be bike-friendly and … we want everyone to know that they need to share the road," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. "These blue bikes will go a long way, because people will see more of these bikes on the road as they connect Ybor City to downtown to Hyde Park."
Coast starts with just over 100 founding members, and Trull said he hopes to add 150 more by the general launch on Dec. 7 at Water Works Park.
The founding memberships are being sold through coastbikeshare.com, cost $99 and come with a helmet and extra time on the bikes — 90 minutes a day instead of the standard 60 minutes, and 54 weeks instead of 52.
Trull said the bikes use a different technology than other cities' programs.
With Citi Bike in New York City, he said, the electronics to check out a bike are at a smart kiosk. Instead, Coast has put that technology on the bikes.
Trull said it should make for a more flexible, user-friendly program. Riders will use a mobile app — app.socialbicycles.com — and a credit card to reserve and find a bike.
Waiting for the bike-mounted electronics was one reason Coast had a few delays before getting to Monday, Trull said. Another was that it made no sense to launch in the heat of summer.
Coast's standard memberships go on sale Dec. 7. They come with 60 minutes of riding time and will cost $5 per day, $30 per month or $79 per year. To help sell daily memberships, Coast is working to put its information in the hands of cruise-ship passengers before they dock in Tampa.
Once members have reserved a bike with the mobile app, they'll pick it up by entering a four-digit code on the bike's built-in keypad to unlock it and begin riding.
The app monitors a rider's time pedaling, expected to be about 14 minutes per trip, as well as mileage, carbon offsets and gas savings.
When riders stop, they can press a hold button to pause their session and use the lock that comes with the bike. Later, they can unlock the bike with their code and resume riding.
Riders who exceed the daily allotment of riding time will pay $2.50 for each additional half-hour, up to $25.
"People are excited about this," Buckhorn said. "I have probably been asked more times about when the bike-sharing is starting than almost anything we have done over the last couple of years."