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While at the National Bike Summit, I had the opportunity to ride dockless bikeshare bikes from five different companies that are currently operating a pilot in Washington, DC: Mobike, Limebike, ofo, Spin, and Jump. I also took a few rides in DC’s traditional docked Capital Bikeshare as a source of reference. Here are my “findings”: 

A quick note before I get started: if you’ve never ridden one, dockless (or even docked) bikeshare bikes probably suck when compared to the bike you currently own. They’re heavy, have wobbly wheels, not totally reliable brakes, and often make their own decisions about what gear they’d like to be in, usually when you’re in the middle of an intersection.

All these disadvantages are outweighed by the main benefit of dockless bikeshare: convenience. Utilizing bikeshare enabled me to not bring my bike down from Philly (in a car down and on Amtrak back), and to not worry about where to lock up. It’s quite a liberating experience to lock your bike up and walk away without one iota of anxiety over whether it will be stolen. Also, the ubiquity of dockless bikes enabled me to spend three days here without needing to use any other mode to get around.

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Ok, my experiences:

ofo:
Pluses: good initial app experience, bikes are everywhere, and the logo is super cool (looks like someone riding a bike!)
Minuses: seat didn’t go high enough (murder on my knees!), worst overall bike quality, some difficulties being sure I had successfully ended my trip. Worst overall app.

Mobike:
Pluses: Best overall bike quality (besides Jump, which is a bit different. See below). Composite wheels with limited spokes seems to make them more durable. Traditionally spoked bikes were the most likely to have issues, as spokes are easily bent when someone tries to ride off with the lock engaged, and the wheel gets wobbly from then on. Also, kudos for the only attempt at a cup holder in the rack.
Minuses: I had significant difficulty successfully ending trips. I was always made to take a picture of the engaged lock, and was warned each time that I may be fined for the way I locked up the bike. Seat didn’t go high enough.

Limebike:
Pluses: seat went high enough, app works great, decent overall bike quality, seamless end of trips (lock it and you instantly get a confirmation message and the app closes), and has a durable phone holder on the handle bars! Why Limebike is the only company to offer this baffles me: dockless bikeshare users are often reliant on phone maps to get around.
Minuses: No cup holder?

Spin:
Pluses: seat went high enough, great initial app experience. Best app description of parking: App showed me a graphic of where to park bikes, then had me put that knowledge to use by making me tell them whether the bike I was getting was parked responsibly.
Minuses: the one bike ride I did was on a bike with dramatically awful wheels. It was nearly unrideable. When it was time to end the ride, I had trouble with the app.

Jump (not really apples to apples, as they’re more expensive and the only e-bike in the group):
Pluses: Best bike quality. The bikes can be higher quality because they can be heavier due to the e-assist. Easy to use app. Seat went high enough. Also, they’re e-bikes!
Minuses: I’d have liked to see more of an e-assist. Other e-bikes I’ve ridden give you a significant boost. The e-assist was hard to notice at times, and hills were still challenging.

Capital Bikeshare:
Pluses: Significantly better bike quality than all dockless bikes, except for Jump. Seat goes high enough.
Minuses: The dock. My friend doesn’t have a smartphone so was limited to using Capital Bikeshare, which limited where he could drop his bikes off. He also got “dockblocked” several times during our stay, often necessitating visits to several docks to get rid of his bike. The cost: more expensive than dockless companies, once again except for Jump. Lastly, it took my friend longer to sign up for a three-day pass ($17) at the kiosk than it took me to sign up for any of the five dockless companies via my phone. Docked bikeshare has a lot to learn about ease of use from dockless companies.

And the (utterly unscientific) “winner”:

LIMEBIKE!!! Congratulations. Step up to collect your prize (there’s no prize)! The app, decent enough bike quality and the phone holder put it over the top in my eyes.

Thanks for reading. I think it’s important to give a lot of thought to dockless bikeshare in our region, as these bikes have a tremendous capacity to

  • increase access to The Circuit Trails
  • increase bikeshare access in low-income areas as the community users decide where the bikes will go, not city planners, politicians, or bikeshare executives
  • increase bike modeshare, thus furthering Vision Zero goals in our region
  • increase bike access to regional transit, as even small suburban communities can get a dockless company to locate within their borders due to the dockless business model

UPDATE: This blog previously stated that JUMP bikeshare was the least-used bike sharing system. That is not true! Apologies for the error.

 

Leonard Bonarek

Author

In 2016, Leonard entered his third career: city planning. Previous to joining Bicycle Coalition, he had 7 years’ experience working in social services, and 10 years’ hard labor in the maritime industry, in addition to several years of intern and volunteer experience with our organization and Neighborhood Bike Works.

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