Skip

Transit Triathlon
September 11, 2012 3:19 PM   Subscribe

If you've spent any time in Washington, DC during the past few years, you're probably familiar with Capital Bikeshare; the region's immensely popular bikesharing program. The system's big red bikes are designed for casual use, and are built like tanks to avoid damage, vandalism, and theft. This past weekend, one Falls Church, VA resident undocked one of the 40lb bikes, and rode it to the finish line of the Nations' Triathlon.

The rapidly expanding elitist socialist system has proven to be popular, safe, and cost-effective for its users.

In fact, the system has gained such a reputation for safety that most of its users now chose to forego the use of a helmet. While Capital Bikeshare's 33% helmet-usage rate seems low compared to the overall 70% average for DC, it's only slightly below the 38% national average, and is far below the worldwide average. In the Netherlands, over 25% of all trips take place on a bicycle, helmet usage is virtually nonexistent, and there are 80% fewer cyclist fatalities per-mile than the US.

In many cases, Bikesharing allows commuters to reach their destinations more quickly than by transit. There's also now a trip planner that provides turn-by-turn bicycle directions for bikeshare users.
posted by schmod (34 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Why is he wearing a dress shirt?
posted by goethean at 3:22 PM on September 11, 2012


One more thing you can thank/hate Montreal for.
posted by Kitteh at 3:23 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Because it's funny?
posted by Malor at 3:23 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Amazing. I've ridden my 40lb bike a bit over 100km; it's slightly more aerodynamic than a bikeshare but it was pretty rough. Props to this guy.
posted by Lemurrhea at 3:32 PM on September 11, 2012


I loooove Capital Bikeshare, but man I wish their station map page would let you search for the nearest .... Wait! BikePlanner does it? HOT DAMN!
posted by tittergrrl at 3:37 PM on September 11, 2012


Why is he wearing a dress shirt?

It's DC.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 3:42 PM on September 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Why is he wearing a dress shirt?

Oh, that's the other rental program -- Capital ShirtShare.
posted by dhartung at 3:43 PM on September 11, 2012 [9 favorites]


The Canadian service is known as Bixi; in all countries, the deposit (tracable to a valid debit/credit account) is proportional to the cost of a new bike (just under US$450.00). Given that the bikes have steel frames and are conspicuous, the loss rate is further minimized by their availibility in cities with high degrees of tourism.

Ironically, their base of operations is in Montreal, which has a single (3 block long!) dedicated bike lane within the main square of the city. You either learn to ride with the flow of regular traffic, or restrict your travels to the nearby parks.
posted by Smart Dalek at 3:50 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Like the linked article says, I wouldn't pin the lack of helmets on bikeshare users on the system's reputation for safety—it's because people don't generally carry helmets around unless their own bike is nearby.

The company that runs the DC bike share, as well as a bunch of other bike shares across North America (and in London), is commonly known as Bixi in Canada. It started in Montreal after the city decided to look into creating a bike-sharing system for the city. The company has had its share of financial problems, though. Originally the company was told they had to sell off the subsidiary responsible for running the non-Montreal systems, due to a Quebec law preventing cities from owning commercial businesses, but more recently Montreal was told Bixi could keep its other bikeshare businesses.

Which is great on the one hand, as Bixi has been a definite benefit to Toronto, where I live. But on the other hand, part of me wonders if Bixi's financial troubles help to explain why the city seems reluctant to expand the system beyond its current, rather limited boundaries. Bixi has repeatedly claimed the barrier to more stations and a bigger service area has been political, as city council would have to approve the new stations, but Bixi's own issues can't help the situation.
posted by chrominance at 4:03 PM on September 11, 2012


I've ridden my 40lb bike a bit over 100km; it's slightly more aerodynamic than a bikeshare but it was pretty rough.

I rode my 40 pound bike 120 km, and this was before I switched to slicks. It's pretty rough, and even rougher when I put the studded tires on each winter, but it gets me where I want to go.

OTOH, the one and only time I rode a Bixi it was a nightmare. It didn't have brakes: it had levers that applied a homeopathic dose of braking power to the bike. I may have taken out a truck at one point: I can't remember because my eyes were closed and I was screaming at the top of my lungs.
posted by maudlin at 4:10 PM on September 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


(Robert) Solorzano was a contender in Capital Bikeshare’s Winter Weather Warrior Contest, which had gone into its final week of competition. The contest offered a handful of prizes to the hardy bikeshare members who managed to log the most trips and the most hours in the saddle during January and February. In a perverse twist, the contest promised double points whenever a member rode in unpleasant weather – below-freezing temperatures, snow, or cold rain. Going into the last days, Solorzano was on the top-ten leader board, but he wasn’t even close to the top slot. That belonged far and away to a rider named Michael Hurley.

