Wednesday, July 30, 2014

In Which Bikes Are "Shared"

Yeah, yeah, I know -- your friendly neighborhood Bikeist has been slacking all summer -- even missing a post entirely on Monday.  Not due to laziness, though, I was on the road -- DC and Richmond, so there was no time to post.  And, as you all know, there's been all the tumult -- changing houses, changing jobs, changing saddles, and, now, changing bikes after discovering a hairline fracture in the frame of my Secteur.  This whole summer has been totally out of whack -- no rhythm, no routine, no Bikeist!  (Although, there were still some pretty darned good posts mixed in despite the chaos.)

Hopefully, that's all about to change.  Holland's Bikes called to let me know my new frame will be here this week, so I will soon be back on a brand new Secteur!  Woo-hoo!  Once they get it assembled, and I'm back on a creak-free saddle, I'm hopeful that my world will return to its previous state of orderliness. 

Speaking of DC, though, it was not a completely bikeless experience.  In fact, it  provided me with my first opportunity to try a U.S. Bike "Share" program.  I put "Share" in quotes because I don't see what's so "sharing" about requiring me to pay to use a clunky, 1,000 pound bike. The fact that I had to swipe a credit card  and pay $7 to purchase a 24 hour "membership" and was then charged an additional $14 for my two hour ride hardly seemed in the sharing spirit -- fleecing was a little more like it.  For almost the same price, I was able to get a Specialized Allez for a full day from Uni Bikes when I visited Boulder last fall.

Granted, the first 30 minutes of every trip taken during the "membership" period is free, but 30 minute intervals are not conducive to touring the sites in DC.  I guess, if I was savvy enough, I could have turned in a bike every 29 minutes and then taken another one -- but what a hassle that would have been!

Anyway, despite my gripes, from all appearances, Capital Bike "Share" is working swimmingly.  I saw Bike "Share" bikes everywhere I went around town, and was amazed at how many of the "docks" were empty.  It's a much better deal for locals who purchase real memberships and keep their trips short.  Seems that many DC-dwellers have incorporated these bikes into their routines and lifestyles (although, it's hard for me to understand why anybody who rides regularly wouldn't just get their own bike rather than pay to ride a Bike "Share" clunker).

As for the experience itself, it wasn't as bad as I had expected (hell, even if it was a poor excuse for one, it still was a bike -- and you all know how I feel about bikes).  The dock was easy to figure out, so it took me less than 2 minutes to become a 24 hour "member" and "share" $7 via credit card so that our nation's Capital could, in turn, "share" one of its bikes with me.

After punching the code given to me by the machine into the dock holding my bike, it was freed.  I adjusted the saddle (which was extremely simple thanks to the good quick release) and practiced a little bit on the sidewalk before heading off.  Another nice feature of the bike was that it comes equipped with front and rear lights that blink continuously while the bike is operated.

The goal of my ride was to check out the Metropolitan Branch Trail that heads all the way out to Silver Spring from Union Station.  So, from the Whole Foods on 22nd, I made my way over to the Mall where I followed Constitution up to the Station, discovering these cool statues along the way:

There, I circled around back where I found the trail entrance which led me up to an elevated path that paralleled the Metro Line.  The path was in good shape, using what seems to have been a Metro access road.  I especially liked this mural I encountered after the first couple of miles:

 I followed the trail out to Catholic University where I climbed a decent-sized hill before turning around, just to see what climbing would be like on one of these behemoths.  I don't recommend it.  I made it to the top, but it took every fiber of my being to keep those wheels spinning.  My reward, though, was an exciting descent back down the hill on a bike I wasn't sure I'd be able to stop if necessary.  The brakes really sucked, so I  just let it fly -- the difference between descending on this bike and my road bike is comparable to the difference between riding a smooth, modern, steel roller-coaster and an old-fashioned wooden one.  The new one is faster, but the old one can be even more exhilirating.

One of the nice aspects of Bike "Share" is that you can return the bike to any docking station, so, rather than retracing my path, I abandoned the trail half-way back to its entrance and followed surface streets back to my hotel -- using streets with well-marked bike lanes and even one of DC's new "bike-tracks" when I got to M Street:

I loved these!  They're appearing all over the city, creating a meaningful buffer between cars and bikes.  Local news outlets are reporting that bike ridership is up, and I could instantly see why.  When you can use dedicated lanes this safe in the busiest parts of the city, people who would otherwise not bike will be drawn out.  My hotel was on M Street, and I witnessed a constant stream of bikes heading to and from Georgetown through the bike-tracks -- something I never saw when I lived there five years ago.  It reminded me more of Copenhagen than the DC I remembered.

I've always said that DC is surprisingly bike-friendly thanks to the suburban bike paths that lead to it like the spokes of a wheel.  But, with this kind of bike infrastructure taking root in the heart of the city, it seems that our Capital is truly taking a leadership position when it comes to bikeability.  Nice.

Now, if they could just put some real bikes in those docks . . .

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