I Rode an E-Bike and Fell in Love

The other day I was walking around Capitol Hill taking photos with my new-to-me DSLR camera and happened upon the following scene outside the Link Light Rail Station.

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Now, a line of free floating bike share bikes outside of a transit station isn’t something new in Seattle. In fact, since Spin, Ofo, and LimeBike came to town, there are seemingly hundreds of colorful bikes around town. This lineup was different – there were e-bikes.

I had heard rumors about both Lime and Spin releasing electric bikes into their fleets, but here they were! Without fanfare or a Twitter marketing promotion, the bikes had been released into the wild! And for $1 I could ride one! (Technically, it’s $1 to unlock, and then $1 every 10 minutes.)

And oh.my.god. I haven’t smiled like that on a bicycle in years. Within the first pedal stroke I could feel the difference. It wasn’t huge, but it was just enough juice to boost my start and get me up to speed pretty quickly.

Since that first day, I’ve ridden the Lime e-bikes two more times, both for my commute. And overall, I am very impressed. Here is my take on the Good, the Bad, and some general thoughts.

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The Good

These bikes are easy to ride. They use the same step-through, upright geometry that the other bike share bikes use. They’ve also got a front basket and cell phone holder installed, which make carrying things a breeze. Because of the battery in the back, they are quite a bit heavier than the non-electric bikes, but the weight didn’t seem to impact the handling at all.

(True confession- I normally ride a stupidly heavy Surly Straggler that has fenders and two racks, so I might not be the best judge of bike weight.)

There are no gears to shift. I have no idea what sort of technical magic they have in those bikes, but it’s a one gear system. Super simple.

You still have to pedal. The bikes are pedal assist e-bikes, which means you can’t just throttle out the power. This makes me feel like I’m still getting in some physical activity, it just makes those hills that I normally dread much more approachable.

The Bad

 They’re a bit pricey. At $1 to unlock, and then $1 for each subsequent ten minutes, the costs add up fast. This is especially true if you plan to use the bikes for commuting and taking into account traffic. Similar to the Car2Go model where you pay by the minute, I felt like I needed to ride to my destination as fast as I could to avoid more charges.

They’re a bit sluggish on flats. This isn’t a huge problem, as let’s be honest, how many flat roads do we have around Seattle? Because the electric assist tops out at 14 miles per hour, riding these on flat ground makes them feel a bit slow and heavy.

Recharging is a manual and clunky process. The batteries in the bikes are replaceable and Lime has their fleet operations continually going out to the e-bikes to replace and recharge batteries that need it. This is cool, however, it means that as a user, the bike you found on the map and planned to use might have a low battery. Or, it might get picked up by the Operations Team while you’re on your way to go use it. (True story, I watched this happened and talked to the technician who picked up the bike I was about to ride.)

General Thoughts

I didn’t want to like e-bikes, but I think I might be a convert. I loved the upright position but still having power to get up hills. It was a convenient alternative to taking the bus (or my own bike.) And it was FUN.

I genuinely think that bike share e-bikes could dramatically impact the biking landscape in Seattle. Just as free floating bike share has made riding a bike in Seattle accessible to more people, these e-bikes will continue to expand the market.

Now, someone who is curious about an e-bike can ride one for less than the cost of a latte. If they have anything like my positive first experience, I could easily see this being a boom for the e-bike world.

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We Can't Wait for a Safe Network of Bike Lanes Downtown

The Seattle City Council's Sustainability and Transportation Committee met yesterday to get the details on why SDOT is cutting the downtown bike network and bike lanes throughout Seattle (background here.)

As a daily bike rider who is directly affected by the lack of action by SDOT, I planned to testify about my experiences biking around town, but especially downtown. I thought I would have 2 minutes, but with such a big turnout, Mike O'Brien shortened public testimony to 1 minute each.

 

When my name was called, everything I planned to say got thrown out the window as a jumbled mess of something came tumbling out of my mouth. In truth, I think I invited the council members to go for a bike ride, told them it was unsafe, but other than that I'm not sure what else. King5 got a clip of me and surprsingly I don't sound too awful: 

Thankfully, I also saved the text of my planned testimony. So, dear readers, here is what I planned to say to the City Council (and have since emailed them):

Good afternoon Council Members and Seattle Department of Transportation. My name is Marley Blonsky and I’m a daily bike rider. I ride my bike everywhere- to work, for errands, for fun, for volunteer commitments, camping trips- literally everywhere. In the last two weeks alone, I’ve taken 62 bike trips for over 300 miles.

 

This year, I’m also in charge of my company’s Bike to Work activities. I recruited 82 coworkers to join me this month in biking to work. 36 of those people are new to biking to work. When they ask me about safe route into work, I don’t have many options to give them. Sure, we’ve got 2nd Avenue, but have you ever tried to get there on a bicycle? Good luck.

 

Imagine building one mile of a freeway with no connections to it. That’s what our 2nd ave protected bike lane is like.

 

My daily bike commute takes me from Capitol Hill to 3rd and Madison in downtown. While I’m a confident bike rider, it is incredibly scary to transition from a bike lane on Pine to a wide open street with no bike lanes at Boren. Downtown is even scarier, with no connections to the bike lane on 2nd Avenue, constant construction, and daily construction hazards.

 

Going home in the afternoon is even worse. After I leave the 2nd Avenue protected bike lane, I jockey with taxis, buses, and trucks from 2nd to 8th avenue on Pike Street until there is a bike lane on Pine street again.

This isn’t right.

 I had hope for more protected bike lanes and neighborhood greenways.

I called voters for the Move Seattle Levy. 

The current state of our streets is NOT SAFE.

If you think it’s good enough, I invite you to ride with me one day and see how close cars come to me. Seriously, let’s go for a ride.

Please, restore the 16 miles of bike lanes that were cut. We need a connected bike network. Thank you.

 

Something I said stuck with some reporter, as a friend screenshotted this quote from the Seattle Times:

Bike Month 2015 Wrap Up

Holy Moley! May is over and what a month! I biked every single day of the month, which is definitely a record for me! For the first time ever, I tracked every single bike ride. Here are my #s for May:

92 trips

543 miles

34 commutes

3 camping trips

FAR TOO MUCH FUN TOO COUNT!

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Seriously though, this is WAY more than I've ever biked in one month. 2014 was the first year I'd ever seriously participated in Bike to Work month, and I did a decent job of biking to work. I got 42 miles in, which with a commute of 4 miles round trip, is pretty darn good! This year, however, I made an effort to Bike Everywhere, and it really paid off! My longest trip was 52 miles, which was to Ben Country, but other than that, most of my trips were 10 miles, 15 miles, or even shorter. Just lots and lots of short trips to here, there, and everywhere!

I wonder if I can rack up even more miles as the months go on?