But the onset of ugly weather so late in the game played right into Solorzano’s strategy. His plan all along had been to exploit the double points whenever possible. And to play possum.

So when he took the day off from work and hit the road around 7:30 a.m. on Feb. 22, he just kept going. He rode from one station to the next all day long, breaking only to warm his feet and briefly rest his legs, and he continued until he docked a bike at every one of the system’s 104 active stations, covering every quadrant of the District, Crystal City, and Pentagon City. He finished just before midnight, having racked up 204 points in one day. (He didn’t score points for two of the rides – one because it was shorter than five minutes, which was against contest rules, and another because of an electronic malfunction.)

“One thing that motivated me, and probably some other riders, was this presumption that Hurley was going to win, almost from the first week,” says Solorzano, an operations research analyst in his mid-50’s. “But as time went on, and certainly in the last week, I thought maybe I’ll win, maybe I won’t, but I’ll give it a try.”
The (sadly) now-defunct TBD's How Robert Solorzano won Capital Bikeshare's Winter Weather Warrior contest.
posted by Challahtronix at 4:28 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


In fact, the system has gained such a reputation for safety that most of its users now chose to forego the use of a helmet.

This doesn't make any sense. People don't use helmets with bikeshare bikes, because bikeshare bikes don't come with helmets. What are you supposed to do, carry a helmet around just in case you want to use a bikeshare bike that day? They don't exactly fit in a pants pocket. No, you just shrug and chance it, and hope that you don't end up as some fucker's hood ornament and subsequently a nice bag of donated organs.

I love the bikeshare concept in general and I frequently bicycle around DC/NoVA, but biking in DC has not gotten significantly safer in the last few months. The drivers are still just as bad as ever, the bike lane designs are still just as poor and traffic-exposed ... it's just that there are now more bicycles and more people are trying it out. I'm not sure that having many people do it without helmets is a great idea in typical US urban traffic, although I don't really see how bikeshare works any other way.

Hopefully, the number of new bicycle riders as a result of bikeshare will lead to pressure for infrastructure and safety improvements, before there are too many vegetable-creating accidents that sap enthusiasm for the system.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:32 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


dhartung: "Oh, that's the other rental program -- Capital ShirtShare."

You should see the new rental scheme down by the waterfront.
posted by schmod at 4:35 PM on September 11, 2012


chrominance: "The company that runs the DC bike share, as well as a bunch of other bike shares across North America (and in London), is commonly known as Bixi in Canada. It started in Montreal after the city decided to look into creating a bike-sharing system for the city. "

Alta Bicycle Share are responsible for running Capital Bikeshare. Bixi provide some of the parts (most notably, the bikes). Various Bixi systems employ different hardware (London made their own custom docks) and software (Alta flubbed the rollout of the NYC bikesharing system because the software wasn't ready).

So, no. Bixi's only real involvement in most US bikesharing systems is the supply of bikes and some of the hardware. The remainder is usually supplied by a contractor or local government.

This seems to have been a good call, since Bixi's incredibly odd financial structure is causing it no end of problems in Canada. The company appears to be great at building bikes, and absolutely terrible at anything to do with operations or running a business.
posted by schmod at 4:40 PM on September 11, 2012


There are areas of the city where the cost of an annual membership isn't really worth it, because the nearby stations are always empty during the peak hours, and often at other unpredictable times as well. I ditched it after the nth consecutive time I couldn't get a bike in Petworth, where n >= "OH COME ON!"
posted by wam at 4:43 PM on September 11, 2012


Bixi's are a bit subpar compared to Capital Bikeshare even though they share the same manufacturer. Bixi's been around longer and has to deal with harsh winters so it's understandable if the brakes are going a bit or have been refined since, but they're designed for someone 5'9" tops- at max seat height I still felt uncomfortable. They've added a few new bikes that have the larger frames and the seatpost notch, but I often found the seatpost notch wasn't actually centered which defeats the purpose.

