Monday, February 02, 2009

DC Smart Bikes

January in Portland was a decent month for cycler-ing around, and I feel like my year's off to a good start. We had an unusual string of clear, calm nights in Portland, and they made for some great night commutes home. I love the almost total silence on late, cold nights under the stars, whisking along by the Willamette. It's hard to believe that in another month or so, the spring peepers will make Oaks Bottom loud as a highway, if a bit more pleasant.

Only 153 miles left me off pace for my ten a day goal, but some nice extended commutes in the west hills made it feel like more. Also, I was gone to a conference and visiting family for 2 weeks around DC.

I'm a big casual fan of bike sharing, and I was looking forward to seeing the DC Smartbike fleet up close. Unfortunately (but probably for the best), the system is not meant for us gawking tourists. I had heard snickers in Portland that the DC system seemed awfully small to cover the city. In my week hoofing it in and around Dupont Circle, I was surprised to stumble on 3 separate Smartbike stations. It seems like DC made the most of the initial installment by concentrating the stations.

Despite some seriously blustery weather, I saw a lot of turnover at the stations. Dupont Circle metro station to the Whole Foods about 3/4 mile away seemed to be a popular trip and struck me as a "killer app" for the shared bikes. The bikes themselves are super smart. I snapped a few cell phone pics at the Dupont rack.

Plenty of bikes on a weekday afternoon. On the weekend, the rack was down to 3

The front rack is sized for a paper grocery sack and has a bungee to secure the load. The rack has pins that lock the bike into the return rack. It's released electronically when a user logs in at the checkout terminal at the end of the rack.

Super smart bike design for regular clothes and minimal maintenance. Internal 3-speed hub with rear roller brake and front v-brake, full chain and skirt/coat guards, fenders, lights. The seat post is quick release for adjustment but won't pull out all the way for obvious reasons.

I like the twin top tube design. Why not have a little flair? The rear light's clamped onto the seat tube and well protected. I couldn't figure out how the lights are powered or turned on. There's no generator or obvious switches. Do they charge from the rack contacts? Turn on automatically?

All in all, I left pretty impressed. I'm sure in the summer they'd need a lot more bikes, but it seems like a nice system to build on, and it's definitely getting used, even mid-winter. Way to go DC!