Rental Bikes and e-Bikes

For the past few years, there’s been a proliferation of bicyclists on the road in my neck of the woods.  It’s common to see more and more people riding their bikes to work, to public transit, and to the store.  If the weather is good (and now that it looks like we’re back in drought conditions in the Bay Area, the weather is good), biking is a good alternative to getting in your car.

I work in San Francisco, and the City implemented a bike rental service called City Bike (now owned by Ford…yeah, the automobile manufacturer). I rented City Bikes (now known as FordGo) back in 2013 when the new Bay Bridge was being installed, and they weren’t bad. The frames are heavy (they need to be if you’re going to have all different sizes of people riding them), but the heaviness in the frame also slows down a rider and can prevent crashes from going too fast and losing control of the bike.  They have safety lights, a bell, and something to strap your bag to in the front of the bike (it’s not really a basket). Overall, I liked the experience. It was a bit pricey, but it was pretty convenient.

At my local BART station (Pleasant Hill), LimeBikes have popped up.  Like the FordGo, the LimeBike is a short-term rental bike that’s supposed to solve the “last mile” issue for people who take mass transit or just want a bike to get from here to there in less time. The “last mile” problem is finding a quick way to get to work from a mass transit hub without walking, taking a cab, bus, or ride share.  Bikes are a way to solve that. The interesting thing about LimeBikes is that there’s no docking station. You can leave the bike on a sidewalk, at the grocery store, or office once you lock the back wheel (which essentially acts as a “check out” for your rental). Scattering these bikes around a city means once you’re finished using the bike, someone else with the LimeBike app can unlock the bike and ride it to where they want to go.  It’s pretty cheap, too. It’s only $1 for non-students, and 50 cents for students to use for 30 minutes. I’m sure the idea behind that price point is that the “last mile” problem should only take someone less than 30 minutes to get where they are going.  The downside of LimeBike is finding one near you when you want to use it again.  Sure the app shows you where LimeBikes are in your general area, but if you have to hoof it 10-15 minutes to find a bike, then you might as well just walk to the transit hub. So that “first come, first served” policy has its drawbacks.  At least with FordGo, there are docking stations and information on how many bikes are there to rent.  FordGo has a $3 for 30 minutes rental rate, but it’s a teaser/limited time offer. When City Bike owned the service, it was much more expensive. I bought a three-day pass, and it cost me $30.  I could use the bikes for 30-minute increments all-day if I wanted.  Now that Ford owns the business (and there’s more competition), the price has dropped.

Yay capitalism!

But what if you don’t like showing up for work all sweaty because you just rode a few miles on a bike that weighs about 40 lbs? There’s an app and a bike for that!  Enter Jump Bikes. These are e-Bikes that cost around $2 for a 30-minute rental. e-Bikes have electronic motors on them to boost your speed, help you up a hill, and generally keep you from having to push all that metal (in addition to your own body weight) around a city.

The Jump Bike (indeed e-Bikes in general) are very low-level semi-powered scooters like Mopeds and the Honda PA 50s were kinda sorta like back in the ’70s when they crossed a motorcycle with a bike pedals. I guess the idea was that if you ran out of gas, you could use the pedals to get the Moped to a gas station.

So, what the takeaway of all this? It means more and more people are using bikes, and more and more people making mistakes on the road. Many people who ride bikes casually think traffic laws do not apply to them (they do), but that doesn’t stop from doing stupid things on bikes. The companies who rent these bikes don’t instruct their renters on bike safety as much as they should. Mostly, there’s a brief tutorial on signaling turns (which is good), but not much else.  Granted, very few people bother with bike safety techniques — unless you’re a serious rider.  However, certain techniques do come in handy for tricky situations. For example, what do you do if you have to make an emergency stop (i.e., brake hard)?  What about if you’re losing control of your bike and you know you’re going to crash?  How do you take a fall with minimal injuries?  Riding on uneven streets with maybe streetcar rails? Do you know what to do to reduce the risk of crashing? If you’ve answered no to all these questions and you’re planning on using these bike rental services, you should get up to speed on what’s what regarding safe riding techniques and obeying the laws of the road. If drivers see that you’re riding responsibly, most won’t fume with rage at all the stupid things you’re doing and will generally share the road like they should.

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