As for safety, there's been one serious accident with Bikeshare that's been reported, and at that time (6 months ago) it was the "17th reported crash involving the bikes out of 1.6 million rides", which is roughly one crash for every 90,000 rides. Bikeshare's biggest problem is popularity and the logistics of moving bikes around at peak times, with docks being either completely empty or full depending on whether you need to get or leave a bike.
posted by Challahtronix at 4:50 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kadin2048: "What are you supposed to do, carry a helmet around just in case you want to use a bikeshare bike that day?"

Well, yes. I know this sucks for a lot of trips, but there are some cases when you know that you'll be taking bikeshare later in the day and have the ability to carry a helmet around with you.

A frequent routine for me is to bike up to U St on a weekend night (wearing a helmet), go to a few bars, try not to forget the helmet at said bars, and take the bus home.

It doesn't work for everyone, and I don't wear the helmet on every trip, but I figure that I'm at least reducing my exposure.

Kadin2048: "Hopefully, the number of new bicycle riders as a result of bikeshare will lead to pressure for infrastructure and safety improvements, before there are too many vegetable-creating accidents that sap enthusiasm for the system."

I'm having trouble finding a link, but I believe that there's actually a fair body of evidence that the number of cyclists on the road directly correlates to a safety improvement, even in the complete absence of infrastructure improvements.

Basically, when motorists are used to looking for cyclists, the car-bike accident rate goes way down. Bike Infrastructure can actually sometimes add a false sense of security, because drivers don't know how to interact with it -- how many drivers know that they're supposed to to "merge" into the bike lane if they're turning?

Speaking of false senses of security, studies have also shown that cyclists are way more careful when they're not wearing a helmet. Often, this offsets any statistical safety benefit that the helmet might have had, since helmets only offer protection against a fairly small subset of urban bike accidents.
posted by schmod at 4:54 PM on September 11, 2012


Tulsa has had a few racks full of bikes for some years now. They're free, though. Just this year the University of Tulsa started a bike share program. I wouldn't know about it but for the bright yellow bikes I see daily now.
posted by wierdo at 5:17 PM on September 11, 2012


Take that, carbon fiber and titanium!
posted by crunchland at 5:52 PM on September 11, 2012


But I'll tell you ... ride one, and be prepared to be yelled at and spit on by other DC bicyclists. I can vouch for it personally -- there's definitely a caste system when it comes to bike paths in DC.
posted by crunchland at 5:54 PM on September 11, 2012


Smart Dalek: And Montreal drivers are damn scary drivers. I hated being a pedestrian in Kirkland a couple of years ago.
posted by Canageek at 6:06 PM on September 11, 2012


The thing about bike-sharing is that it only works when people can use it without dealing with the hassle and discomfort of helmets. Almost overnight, a good bike-sharing system drastically increases the number of people cycling in the city, both directly on its bikes and through helping people start cycling on their own bikes. More people riding means cycling is more visible and brings safety in numbers -- by far the biggest factor for cycling safety. More people riding increases the demand for good cycling infrastructure, which in turn makes more people feel comfortable riding. Etc.

The lack of helmets in a bike-sharing system is a very positive indication that it's attracting regular non-cyclist people, and the ultimate impact is greatly positive for the safety of cycling in the city, not to mention the public health impact of more people getting around by active means.
posted by parudox at 7:43 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ironically, their base of operations is in Montreal, which has a single (3 block long!) dedicated bike lane within the main square of the city. You either learn to ride with the flow of regular traffic, or restrict your travels to the nearby parks.

Ummm, which Montreal are you visiting? The City has more than 600 km of dedicated bike lanes. And Bixi works utterly fabulously there.
posted by dry white toast at 7:46 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


But I'll tell you ... ride one, and be prepared to be yelled at and spit on by other DC bicyclists. I can vouch for it personally -- there's definitely a caste system when it comes to bike paths in DC.

I have seriously not noticed anything at all like this, and I've spent plenty of time over the past few years riding around on (a) those Bikeshare tanks, (b) my sturdy-and-unsexy, secondhand-Bike-the-Sites hybrid*, and (c) my fancyish sleek new road bike. If there's any "caste system" in place, it's a rightful shaming of
  • people who ride the wrong way in the bike lanes on one-way streets,
  • people who manage to block the entire 15th Street bikeway,
  • Segways, always, and
  • pedestrians who decide that's the best place for them to amble along even though there's a sidewalk literally two feet away goddamnit what the hell aaaaargh.
And even that being said, people have seriously spit at you? What.

