Before I begin, I want to make it clear that UVA is walkable. There’s almost no chance that you’re going to want to get somewhere on Grounds and not be able to get there on your own two feet. Even students who live off-Grounds are able to hoof it in thirty minutes or less. The walkability is a huge advantage– driving to campus isn’t a thing here, and while buses can be convenient, in most cases they aren’t absolutely necessary.
But say you have a tight schedule. You have one class on one corner of Grounds and another on the opposite side and only ten minutes to get between them. Or perhaps you need to get somewhere quickly out of the blue. Maybe you just want to cruise around for a bit and glide down McCormick Road. In any case, the solution sits at a big blue beautiful rack near you.
UVA is one of few schools to have its own bikeshare program. Bikeshares are big in cities like D.C. and New York City where they allow people to easily and efficiently commute without congesting the streets or getting stuck in traffic. People can grab a bike from any hub, ride it to any other, and lock it up and forget about it. No maintenance, no worries of theft, just the fun and simplicity of a bike ride.
But how the heck does it work? Well, Prospective Student, as a certified UBike Ambassador™, I’d love to tell you all about it.
- Making an account
Ubike.virginia.edu is the only website you’ll need during your four years in college. Here, you can register in the UBike system and make your account. There are two main plans to choose from, either hourly or monthly.
For sporadic users, hourly makes the most sense. This is for people who might ride every once in a while or just want it in case they get into a pickle. You’ll only be charged when you’re actually riding the bike, and it’ll cost $3 / hour (it’s proportional though, so if you ride for 30 minutes it’ll charge you $1.50).
Otherwise, monthly is the best bet. This plan allows for an hour and a half of riding time per day. Considering that most rides between classes will take only a few minutes, this is a ton of time. But how much will this cost? I’m happy to say that UBike will only run you $5 / month.
2. Getting a bike
There are 21 hubs around Grounds. You can check out a bike from any one of them– between all hubs, we have about 120 bikes total.
To unlock a bike, you approach it and gently poke its number pad. From there, you type in your account number and, when prompted, your PIN. Done! Slide the lock into the handy lock holster and you’re good to go. (But you should know that all professional UBikers link their student ID to their account so that they can just press their card to the panel and skip the account number.)
UBike also has a handy app called SoBi, short for Social Bicycles, available for all mobile devices. This app allows you to look at the map of the system and see how many bikes are at each hub ahead of time. You can also use the app to reserve a bike for yourself. This way, you’ll never be blindsided by an empty rack.
3. Rolling around
Now’s the fun part. UBikes have three gears that you can adjust for going up or down hills. The left handle also doubles as a bell when you twist it in case you need to get someone’s attention or just want to celebrate the fact that you’re on a bike.
Once you start riding, you might not want to stay on Grounds. Never fear. You’re free to ride anywhere you like as long as you eventually return the bike to a hub within an appropriate time frame. And if you want to ride somewhere and hang out there a while, UBike’s got your back even then. At any point, you can dismount and put the bike on hold for up to two hours every day. You can do this anywhere, and during the period no one will be able to take that bike but you. In practice, this means that if you and your friends want to go grab dinner or see a movie on the downtown mall, you can hop on UBikes, make the ~10 minute ride, put the bikes on hold on the mall, and then come back after you’re done. Dinner, movie, UBike. Now that’s what I call a dream date.
Now that you have this extensive UBike knowledge, maybe one day you’ll end up like me, idling down the road, straw hat askance, taking the road less travelled and taking it easy, aiming for the horizon and maybe even daring to dream you’ll make it there. I’ve been riding for years, four years of peddling without a single glance back. It’s a simple life. Sometimes it makes you wonder. Yet I’ve never wavered from my wanders. Each dawn, as I dust off my saddle in the red morning glow, I wouldn’t wish to be anywhere else than the bike lane of the open road. And I wouldn’t trade my companion for anything. It’s me and this UBike until our tires go flat. And if I see you along the way, I’ll tip my hat.