The Bay Area is packed with short-term, bike rental operations these days, but all of these startups have necessarily stopped at the water’s edge. Until now.
Schiller Bikes, local manufacturer of floating water bikes that make odd appearances on the bay, will soon offer rentals that allow adventurous commuters to forego bridges, ferries, and BART and instead cross the bay using their feet via pedal power.
Water bikes are nothing new; the Smithsonian dates the earliest to 1868, when enterprising Parisians pedaled on the surface of Lake Enghien.
In 1869, Scientific American reported the invention of a similar contraption in the US:
We give herewith an engraving of a water velocipede, devised by a Boston inventor, which is a very neat device. It needs no detailed description, as its operation will be readily comprehended from the engraving. The rudder is worked by two cords passing from the steering bar, over pulleys fixed upon the side of the boat below and in front of the operator, and from thence back to the tiller.
These days deemed hydro bikes, aquatic bikes, or simply water bikes, a variety of high-end models are available for consumers.
In a 2018 interview with San Francisco Magazine, Schiller Bikes’ Jessica Schiller claims to have sprung on the idea independently in 2013 after contemplating the inconvenience of biking from San Francisco to Oakland.
Watching a water bike action is a little surreal, but they seem to handle water pretty well. The pedaling motion turns a propeller that drives the contraption forward, while enormous pontoons keep the frame and rider out of the water. Similar to the 19th century design, the handlebars control the rudder.
Schiller Bikes advertises the likes of “rugged, high pressure, drop-stitch pontoons” and “integrated steering.” They retail for $5,500, but now the Marin Independent Journal reports that even those with a low-income profile will have the chance to hop aboard.
The planned rental pilot program will start with trips from Oakland to Alameda this summer.
Unlike the Schiller models currently for sale, the rental version is electric-assisted, not dissimilar to the e-bikes pedaled by companies like Lyft and Uber.
Marin IJ reports that pricing will start at $4 for ten minutes. A trip from Alameda to Oakland takes less than two.
Schiller hopes to expand with docking stations on other Bay Area waterfronts in the future, but for the time being only estuary expeditions will be on tap.