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Most of the time, I ride my bike to City Paper‘s Adams Morgan office from my house in Petworth. Last night, though, I left my bike here to go see a former colleague read at Politics and Prose. In the past, that would have meant I had to take Metro or walk to work this morning. But thanks to Capital Bikeshare, which launched yesterday, I could still commute on two wheels.
So how was the ride?
The Bike: You won’t win any races on these things. You won’t even want to try. My steel-frame usual ride isn’t exactly a speed demon, but I still felt slow riding this morning. The Bikeshare cruiser, designed to fit just about anyone comfortably, lumbers along the road with fat, knobby tires (then again, I barely noticed the potholes on New Hampshire Avenue).
The bike has three gears, though I only bothered with two of them, and front and rear brakes. Out of habit, I rolled my pants legs up, but since the frame has a built-in chain guard, there was no chance of getting dirty or stuck in the mechanics of the bike while I rode. The pedals were sturdy, the frame felt stable, and the lights turned on automatically once I started pedaling. As long as you’re not in a hurry, the bike is perfect for what it’s designed for—short trips around the city. The bikes are done up in the same red-and-yellow color scheme DDOT used for the D.C. Circulator (and may use, eventually, for streetcars), so if you really think you’re going slowly, just pretend you’re driving a bus.
The System: So simple, even an alt-weekly editor could do it. The Petworth station, across New Hampshire Avenue from the Georgia Avenue Metro stop, is only two blocks southwest from my house. I walked over, picked one of the four bikes at the station, inserted my Bikeshare key into the lock, and pulled it off the rack. The seat needed a minor adjustment, but the quick-release bracket made that a breeze. Returning the bike to the Bikeshare station in Adams Morgan, at Columbia Road and Adams Mill, was just as easy as taking it out had been.
Using Bikeshare felt a lot like using Zipcar, right down to the vaguely uneasy feeling that Gabe Klein could track my movements. There were plenty of bikes available both in Petworth and Adams Morgan (and also at the Mt. Pleasant station, in Lamont Park, which I passed en route). I had registered online a few weeks ago, but there seems to be some glitch with the system that’s preventing it from taking my password; I had to call the Bikeshare customer service line to activate my key, and I still can’t log in to my account, nor can Bikeshare reset my information. But since I was still able to rent a bike, that’s a minor problem for now. The ride to work took fewer than 30 minutes, which means it was free.
The Verdict: All around, excellent. Only two minor worries nagged at me. Normally, I wear a helmet whenever I ride; last night, I had left mine at the office, along with my bike, which meant I was bare-headed this morning. But that’s easily solved—next time, bring a helmet. The other issue? The bikes don’t seem to have locks on them, so if you take one out to go somewhere where there’s no station nearby—running errands, for instance—it’s a little unclear how you’re supposed to secure them during the rental. If one disappears while it’s in your care, you’re out $1,000.
Otherwise, though, the whole thing worked exactly the way it’s supposed to. It could really take off; on a vacation to Barcelona a couple years ago, on practically every corner I saw people taking out, and riding, bikes from Bicing, the bike-sharing system that, like Bikeshare, was inspired by Paris’ Vélib. Bikeshare may soon become part of the District’s culture in the same way, especially once the full array of bikes are deployed around the city.
What do you think? If you’ve tried Bikeshare out, leave your review in the comments.
Photo by Mike Madden