Orange and green bikes have been strewn about the city to do what bike-share program Pronto couldn’t do — succeed.
Other large cities around the United States seem to have already figured out how to be a bike-friendly city. Those cities, however, don’t have a constant drizzle nine months of the year, or streets so unforgiving that you can’t seem to make a round trip without confronting a hill.
The new bike-share programs Spin and LimeBike have come prepared though, with bikes equipped with splash guards and gears that theoretically help anyone off the street bike uphill.
LimeBike boasts eight gears and sealed brakes for its Seattle-customized bikes. On the other hand, Spin has three. The number of gears does not necessarily correlate to the quality of the gears though.
I’ve been riding a single-gear bike for about a year now in Seattle — starting just as our rainy season began — so switching gears was actually a new experience for me.
Gears do help keep a comfortable pressure on pedaling, but also made biking uphill seem longer. I might not be using as much strength, but I was exhausting more of my endurance.
No number of gears on either bikes made the uphill battle from Pike Place Market to First Avenue possible though. Even walking that hill is no stroll in the park, but I still tried biking up multiple times, believing a different gear would be the right gear.
But not all hills are as difficult as that one. A lot of Seattle’s hills are indeed possible to bike uphill on both Spin and LimeBike bikes.
A downhill ride is easy enough for anyone who can ride a bike and knows the basic rules of the road. But knowing the rules and actually getting on the road are two different things.
Both bikes are fairly heavy, with comfortable handles and large seats. Their weight pulled the bikes downhill but holding the brakes was a whole other affair. Spin — on two separate occasions — sounded like nails on a chalkboard every time I braked to slow down a bit.
Personally, the weight of the bike cancelled out the help of the gears compared to my significantly lighter, single-geared bike. To put it in perspective, carrying my bike on my shoulder down the steps of Westlake Station is simple enough, but I haven’t dared try the same ordeal with one of the bike-share models.
Still, maybe a downhill ride (as loud as it may be on occasion) is all people really need when the 20-minute or so walk from Downtown up to Capitol Hill isn’t so bad. The data has shown that people are riding the bikes back up hills though. It’s hard to tell who these champions are, but I’m sure the rest of the people thank you.
Both the pilot programs must be doing something right though as they both surpassed Pronto’s best weeks in their respective first launch weeks. When both programs rolled out in the same week even the companies didn’t seem to complain about having more bikes on Seattle’s roads.
Combining the numbers of Spin and LimeBike, Seattle will soon have more than 1,500 bikes available.
When the bikes are dockless, the numbers do matter. It increases the chances of there being a bike nearby. The city’s permit agreements will prevent a flood of unused bikes as they limit the pilot programs to 500, 1,000 and 2,000 bikes in their respective fleets for the first three months.
But what’s the use of having hundreds of bikes available when you can’t find one?
People have described these stationless bike-share programs as car2go for bikes. You can park them (almost) anywhere, the price is by the minute (one dollar per half hour) and locating, unlocking and paying for the ride is done through their respective phone applications.
I have never followed the car2go GPS locater to a place where there was no car though. I have followed the Spin GPS locater to numerous locations though to find no bike in sight.
Walking around the city, trying to find a bike that might be a block (or two, who knows) away in any direction might not be terrible the first time, especially if you have the time. But when it happens on multiple occasions, it stops being a funny story and just becomes unacceptable.
I surprisingly never had this problem with LimeBike, and I can’t help but mention that this is their fifth city and Spin’s first.
I haven’t completely given up on Spin though, because these are problems that can be fixed, and an upgrade to their fleet has been announced. For now, I have both Spin and LimeBike apps on my phone. But who knows for how long, considering the two programs offer monthly membership programs.
To be completely honest though, committing to a few months of a membership could come out to the cost of simply buying a bike. And when both bike-share programs expect their bikers to have or buy their own helmet (to comply with King County’s helmet law), it might make more sense in the long run to just invest in a bike to own.
Still, I hope these bike-share programs stick around, because sometimes a bike that you can leave anywhere after riding one way can be incredibly convenient. Plus, more bikes could mean more bikers and fewer cars on the road. Both would be welcome in hopes of better biking conditions and a Seattle a shade greener.