Seattle by Lime Bike

I spent 5 days in Seattle staying close to the U of W and the Burke-Gilman bike trail. Lime bikes are everywhere with what looks like an even mix of traditional pedal bikes and ebikes.

My insights:

  1. Super-convenient. I never had more than a few minute walk to find a bike. Even when I was at the West Point Lighthouse, I found the one bike that was there (but wonder if I stranded the person who rode it). I had done a fairly long walk to the lighthouse and was really happy to rest my feet on the return trip.
  2. The bikes take a beating. Handlebars often are not aligned with the wheel and there are a lot of squeaks, rattles, and brake noise. Not surprising since many of the bikes are dumped on their side. I encountered one bike with a bent crank and one with a broken front basket. Out of 10 bikes I rode, 5 had an annoying issue but still could be ridden. 2 could not be ridden. The app has a tool to report issues but I have no idea how fast Lime responds.
  3. Easy to sign up and use the app!
  4. It’s expensive! $3-$4 for a 15 minute Ebike ride. Less for a pedal bike. I guess the cost reflects the convenience of finding a bike nearly anywhere and the (likely) high cost of maintenance.
  5. The Lime ebikes work well. Zippy on the flats and helpful on the hills. They seem to be speed-limited as I couldn’t get going very fast on the downhills. I know class 1 ebikes are limited to 15 mph with assist but assume they can go faster with pedaling. Not sure if this was a regenerative braking effect or whether the speed was intentionally limited.
  6. Like pedal sharebikes everywhere, they are heavy and slow. Not a problem on a short, flat commute but I had a long hill to climb from the lighthouse and I think I was slower on the bike than walking.
  7. I’ve always ridden with a helmet. Didn’t have one and was surprised how little I thought about it since I was mostly on some excellent separated bike paths. When I was mixing with traffic (especially bike lanes in the door zone) I was very vigilant watching drivers.

As a tourist I am very happy to see this option. Every day in Seattle, I mixed public transit, walking, and biking, choosing the best mode at the time. And I never missed not having a car. Certainly a boon for travelers like me.

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Pedal Assist – Just Another Marketing Term

Interesting to see this sign at a trailhead in Moab the other day. The BLM had to post both ‘No e-bikes’ and ‘No pedal assist’ since the bike industry has pushed ‘pedal assist’ as the preferred deceptive marketing term. I hadn’t made the connection until I saw this, but ‘pedal assist’ doesn’t sound like you have a motor – it just sounds like magic that helps you pedal. 

With the lack of technical fluency of most of the population, I can’t blame the rider for not understanding that their pedal assist bike has a motor. Glad to see the BLM is holding the line on keeping motors off these trails. There are plenty of trails around Moab where motors are allowed – so I hope the BLM and other agencies continue to hold the line on this. 

If Cycling is the New Golf, E-Bikes are the Handicap

shimano-electric-assistImage – Shimano

One of the reasons that golf is so popular in business is that people of different abilities can play together. It’s also a good game for socializing because there is a lot of time to chat during the game. I’m not a golfer so what I’m going to write here may be way off, but the whole idea of the handicap is that you can have people of differing abilities play the same round and then compare scores afterwards. So, for business it’s the great equalizer. Could you imagine people going swimming together? ‘Hey Bill – what do you say we race each other over 400 meters and then talk about the Westco project?’. It’s not going to happen. Or – ‘Steve & Jane – want to play some 2 on 2 hoops?’. Well if the last time Steve and Jane picked up a basketball was at age 13 when they played a game of HORSE, there is no way that 2 on 2 game is going to be any fun for either side if they are playing some ex-college basketball players.

For the brief time that I was in Sales I quickly realized what a disadvantage it was not to be a golfer. If money is the engine of capitalism, golf is clearly the lubricant. A few years ago, the phrase, ‘Cycling is the new golf’ became popular around some corners of Silicon Valley – well not my corner of the stagnant semiconductor capital equipment industry – but certainly among the social media/killer app/Sand Hill crowd. I still never got this because the difference in endurance between someone who rides a bike once a month and someone who rides 2-3 times a week can be quite stark. I just can’t see the casual cyclist (dare I say Fred?) hitting the Portola Loop and climbing Old La Honda with a Cat 3 leg shaver. Fred’s going to get dropped on the first Strava climbing segment that is over 1/10 of a mile.

But the other day it dawned on me – the e-bike is the great equalizer – to use a golfing term – the handicap – that allows people of varying ability to participate in the same event. Now all we need is a good way to express that handicap. Is it the number of watts your e-bike puts out? Maybe you add your bike wattage to your actual wattage? Or take this number and divide by your weight so you could have a power to weight handicap?transformer-electric-bicycle-black-b2-blk-zzzzzby-color-black-e65_grande

Image – Genesis

Still the e-bike analogy seems pretty weak. Even a noob golfer must swing the club (actually a bunch more times than a good golfer), still must walk the whole course (or ride in the same cart) but the e-bike rider can’t feel the same satisfaction as the ‘traditional’ rider, can he? If you keep up with the group on your e-bike it’s not because you earned it, right? You just paid to keep up just like you had called Uber for a lift. Just like anyone, I hate getting dropped but it builds toughness – I don’t know if there is anything more humbling that I experience on a regular basis than getting back to the coffee shop 10 minutes after my buddies.

As humbling as getting dropped can be, it makes me want to work harder and it reminds me that there is ALWAYS someone better out there. Plus, isn’t toughness one of the attributes we want to get out of our athletic pursuits? If that novice golfer had a battery-powered exoskeleton that allowed her to swing more consistently and strike the ball harder would that be allowed on the golf course? Why do we think a motorized bike is OK but not a motor-assist for the folks lifting at the gym?

I don’t have a problem with folks using e-bikes out on the road. If it gets them out there that’s fine. If it allows them to commute, ditch the car and reduce pollution that’s even better. But if you’re in a competitive group ride (whether it’s a loop with your buddies or on a Century) be honest that you are on an e-bike – don’t try to disguise it. If you’re happy that’s great – just be willing to talk about your handicap just like the golfers.

Now that I’ve said all that – don’t even get me started on mountain bikes with electric motors. I don’t care what you call them or what rationalizations you come up with – they are motorized bikes and please keep them off trails that are designated for human power only.