| Cycling |

DecoBike Keeps Rolling, Despite Vandalism & Customer Confusion

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Well, that didn't take long.

It's only been a few weeks since DecoBike installed its eco-friendly beach cruisers all over South Beach, yet someone has already hacked one in half with a saw.

But despite the vandalism -- and some customer confusion over when to return the silver bicycles -- DecoBike seems to be going strong, with over 20,000 rides so far.

Last weekend, DecoBike officials found the mutilated bicycle at a station at the corner of Alton Road and Fifth Street. The thief -- perhaps a clown or juggler looking for a new unicycle -- made off with the rear portion of the beach cruiser, leaving the front half still locked into the station.

"Why someone would want to do that, I have no idea," says Karen Gordon, a marketing assistant for DecoBike. Since the bikes cost roughly $700 apiece, vandalizing or stealing them is a felony, she adds.

DecoBike has also experienced another hiccup since the March 15 roll-out: membership holders -- locals and tourists, Americans and foreigners -- failing to understand that they have to return their bikes within 30-minutes to avoid extra fees.

The company offers one-day, three-day, and month-long passes. So, naturally, a handful of people have taken out bikes for an entire day, even overnight.

But membership passes only allow members to take bikes out for 30 minutes at a time before returning them to any station. DecoBike charges $4 for each additional half an hour.

The confusion has led to some monster bills. But Gordon says that so far, DecoBike has been lenient on those who have complained.

Despite the misunderstandings and mangled bicycle, DecoBike is flourishing. In fact, on weekends, as many as five different people often use the same bike, Gordon says.

Traditional bike stores are already feeling the pinch.

"We've definitely noticed a drop in our business," says Alex Ruiz, a sales manager at the Miami Beach Bicycle Center on Fifth Street. But he says he expects his bike rentals to climb back up once people realize that DecoBike rentals come with strings attached.

In the meantime, however, DecoBike is taking his customers.

Every day, people stop by and ask how much his bikes cost to rent. When Ruiz tells them $24 for a whole day, they're put off because DecoBike only charges $14.

"They don't realize that you only get 30-minute segments for free" (on DecoBike), Ruiz says, whereas his bike rentals come with a flat rate and bike locks allowing customers to park anywhere.

Only a few days ago, Ruiz says he rented bicycles to a couple stung by DecoBike. They had wound up with a $200 bill from the eco-friendly company after holding onto their bikes for nearly 24 hours without returning them.

"I don't think (DecoBike) is trying to deceive anyone," Ruiz says. "But who's going to take time to read the fine print? That's not really how American society works. Most people don't bother."

Riptide finally had a chance to test out the bikes earlier this week. Although their single speed and non-aerodynamic basket makes them a little slow, they are smooth and enjoyable to ride. The seat is comfortable and easily adjustable (while theft-proof), and the self-powered light on the front is a nice touch.

That said, our bike made a strange squeaking sound as if a mongoose were caught in the spokes (it wasn't). The noise only got louder and faster as we accelerated, like our seat was about to explode.

Thankfully, it didn't. And although we stand by our initial reservations about DecoBike, we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the ride. Particularly for residents commuting to work, it might make sense.

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