It all starts by choosing a subscription. My understanding is that locals can choose monthly or yearly subscriptions. As I was only in the Twin Cities for the weekend, I chose the 24 hour subscription for $5. It took less than 2 minutes to pay for the subscription with my credit card and get an unlocking code for the ride of my choice. (In addition to subscription fees, riders are charged trip fees for the time they have the bike checked out. The point seeming to be that these bikes are meant for short trips rather than longer-term rentals. Rides less than 30 min are free).
After getting my code, I picked a bike, entered the code, and was free to ride. Although I had walked around downtown Minneapolis before, and been a passenger in cars there, the Nice Ride gave me a chance to explore a wider area, and without the interfering lens of a car window.
The bike itself was a bit clunky, but it did the job and even had a few different gears to choose from. Most of the weight was likely attributable to the tamper-proof design, which kept all of the workings of the bicycle (gears, chain, brake lines) concealed.
Overall it was a great experience. I crossed the Mississippi (four times), explored some cool Minneapolis neighborhoods that I've never seen before, and managed to get in some exercise without even trying to. My experience with Nice Ride is likely not the typical one. The program seems to be directed at citizens without bikes who just need a ride for short trips or errands. In the long run, most riders will probably want to get their own bike, but in the short run, this is a great way to get people on bicycles and to increase the visibility of biking as a viable option for urban transportation. I look forward to seeing how Nice Ride fares in Minneapolis and hope that similar programs sprout in other American cities soon.