Bikesharing in DC

I have spent the last three days dog sitting in Washington, DC, in the Bloomingdale neighborhood, which I adore.  I adore the dogs too, Katzen and Jammer – ironically, named after the German-American cartoon the Katzenjammer Kids, but long before I knew their owner.  The Mechanic has been out West, so it’s just been me and the dogs for three whole days.  But I have been happy for the opportunity to really check out Capital Bikeshare, and have biked everywhere in the city on those big red bikes.

“But wait,” you will ask (as others already have), “don’t you own something like three bikes?”  Why yes, yes I do – but that doesn’t mean I can’t use a bikeshare system.  And besides, since I promote it as part of my job, it seems like something I should be familiar with.  And since I had a load of luggage to take with me after work, and it wouldn’t all fit on Fauntleroy, it seemed easiest to just take my helmet and CapBike key.

And after three days of CapBike-ing around town, I can report that I love the system, and it was so convenient to use to get around!  The house where I have been staying is about a block from a station, and there are a few around the closest Metro station as well.  Luckily, since Friday morning when I headed out around 11:30am, there were no bikes at the closest station!

The two CapBikes I couldn't check out.

Now, I assumed that people would ride them to the Metro station, but also assumed that the hard-working bike “rebalancers”would have moved some back here by 11:30 – but I was wrong!  No matter, I walked to the next closest station, easily identifiable using the Spotcycle app, and hopped on a bike there.

Everywhere I went this weekend was about 20 minutes apart, which was perfect, since the first 30 minutes are free.  This is on purpose – the whole point of the bike share system is to encourage you to use the bikes for short trips, leave it somewhere, then simply pick up another one when you are ready to return, or go elsewhere.  So Friday I biked to Dupont Circle, had lunch with friends, then biked to the Target in Columbia Heights, then biked back to the dogs.  Saturday I biked to Georgetown, then to Target again, then back.  Today, Sunday, I biked to Eastern Market – that was a bit more challenging, since I couldn’t find the station!  I didn’t see it hidden behind all the outdoor vendors!

Fresh mini donuts from Eastern Market

So I might have gone over my 30 minutes there, circling, app in hand, trying to find it. That was mildly annoying.  But then I walked to the American History Museum, enjoying the spring flowers and cherry blossoms in bloom, then jumped on another bike and returned.

The Capital surrounded by blooms

The bikes are much easier to ride than I expected.  They look big and heavy, but feel very solid, very tall, and are pretty easy to ride. There are only three gears, but I never felt limited and I did make it over some decent hills (going up 15th street by Meridian Hill Park, I actually started making weird wheezing noises, reminding me of the NYC doctor who diagnosed me with sports-induced asthma.  I’ve never believed him until then). There are some great bike lanes, such as the cool two- lane one on 15thstreet, and on Pennsylvania Avenue, and I never felt threatened by the cars around me.

Biking up Penn Ave

Admittedly, this was a weekend – I don’t know what a weekday would be like.  Some of the stations are in weird places, like the one behind the Natural History Museum that was randomly plopped in the middle of the street with no bike lanes leading to it.

Capital Bikeshare station, in the middle of the street....

And one station I went to had two bikes, but neither were working – the key didn’t activate them, the red light lit up, and the bikes wouldn’t undock.  I’m not sure that means they were in need of repair, or what, but it did explain the guy I was wearing his helmet and lingering around the station as I walked up.

There is a large bike culture in DC – I saw people on bikes everywhere I looked.  At one intersection, the three women, including myself, who rolled up and stopped were all on CapBikes, and at others, I was the only one surrounded by personal bikes decked out with cool details, baskets, fenders, lights or some combination thereof.

An Electra - I love these bikes!

I saw people who were clearly tourists, a man in a business suit with his briefcase, and more than once saw a pair of people walk up to get a bike for the person who must have been an out-of-town guest, since they already had a bike between the two of them.

Despite the few hiccups with the system, I am overall a huge fan after this weekend, and I think I now only want to vacation in cities with bikeshare systems.  Luckily, there is a huge list – during the bikeshare webinar I attended the other day at work, one presenter said there are 130 systems in 160 countries or something like that.  So I’ve got plenty of options!  And Alta, the bike company that owns the CapBikes, also supplies Toronto, Montreal, Melbourne, London, Boston, and soon Chicago.  So there are plenty of options! But where to go first…?

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