Inside Cycleplex: The Strange, Wild World of Google Bikes

Published on May 01, 2013

Inside Cycleplex: The Strange, Wild World of Google Bikes

Original author: ROBERT MCMILLAN
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Not far from Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, there’s an unremarkable building that looks like the hideaway of an inconspicuous startup. But if you go inside, you will not find either an office or computers there. You will find there a secret bike shop where Robert Jimenez and Terry Mack spend all day with wrenches and tires listening to AC / DC and Pink Floyd. Then, if you manage to slip into the back room, you will see them: 1,300 green, blue, red and yellow Google bicycles filling the room as much as you can see, as if in Santa's workshop.

This building is the center of an unusual campus exchange program that exists on campus and is a mirror image of the corporate culture of the search giant.



On any given day, you can see about 700 bicycles scattered like toys on the Google Campus in Mountain View. All morning, special Google minibuses drop off employees near these piles of bicycles. Googlers sit on them and go to work. Jimenez and Mack are part of a seven-person team that maintains bicycles seven days a week.

Corporate bike parks have become commonplace on Silicon Valley campuses over the past decade. Apple, Facebook, LinkedIn and many others have their own bikes. But no one has anything like what Google has.

“Google has a unique approach to bicycles,” says Colin Hein, deputy director of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Union. More than seven percent of googlers ride bicycles every day to the company’s main campus. There Google has its own showers with changing rooms and towels, secure parking lots (with repair tools), as well as a workshop and bicycle-friendly minibuses for employees who want to cycle only the last few miles of their journey.

And, of course, the famous Google bikes.



Their story goes back to 2007, when Google bought about 100 blue Huffy bikes as an experiment. “We distributed them across several buildings to improve communication between them in the most efficient way, and it turned out that bikes were what we needed,” says Brandon Harrington, Google Vehicle Operations Manager, who is also a Bike Master.

Google Headquarters in Mountain View is a multitude of buildings scattered across a two-mile strip near the park and the Coastal Amphitheater, an open concert venue where you can see the performances of Tim McGraw or Bob Dylan. Most of the day, driving around Googleplex is not too busy - combined with bike paths and views, this place is great for cycling.

And this is exactly what googlers do there: ride blue Huffy bicycles (almost six years later about 25 of them are still in service), on the first generation of colorful Google bicycles (which are affectionately called “clown bikes”, they were introduced in 2009), as well as on the new generation of larger and more stable bikes developed by Google engineers.



There are even a few seven-seater bicycles (Conference Bikes) scattered around the campus. Employees can book them using Google’s dedicated conference scheduling app. This is a fun and a bit crazy way to drive around on a sunny day.



And if this isn’t enough for you, you can touch the more serious side of Google’s cycling culture: take the 42-mile route from San Francisco.

On the campus at any time you can find several dozen cyclists. Harrington says each bike winds about 1,000 miles a year. And since no one fastens or tracks them, they can be found lying around the peninsula. And sometimes even on Craigslist. We found one of the bikes there for $ 85. When we reported this to Harrington a few days later, he said that he had already notified the police. Selling bicycles stolen from an Internet indexing company on the Internet is not a good idea.

At Apple, bikes fasten in the parking lot and force cyclists to take written safety tests, but it’s somehow not “Google,” Harrington said. “We just want to simplify the movement between buildings as much as possible,” he says. “We don’t want to force employees to verify their identity or sign waivers.”



42 mile Google bike track

At Google, this two-wheeled impulse comes from the top management of the company. Patrick Pitchett, the chief financial officer of the company, is an avid cyclist himself - he once traveled 50 miles from his home in South Bay, just to join a group of cyclists from San Francisco who met at a cafe in Mission on their way to the peninsula. They call themselves SF2G, like "clown bikes", they are the fruit of the cycling culture of Google.

When Google bought their Urchin Software, a web analytics company, in 2005, Scott Crosby from San Diego moved to Mountain View. But he promised himself two things: he will live in San Francisco, and will ride a bicycle to work. “I didn't even know if it would be practical given that this place is 42 miles away,” he said.

It turned out that in his new company, too, no one knew if this was practical. Forty years ago, most of the peninsula was solid farms and pastoral landscapes, but the continued technological boom brought with it many cars and roads. In a strange way, the development of this infrastructure has complicated the life of cyclists who prefer smooth and calm roads.

So, around 2005, Crosby and his friends began testing tracks for Google - sometimes even on weekends - in search of an easier, faster and more beautiful route. In the end, they found out about the legendary Google cyclist named Joe Gross, who made a route from San Francisco, including a detour through the parking lot of the racetrack. Gross left the company in favor of a startup called YouTube, but showed that a similar route is possible.

At first, no one knew how Gross did it, but in the end, Crosby and his friends found a route diagram left by Gross on the company's internal web server.



When Google bought YouTube, Gross returned home. He was surprised to find a group of active cyclists who regularly ride the Joe Gross route. Almost ten years later, this track turned into Bayway - a route that an experienced cyclist can overcome in a few hours. On any day in Mission coffee houses you can meet riders from SF2G who are on their way across the peninsula. The history of SF2G began with five cyclists, and now, on the best days, there are up to 500, and the idea itself has gone beyond Google. Employees from various startups and even Google rivals from Apple and Facebook regularly participate in trips.

However, googlers would not be googlers if the most hardcore SF2G members were satisfied with a 42 mile pre-work path. To do this, they developed more complex routes. One of them, called Skyline, runs along the western hills of the peninsula, away from highways, and offers panoramic views of Silicon Valley.

In the video below, you can go on a trip along the Skyline with cyclists from SF2G:



From a translator : Colleagues - IT in this story is certainly not enough, but it seemed to me that it is very indicative of the corporate culture of the company. In addition, today and until the end of the week we’re relaxing - it's time to get on the bike and ride, even if not the “Google route”. Have a nice weekend!