A few months ago I began to notice unchained yellow bikes around the city of São Paulo. I was curious to find out more about them, and as good fortune would have it, one was left parked right outside my house. So, I went over to inspect it. “YELLOW” was written in big black letters on the frame and there was a small box-shaped locking mechanism on the back.
This was Yellow, a new bike ride-sharing company from Brazilian developers Ariel Lambrecht, Renato Freitas (founders of 99 Taxi) and Eduardo Musa (former Caloi CEO). They have recently added scooters for their users too.
To use the bike I had to download the free “Yellow App” from PlayStore (also available for Apple devices), which is what I did. Once you have that Yellow App installed, you simply open it and your phone’s GPS will find the nearest bike.
The app is very streamlined and easy to navigate. The basic scheme is this: riders are charged One Real for every fifteen minutes on the bike. One can either deposit money directly into the app via their credit card or at partner outlets.
Unfortunately, that particular bike outside my house was scheduled for maintenance but a few weeks later I was able to catch one on Avenida Paulista, São Paulo’s main strip.
My first impression of the bike was how heavy it was. This is because it is made from steel, which has less resale value and therefore deters theft.
Despite the weight, the bike was surprisingly easy to handle and rode smoothly. The breaks were also exceptionally good. This was most notable on downhills, where the heavy bike can pick up speed very fast. I was glad I could slow my roll with just the slightest touch of the handbrake.
The negative side is that Yellow bikes have no gears. For being heavy, they are borderline torturous on uphills – get ready to feel the ultimate burn. While I have improved my resistance on hills, I can still only do a few hundred meters before I have to get off the bike and walk it the rest of the way.
Despite the uphill struggle, I did put the bike to an initial test of endurance by biking home from Paulista. I live about 10 km from there and aside from a few hills close to my house, the trip was without incident.
Unfortunately, once I got home, I discovered that Yellow had a day and time limitation on it out in the suburbs of the city (Mon – Fri from 5 am to 10 am). Although this was understandable from an economic viewpoint (there are fewer riders where I live) it did put a damper on my plans for riding around on the weekends. Later, this partial restriction was turned into a full restriction on parking the bike outside designated areas. The fine for parking outside these regions is 30 Reais. The company has also started offering ride credit for people that take bikes from restricted areas back into designated riding areas.
With no bikes around my neighborhood, I usually only ride I have any English classes to teach on Saturday mornings. I go from the school to the metro closest to my house and take the bus the rest of the way. It´s about an 8 km journey that follows a bike path, so it´s safe and I can get a good workout in. Other times I use the bike path that starts in Pinheiros and ride to Ibirapuera Park. This is about 6 km which and is also safe and relaxing.
Something to keep in mind, as it has happened to me on a few occasions, is to make sure to end the trip on the Yellow App even if you have locked the bike back up. I have seen the Yellow App continue a trip long after I had parked the bike. Once, I got charged for a trip that had lasted two or three straight days. Fortunately, I complained via the Yellow App and had my money refunded. It´s a slight annoying glitch, that can bite you if are not paying attention.
Although I can´t bike as often as I would have liked around my neighborhood, I still think Yellow is a great user-friendly company. Plus, São Paulo is big enough that even with the limited operating area, the reach for the service is pretty wide. The company has also reassured its users that it plans to roll out more bikes and expand its operating area as soon as they can.
Yellow also serves as a sustainable initiative for a city that is extremely polluted. It´s great to see more people opting to bike for 1 to 2 km instead of jumping in a vehicle.
Last, São Paulo is a city that always feels as if it is trying to prove its “world class” status. There were certainly naysayers who believed Brazilians didn´t have the social awareness or zeal to care for shared bikes, but I have seen the exact opposite. The bikes are mostly well cared for and parked appropriately.
So, if you want to burn some calories, spend a little less cash, or even be a bit more eco-conscious, I highly recommend picking up a Yellow bike and going for a ride.
Follow me at The Bridge Point.
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