The big rollout: Bike sharing will fill city with sturdy cycles

At Indego’s headquarters in Kensington, bike tech Jake Siemiarowski assembles one of the bicycles. “Our bikes are "purpose built" for city sharing and outdoor storage,” he says. (JEFF FUSCO/For the Inquirer)

She answers to Indego, and yeah, she's a toughie, laughing in the face of rain, snow, sleet, and hail. And yet, she a pushover, too - ready to take you on a cushy joyride for a bargain of $4.

All this applies to Philadelphia's new streetwise street cruiser, a cyan-blue bike you're going to be seeing a lot of around town.

Named (and colored) for corporate benefactor Independence Blue Cross, Indego is finally bringing the worldwide phenomenon of organized bike sharing to Philadelphia.

Launch day for the service is Thursday. Yet Gizmo Guy has already had a fast course in the bike's unique tech and taken a pleasurable test ride at Indego's Kensington base.

In the garage, a team of six bike techs were marrying frames to wheels and gears and bolting on lots of specialty parts, with the goal of having 600 perfectly tuned examples waiting this week at Indego bike docking/rental stations.

In the front office, workers were prepping a computerized operations center soon to be stocked with live attendants - responding to customer questions and (when needed) sending a field team to the rescue - seven days a week, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

On launch day Thursday, about 60 stations (viewable at will be filled with bikes in the initial Indego district - spanning from Berks Street to the north down to Tasker in the south, going as far east as Delaware Avenue and west to 45th Street, explained Peter Hoban of Bicycle Transit Systems, the bike-share managers running the Philadelphia system under contract with the city.

"But how many bikes should actually be in each location? That's something we'll have to track and balance as we go along," he said.

Each bike has a unique radio-frequency-emitting ID tag (RFID) attached to the front wheel, Hoban explained. "When you take a bike out of the solar-panel-powered rack, using either a special unlocking key fob" (which also has RFID) "or a credit card, that particular bike is then automatically associated to your account. Later, when you relock it at a dock, we get a message where and when you checked it in."

A custom fob is issued to an Indego user when signing up for a monthly ($15) Indego30 or a yearly ($10) IndegoFlex membership - paid for either with credit card or cash (and ID backup) at a 7-Eleven or Family Dollar store; 750 early adopters have already received theirs.

Indego30 is a great deal for bike commuters, offering the bearer unlimited rides of one hour or less at no additional cost.

Flex, for less frequent users, lets you take a ride for $4 per hour.

Just looking to play the accidental tourist or maybe ride to a music shindig with a temporary Indego station setup? The "WalkUp" charge for renting an Indego bike will be $4 a half hour.

Speaking of accidents, insurance is not included with bike rentals (read the waiver). And while "Do's and Don'ts" signage on the bike urges the rider to wear a helmet, none are found at stations, "due to logistical and sanitary issues," Hoban said. Flashing a membership fob at some local bike shops (listed on Indego's website) will earn you a 10 percent discount on a new helmet.

Trek, best known for sturdy mountain bikes, is the Wisconsin-based maker of Indego bikes (in other cities generically branded B-cycle). "But our bikes are 'purpose built' for city sharing and outdoor storage. They're unlike any I've ever put together before," said Indego bike tech Jake Siemiarowski.

To achieve a one-size-fits-all aesthetic, Trek's Indego bikes have an easily adjusted and very well-padded seat, a low-bar "step-through" frame (the traditional "girl's bike" style), high handlebars, and medium-thick, puncture-resistant tires. All of that contributes to a low-effort "beach bike" kind of ride.

The first of three gears offers super-easy pedaling. And working the mechanism is stupid-proof. You can even shift at a stop without screwing up the works.

And you've never seen so many fender/chain/splash guards on a bike - including a unique rear-wheel "skirt guard."

While these weighty (50 pound) two-wheelers also feature a metal basket on the front and a pannier over the back wheel, you're not going to carry a whole lot of stuff in either. For sure, some fish, fruit, and vegetables from Reading Terminal (there's a bike station nearby) will fit. But hauling back gallons of paint from Home Depot? No way, unless you're wearing a backpack. And break Indego rules of engagement.

When removing a share bike from its ultra-secure, double-locked dock, you're agreeing to use it only for "point-to-point" rides, ending at another Indego stand. And honor is not the only thing at stake here. If you chain an Indego bike to a tree and some thief manages to whisk her blueness away, you'll be on the hook for a $1,000 replacement charge. That's in the fine print, too.

215-854-5960 @JTakiff