Last week I found myself in Tel Aviv. After dragging two small children to the Middle East to visit relatives, and enduring five days of anxiety about Syrian bombardment, I was in need of some serious relaxation. So I decided to go out for a bike ride, using Tel-o-Fun, their native bike-share program.
Their system is similar to ours, but was built by a different company (FSM, in collaboration with Deutsche Bahn, with bikes by Panther.) Stations were plentiful, covering most of the central city. The check-out process was a bit more complex, owing mainly to some language glitches, and the fact that I was renting on single day passes, but in general it took about five minutes from arrival to departure on the bike.
Tel-o-Fun bikeshare dock (Jake Dobkin)
Pricing was reasonable: $5 for the daily rental (vs. $10 Citibike charges in NYC), which included 30 minute rides. However, Tel-o-Bike does not allow you to chain rides together by checking in and out of stations, as we do in NYC— if trips are less than 10 minutes apart, they count as a single ride, so you're more likely to incur trip charges. But the trip charges are cheaper than ours ($25 in Tel Aviv, vs. $37 for a 2.5 hour ride in NYC, which was about the length of the three trips I took over the time I was there.) I could, of course, have avoided these charges by just checking the bike back in, stopping for coffee at one of the many Tel Aviv cafes, and checking back out, but I was pressed for time, having only been given a temporary furlough from parenting by my wife.
Note docking cables on left. (Jake Dobkin)
The Panther bikes were heavier than our Citibikes, which is saying something— if Citibikes feel like driving a humvee, then the Panther feels like driving a German tank. If you need to lift it over a curb, or up some stairs, you're in for pain. Other differences were mainly cosmetic: smaller wheels and a basket at the back of the bike instead of the front. The gearing was a three-speed internal hub (same as in NYC), and felt similarly responsive to the one we have on Citibike.
In general the bikes were much more beat up and rattly than ours—whether this is because they have been used for a few years already, or because of the climate, I do not know. However, all three times I checked out bikes, I had to pick new ones, because my initial selection was "unavailable" after it failed a "health check" prior to the ride. And on one ride, the bike I did succeed in undocking had a faulty chain that slipped, and I had to redock.
The main difference on the bike (and this is actually huge) is the docking elements. Tel-o-bike uses a cable, which extends from the dock. To check in, you push this through a hole in the back of the bike, and extend the kickstand to park. To check out, once the bike is released from the dock, you pull the cable out (sometimes it gets caught in the spokes, and you have to jiggle, but this is no more annoying than the tug-tug thing we have to do in NYC.)
The bike itself also includes a cable—and this is the mindblowing part—which can be threaded around a pole, and inserted in the same hole as the docking cable, to form a temporary lock. I cannot overstate how useful having a lock is when you need to run into a shop to buy some water to avoid passing out in the Tel Aviv heat (which is constant and overpowering). To unlock, you use a small keypad on the locking element to type in a code provided on a receipt the machine gives you when you check the bike out. It sounds complicated, but it's actually quite easy and worked like a charm every time I tried it.
The Tel-o-Fun system was well-balanced: I experienced no dockblocking or bluebiking during my stay (Wiki Commons)
Beyond the Tel-o-Bike system itself, I found biking in Tel Aviv to be very different than my experience in New York. Israeli cyclists don't follow any rules, and bike wherever they want: in the street, on sidewalks, salmoning up narrow alleys, weaving in and out of groups of tourists along the beachfront, and possibly through supermarket aisles and office corridors. This is probably more of a reflection of Israeli character than a codified system of biking laws, but I found it very liberating.
With our much more litigious society, we probably can't follow their lead, but I'll always be jealous of the intoxicating freedom of riding a Tel-o-Bike, sans helmet (which nobody, and I mean nobody, seems to wear,) through the winding alleys of Jaffa at Sunset, dodging the cabs darting suddenly out of alleys, and the old ladies who were quite prepared to body-block you right into a wall.
I'd give the experience four stars, and recommend you try it if you're ever in town.