Capital Bikeshare’s 1,100 bikes are nerdy, heavy as hell, stiff as slate and equipped with only a three-speed internal gear. And they're awesome.
They’re awesome because people use them for real transportation. A lot.
After years of reading about bikeshare programs, I spent last week in Washington, D.C., where I finally got to try one. More cities should have programs like this. Especially those lucky enough to have a mild climate and relatively flat terrain.
Washington’s traffic and shortage of parking make traveling by car unappealing, so why bother? The streets and bike lanes are full of cyclists, from hipsters on fixies to commuters and tourists on bikeshare bikes. As a visitor, I could buy a 24-hour membership in the program for seven dollars, then drop bikes—and get new ones for subsequent trips—at 110 locations. Locals can pay $75 for annual memberships.
You can use a bike for free (other than the membership fee) for the first 30 minutes you have it, then pay hourly fees for any extra time. Considering that it seems like a fit rider could get almost much anywhere in central Washington within a half-hour, that’s a pretty decent deal.
I checked out a bike last Tuesday night after a long, evening walk on the National Mall. I hated the idea of walking all the way back to my hotel, and cabs are expensive, so being able to grab a bike and get “home” 15 or 20 minutes was a perfect solution. (By the way, each bike also has flashing lights both front and rear, which comes in handy at a time like this.)
After wrapping up a tiring week at mid-day on Friday, I picked up another bike so I could wander around, and next thing I knew, I was in Georgetown. I decided to drop my bike at one of the self-service stations, then walk to some bike shops and stop for a cold beer. An hour or so later, I retrieved my bike so I could cruise along the Potomac past the Watergate Hotel (where crooks used to operate) and up the National Mall to the U.S. Capitol (where crooks still operate). A little later, I dropped the bike at a station near my hotel, then picked up a bottle of wine and walked to a friend’s house for dinner. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon in a new city.
Something like this probably could never work in Anchorage. Our urban sprawl and small population would make a bikeshare program inefficient. Plus, our weather keeps most of the local population off bikes for about eight months a year.
I would never trade our mountains, snow and long winters for life in D.C., but I am a little jealous of programs like this.