I finally completed some substantive bikeshare trips today! It’s not perfect, but it is very good — more thoughts below.
I’d loaded up $20 onto my Limebike account, and thought I should finally use it for a trip of decent length. Today was the day, for a variety of reasons:
Location: I had a picnic to go to at Magnuson Park — this is a park on the Burke Gilman Trail (BGT), which is primo bike infrastructure. I wouldn’t have to ride on roads at all.
Logistics: I didn’t have to be at the picnic at any particular time, and there was food / drink at the other side. A nice bike ride would help me bring an appetite.
Light: My sleep schedule has been getting progressively later, so I decided to wake up “early” today and then bathe myself in sun and endorphins by biking to the picnic.
And — to seal the deal — it turned out that I left home without my wallet (+ bus pass!); there would be no way to cheat by getting on a bus, and I couldn’t take car2go because the wallet also had my driver’s license. Not risking it today.
My plan was to take a bus towards Seattle Pacific University (SPU), find a bike, and get on the BGT at Fremont. This is the bus I take to go to work every day (except I take a second bus or walk from SPU to Fremont), so I know it well. A kindly bus driver let me on the bus without my pass, and I got off where I thought I saw a bike on the app.
I soon ran into my first problem of the day. The app says there is a bike at a map point. I am standing as close to the map point as possible without trespassing. Where is the bike?
It wasn’t such a busy area that someone else would have taken it before the map had a chance to refresh; I can only imagine that the location was inaccurate — or, less charitably, the location was perfectly accurate but inaccessible. Like, someone has put the bike into their garage. Not a bad deal, right? You have 100% access and no risk, and if you don’t want to bring it back one day, go ahead, leave it somewhere truly public.
I assume the bikeshare companies have a way to deal with this, or just factor it into costs, but it’s not a great experience to be stumbling around suspiciously in quiet neighborhoods, peering into yards and alleys.
How was it?
Eventually I got a bike and got myself onto the trail. The bike emits a loud chime when you unlock it, which was pleasant feedback — I wish car2go did this, instead of me putting my hand on the car door and feeling for the lock to release, as if I was trying to exchange energy with the smartcar.
I should say now that I am far from a confident cyclist: I veer a lot, I’m always afraid that I’ll catch an edge and fall, and I can’t reliably start if I’m not on a decline. (I know the theory of starting uphill, but I don’t always land in the saddle.)
But generally, the ride was comfortable — no clanking derailleur issues, the problem I’ve had on every bike I’ve owned. The gears also worked well; biking on all flat or downhill, I didn’t have to use gears 1-5, but gears 6-8 were fine and easy to shift. I also really liked the handlebars — they are broad and contact your palm more than a plain cylinder. I felt that this helped me relax my upper body.
As an aside, the _existence_ of gears 1-5 is what convinced me to deposit my money in LimeBike, btw. If, for some reason, I had to climb a hill, I would be able to. That, and that I swore I had put my payment info into SpinBike, and it seemed like it’d lost it.
Of course, there are a few small problems: the bell worked on my first bike, but didn’t on my return trip. Worse, the bike is so heavy (or the kickstand is so short) that the kickstand can support only its own weight: if you have anything in the basket, the kickstand is useless, and you have to lean the bike against your pelvis.
I’m sure LimeBike is aware, but reliability in starting and ending trips could be improved — I had app flubs on both ends. On the way back from the picnic, I wanted to take the same bike, but was unable to unlock it. Let it be known that I _intended_ to bring it back to civilization — however, I tried three times, and each time, the app said that the input was invalid, unlocking failed, please try later, etc. In the end, I walked out of the park and, as luck would have it, found another bike that I was able to unlock.
And when I ended my trip, I locked the bike, listened for the little chime, and went inside to shower — imagine my alarm when I saw that the clock was still running on my ride! I trotted outside to check (definitely locked!); then I went to see my trip history in the app, and I had indeed ended that ride successfully — it just hadn’t been reflected the screen I had been on.
Overall, this was a great experience. I got some exercise (hopefully I’ll sleep early tonight), and felt more confident about biking. Unfortunately, even if unlocking a bike became more reliable, the fact that you can’t know that there will be a bike near you will always limit bikeshare’s role as transportation. But for a fun weekend picnic jaunt, it was excellent.