Tackling this adventure has generated a little more nervousness than many of my others. (You mean, you don’t find the idea of going to a ballet terrifying?). Why was this one somewhat nerve-wracking? It combined multiple “intimidating” things – figuring out a new computer kiosk in public, riding a new bike on those oh-so-dangerous DC streets, and, most of all, finding out how out of shape I was. Aie. As of today, the first and second are now in hand, but the last kicked my butt.
So why join a Bikeshare?
I biked a lot right until I moved to DC, but then I had problems with my mountain bike, and I sold it on Craigslist. I came close a couple of times to buying a street bike, yet held off because I was renovating my house and had no room to store it.
Unfortunately, I am still renovating my house, years and years later. But I wanted to start biking around my neighborhood and especially to my new job downtown, and, conveniently, there is now a new bikeshare stand/kiosk close to my house as well as one close to my job – downhill. Notice the words “biking to my job” do not imply “biking from my job.” The great thing about the Capital Bikeshare program is that you can check a bike out of one kiosk, and leave it in another. So I could literally coast downhill, leave the bike at a stand near work, and take the bus back up the hill later. I plan to eventually build up enough strength to climb the hills on the way back, but the bikeshare provides a great way to start.
I can also use the bike to hop around the neighborhood for shopping – as who wants to actually drive (and park) in a city? Via the bikeshare, there are now 200 stations and 1800+ bikes in DC – with stations in many of my favorite places. It is so wonderfully handy. So handy, that relatives of mine who came to visit checked out bikes and toured the National Mall last year. Unfortunately, I didn’t join them at the time.
Capital Bikeshare is a relatively new program that has helped make this city into much more bicycle-friendly place – for commuting, shopping and tooling around. There was a bikeshare program called SmartBike that started in in DC in 2008 offering 120 bikes at 10 stations – apparently it was the first bikeshare program in North America. But when DC and Arlington County decided in 2010 to request bids for a public-supported bikeshare program, Capital Bikeshare won, and SmartBike closed in 2011. Capital Bikeshare has taken off – now you see bike kiosks everywhere, and Montgomery County and Alexandria county have also joined in the program.
You pay a daily, monthly, yearly (etc.) fee, then also pay by the hour. Once you have swiped a credit card (for a one or three-day use) or paid for a membership (up to a year), the stand unlocks the bike, and off you go. When you check the bike back in (within 24 hrs), then the computer registers the time the bike is returned – no matter which kiosk – and you are charged the appropriate fee.
So this morning I signed up for annual membership, which was only $75, but it turns out my electronic key to the bike kiosk would take up to 7 days to get in the mail. So I walked to the nearest kiosk 4 blocks away, and bought a 24-hr membership. I was charged a fee of $7, and was told the first 30 minutes were free, the second 30 minutes was $2, and the third 30 minutes was another $4. But I certainly wasn’t going to last that long.
The bike was heavier than expected, but after I checked the tires and brakes, off I went. Luckily, the city has been planning for bikes – there are so many bike routes now marked on the streets within my neighborhood, that for this first go, I didn’t have to leave the marked paths.
I tooled around the neighborhood for about an hour – hearing my legs say to me as I tried to go uphill, that ‘yes, it has been a while since you biked.’ (I ignored that they also said that I was getting older.) This trip so confirmed my plan of first biking to work downhill only. However, that trip will still be trickier than today’s, as the city has not yet set up bike routes for the entire trip down – I will have to get on actual, commuter-car-crowded streets part of the way. Having had a friend wind up in the hospital because he got “doored” (i.e., a driver of a car who has just parked opens up the car door right as a bicyclist is trying to pass), the mantra will be caution.
So that’s it for today’s adventure; I’ll probably blog about the first bike trip all the way to work once I get my key, but first things first – I now know the system, and had a lovely bike ride around my neighborhood. Now I just need to get the smart app that shows the locations for all the kiosks….
Cheers on a beautiful spring day,
Good for you! A couple notes for your readers and for your cheap side- 1) it’s totally legit to leapfrog your bike from station to station on 30 minute intervals to avoid the extra fees (it was even in their FAQ somewhere). Just check it in and check it out again. 2) You really don’t want to just hold on to a bike- check it in whenever possible as the fees ramp pretty swiftly and are designed to keep bikes in circulation. 3) CaBi sets up corrals for high density events like Nats games but you can end up in a situation where there are no extra spots- so use a good tracking app. 4) the Spotcycle app (OS or Android) will show you the nearest bike or empty dock in a dozen countries.
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