* Their annual bike sale is a public service par excellence.
posted by psoas at 8:17 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


The only country where bike share schemes have unarguably flopped is Australia, where there are mandatory helmet laws.
posted by normy at 8:56 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


people have seriously spit at you? What. -- I've definitely been treated like a second-class citizen riding one of these behemoth bikes on the bike paths along the Potomac riding one of these. I get the feeling that the people with the carbon-fiber bikes and the brightly colored spandex onesies seem to think that their tour de france time trials take precedence over someone trying to get a little exercise.
posted by crunchland at 9:29 PM on September 11, 2012


You forgot UPS drivers and taxicabs...

No, really. DC taxis love to hug the curb to prevent cyclists from riding in the shoulder, and seem to enjoy driving in bike lanes for the same reason.

Also, I'd say that the rules on the CCT and the other long-distance paths tend to be a bit different than the rules for within the city itself. There's definitely some snobbery on the former, although I've never encountered anything terribly bad. Mainly just commuters/athletes who get peeved at tourists riding four-abreast.

posted by schmod at 9:33 PM on September 11, 2012


it's a rightful shaming of [...] Segways, always,

The hell? Shaming? Rightful?

That's whack.
posted by Malor at 1:14 AM on September 12, 2012


The hell? Shaming? Rightful?

In DC, Segways are almost exclusively the province of sightseeing tour groups and they frequently either take over bike lanes or block intersections, showing very little awareness of the people and traffic around them.
posted by psoas at 4:11 AM on September 12, 2012


Basically, when motorists are used to looking for cyclists, the car-bike accident rate goes way down. Bike Infrastructure can actually sometimes add a false sense of security, because drivers don't know how to interact with it -- how many drivers know that they're supposed to to "merge" into the bike lane if they're turning?

I can say that this has borne out for my own driving in DC since the rise of Capital Bikeshare. I'm much more used to looking out for bikes to the point that it's second nature (like looking for pedestrians always was). I'm also much more used to their movement patterns and hand signals. But, the lack of helmets still worries me a bit -- I still see people blithely opening their cardoors without looking all the time.
posted by bluefly at 5:59 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


most of its users now chose to forego the use of a helmet.

This is only anecdata, but I've noticed more people on Bikeshare wearing helmets lately compared to when the system was first rolled out. Also, Capital Bikeshare gave away free helmets at their first anniversary party and I think made free or cheap helmets available at other times as well.

I support the system, but for me and a lot of other people, it simply isn't reliable transportation because of stations being empty or full especially at peak commute hours. The Bikeshare folks try hard to re-balance by moving bikes with their trucks, but when I need to go somewhere I won't rely on Bikeshare.
posted by exogenous at 8:00 AM on September 12, 2012


schmod: "Speaking of false senses of security, studies have also shown that cyclists are way more careful when they're not wearing a helmet."

There's evidence that this works the other way as well: drivers (often incorrectly) assume that bikers who wear helmets/mirrors are more experienced and give them less of a berth.
posted by stratastar at 9:04 AM on September 12, 2012


Those bike share bikes (or a nearly identical model) are available in the Twin Cities, too. Several years ago I did the local duathlon, featuring an 18 mile ride with two pretty good-sized hills. There were three or four people who rented and rode the green EasyRide bikes the whole way. But this was in the Midwest, not in DC, so it didn't make the news I guess.
posted by caution live frogs at 9:55 AM on September 12, 2012


That's whack.

No, it's not; DC is plagued with inexperienced Segway-riding tourists, who travel in slow-moving yet unpredictable and difficult-to-pass packs in the bike lanes. It's not really the machines so much as it is the number of them driven by people with less than 30 minutes of experience. I'm not sure I've ever seen a privately-owned Segway but the few of them that presumably exist aren't the problem.

IMO, Segways are neat but should require a motorcycle endorsement -- and in fact I'm not really sure how they dodge that, since in DC any two-wheeled motorized vehicle normally requires one (even tiny low-displacement scooters like 49cc Vespas and minibikes), unless they actually have functional pedals. They could do that, get rid of the silly 12MPH top speed limit, and have a much more functional vehicle that wouldn't be embarrassing to ride.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:59 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


« Older Flowers are very pretty   |   John Romero's "Daikatana" Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post