After months of teasing, Bike Chattanooga riders hit the streets Friday to kick off a testing phase for the sharing program that officials planned to get rolling back in April.
The test riders are 30 of the program's roughly 100 people who have signed up for an annual membership. City officials hope to include more members as they collect data on the bikes' usage, though they haven't announced a start date for the general public and aren't currently accepting members.
As of Friday, 25 of 28 stations around town are operational, mostly because of Riverbend, and more stations are planned to open in 2013.
Philip Pugliese, bicycle coordinator for Outdoor Chattanooga, said the program was delayed while Bike Chattanooga learned how to implement many advanced features on the rental stations, such as high-efficiency solar masts for power, color touchscreens for credit card rentals and advanced locks.
"This is the newest of the new," he said. "It's putting Chattanooga on the leading edge, and it's just taking a little longer than we expected."
In a news release Friday, organizers said Bike Chattanooga "will serve as a model for midsized cities nationwide, proving that bicycle transit systems can play a vital role in all types of communities."
Pugliese added that even large cities like New York and Chicago will be following Chattanooga's lead as more areas launch bike-share programs.
However, all the new features have put Bike Chattanooga behind schedule.
"We kind of underestimated the time it would take to develop this system," Outdoor Chattanooga spokeswoman Ruth Thompson said.
After the program failed to meet its May 1 start date, General Manager Jeremy Pomp said organizers needed more time to test software that performs a variety of functions, including tracking the bikes by global positioning systems and taking credit card information.
Now that the system is up and running, Pugliese is especially proud of one feature -- an advanced GPS system that lets organizers track each bike in real time. It will be a cost-effective way to measure traffic flow downtown and will allow the city to research how to alleviate slow areas, he said.
"This is kind of the new Apple 5 version of [bike-share programs] ... it's sort of the next generation," he said.