Ford GoBike: First Impressions

Posted by Jen Tong on June 28, 2017

Ford GoBike launched in San Francisco this morning. It’s operated by the same company as Bay Area Bike Share, Motivate. The relaunch includes new bikes, new mobile apps, and a new title sponsor.

I’m a long time fan of bike share programs. I’ve ridden bikes on more than 10 different systems across the world. I was also a heavy user of Bay Area Bike Share, until I had an unfortunate incident involving a bike that failed to dock completely (read the postmortem here).

Here’s a run down on my observations from my first day riding on a Ford GoBike.

The Good

Ford GoBike is a big improvement over Bay Area Bike Share. Here are my favorite improvements.

Faster bikes

The new bikes are geared a bit differently, have narrower tires, and seem quite a bit lighter. This makes them faster. My unscientific gut feeling analysis indicates that I am able to ride 20% to 30% faster on the new bikes.

They’re not road-bike fast, but they’re fast enough that I need to watch out for the doors of careless drivers. The old bikes were so slow that I was able to break to a stop on every dooring-close-call.

No more sticky bike handles

The new bikes have handles made from a harder plastic. Hopefully this will resolve the most disgusting issue with the old bikes: their spongy, sticky handles would often leave your hands covered in mystery slime.

Clipper card check outs

Another annoying part of Bay Area Bike Share was the odd shaped key card required to check out a bike. It wasn’t flat enough to fit in your wallet, and it wasn’t small enough to fit well on your keychain.

With Ford GoBike, you can tap your clipper card to check out a bike. Here are the steps:

  1. Add your clipper card number to your profile on fordgobike.com
  2. Tap on the clipper card reader on the right side of the bike you’d like to borrow

Mobile app check outs

In addition to clipper card checkouts, you can also borrow a bike with the mobile app. Here are the steps:

  1. Log into the app on your mobile device
  2. Tap on the in-app icon for the dock you’d like to borrow a bike from
  3. Punch the number displayed on the app into the 3 digit keypad next to the bike you’d like to borrow

Check in notifications

The previous generation docks showed only one indicator of a successful check in: a brief green light. As I found out the hard way, this was insufficient.

The new docks bear the same LEDs, but they’re backed up by check in notifications. These are awesome. Be sure to check for them after each ride to make sure your bike was safely docked, and to ensure that you’re no longer liable for the $1200 bike loss fee.

The Bad

As great as my ride was this morning, not everything about Ford GoBike is perfect. Here are some things I’d like to see improved.

Auto-renewal settings were changed

On the previous system I did not have auto-renew enabled, but when I logged in to Ford GoBike today I discovered that I was opted in to auto-renewal. It seems like they defaulted imported accounts into automatic renewal.

If I hadn’t accidentally clicked the auto-renew settings link while looking for something else, I would never have noticed it. I would have received a surprise-charge to my credit card in early 2018.

I encourage you to log into your profile, go to Membership Settings, and ensure that auto-renewal is set up correctly.

Only 35 stations

I installed the app a couple weeks ago, way ahead of time. I was greeted by over a hundred grey dots that represent the full planned network for SF and Oakland. I was delighted by the increased coverage.

Then launch day rolled around, and there was a bit of a bait and switch. I fired up the app and saw that only 35 of the stations were active. This is fewer than Bay Area Bike Share. In fact, the two stations closest to my workplace were inactive.

Riding around I saw that some of the inactive stations are already mostly set up, so I’m optimistic that the rollout will continue at a steady pace, including the increased coverage down into the mission district.

Rider liability is still very high

Despite paying an annual fee, the membership terms state that you are liable for $1200 from the time you check out a bike, until it is safely re-docked. That’s the cost of a pretty fancy road bike.

This is especially concerning because a lost clipper card, a stolen phone, or a hacked fordgobike.com account can all be used to check out a bike on your account.

For example, you get mugged. Your wallet is stolen with your Clipper card inside it. You’re scrambling to deal with the trauma of the mugging, and the loss of all of the credit cards and identity documents in your wallet. Before you know it, the mugger uses your clipper card to go on a Ford GoBike joy ride. When they’re done with their ride, they ditch the bike in the bay. Then a few days later Motivate charges $1200 to your credit card. Sad face.

Account password rules

Accounts on fordgobike.com have stupid password rules requiring the use of numbers, mixed case, and special characters. Rules like these are an outdated custom that hurts security. To make matters worse, there’s a maximum password length of 15 characters! Why on earth would a modern website have a maximum password length? I will be unable to use correct horse battery staple as my password :(

Account email cannot be changed

If the password issues weren’t alarming enough, here’s where it gets wacky. You can change your account email, but changing it does NOT change your account’s login. That is apparently stuck as whatever you used to sign up. This is alarmingly puzzling.

Pricing increase

The price of an annual membership for Ford GoBike has gone up by over 40%, from $88 per year to $124. This is a pretty jarring increase. But, the system will be much larger and the trip duration was raised from 30 to 45 minutes, so it’s still an OK deal.

The neutral

Some changes are neither good, nor bad, but still notable.

Bike seat height difference

The seat post height numbers are a little different on the new bikes. I used to ride with my seat height set to about 5. On the new bikes, this seems to map to a 4 1/2.

The Conclusion

All in all, I’m pretty happy with Ford GoBike. Some issues remain, but they addressed most of the concerns I voiced about Bay Area Bike Share, and the planned coverage area is much bigger. I hope the new bikes hold up better than the previous batch :)