Biking the capital: An electrifying experience

by Brian on September 11, 2021

in Health,In the News,Just For Fun,Reviews

Ever since Park HaMesila – the train track park – opened in southern Jerusalem, my wife, Jody, and I have been eager to bicycle its length. 

One problem: We don’t own our own bicycles.

That’s no longer an issue now that JeruFun has begun operating in the city. A play on words (“ofen” is the root for bicycle in Hebrew; Tel Aviv has the similarly named “Tel-o-fun”), JeruFun arrived just in time for our summer riding pleasure. 

And what a joy it is to pedal the eight kilometers from our home, not far from the First Station entertainment and dining complex, along the length of the park, all the way to Ein Lavan, the natural spring located just past the Jerusalem Aquarium.

Each station has a mix of up to 16 regular and electric bikes – the latter are distinguished by an orange back wheel protector and an LCD screen at the front.

We opted to go electric – there are a number of inclines where the extra e-push would be welcome.

The electric bikes at JeruFun are “pedal assist.” That means the electric motor kicks in only when you move your feet. You can’t just turn a knob on the handlebars. 

Since this was our first time, we opted for the one-time payment rather than jump straight into a subscription. It costs NIS 4 to “unlock” the bike (free for subscribers) and then six agorot a minute to ride (again, less for subscribers). Non-electric bike riders pay just two agorot a minute; for subscribers, the first 30 minutes is free. 

At NIS 76 for two hours, though, it might have been worthwhile getting the lowest priced subscriber package (NIS 99 for three months for Jerusalem Card holders), even for a trial. 

The JeruFun app – available in multiple languages, including Hebrew, Arabic, French, Russian and English – has all the stations plotted on a Google Map, showing how many bikes of each type are available. There are a total of 80 regular and 120 electric bicycles on offer.

When you arrive at a station, you use your phone to scan the number of the bike as well as your government ID or driver’s license. To save time, we entered our credit card information at home. Once payment is accepted, the bike magically unlocks with a satisfying click.

The bike path from the First Station runs south through the village of Beit Safafa, winds around the Teddy and Pais sports stadiums, skirts past the Malcha train station, bumps along the extensive playgrounds near Ein Yael, before heading towards the zoo via a steep ramp and bridge over the train tracks.

That’s where we discovered that these electric bikes are heavy. 

So much so that, if you don’t get a running start, pushing the bike up a hill or ramp is near impossible.

This is one of the prettiest biking routes in the city. Except for a brief section in the parking lot of the zoo and aquarium, you’re on a dedicated cycling lane, so you don’t have to worry about dodging cars. 

It took us 45 minutes to get to Ein Lavan. Our 23-year-old son says he can do it in half an hour – on his non-electric bike, no less. Did we feel old? No way: We rode all the way from our home to the Jerusalem Hills – so what if it took nearly an hour!

Ein Lavan has been in the news lately; it’s at the center of what’s slated to be a 5,000-unit housing development that will significantly alter the bucolic landscape. Protests against the construction have not resulted in any changes by the District Planning Committee, although Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion has pledged to upgrade Ein Lavan’s status to that of a national park.

The spring itself is nearly always occupied by bathers, barbequers, dog walkers and religious Israelis seeking to dunk in a natural mikveh (ritual bath).

On the way back, shortly after leaving Ein Lavan, Jody’s bike suddenly stopped working. The electric pedal assist wouldn’t kick in, even though the battery indicator said there was plenty of juice. 

We were understandably concerned – who had the energy to continue another 45 minutes on an uber-heavy bike without the extra help? Should one of us stay back with the bike while the others continued home to fetch the car? we wondered.

We were about to call JeruFun customer service when Jody – entirely by accident – wheeled her bike in reverse to get it to a more convenient resting spot and, lo and behold, it came back to life. 

“Ride like the wind, Bullseye,” I cried out, quoting Woody from the Toy Story movies. And in case the bike threatened to conk out again, I added, “Don’t stop pedaling until you get home!”

JeruFun is available across much of the city, not just along Park HaMesila. You can pick up a bike at one of 24 active stations – downtown, at the Central Bus Station, the government and museum campus, the Mahane Yehuda market and even in Mea Shearim. 

The latter has generated its own controversy: In order to win approval, the city was forced to disable the electric bike rentals on Shabbat in locations sensitive to the ultra-Orthodox. There are currently only four stations in the city where electric bikes can be taken on the Sabbath (including at the First Station).

But never mind the politics. With the High Holydays upon us, JeruFun is a wonderful addition to the city’s mobility landscape – whether that’s an energetic commute to work or a pleasant afternoon in nature. 

Sign up at: https://jerufun.co.il/

I first wrote about bikes in Jerusalem for The Jerusalem Post.

Barry Davis has a good article about JeruFun, also in The Jerusalem Post.

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