The phrase “it’s just like riding a bike” has never resonated with me. I know it’s supposed to mean that the task ahead will be smooth, easy and familiar, but that is not what comes to mind when I think about jumping on a bike — at least not in the city.
That’s because my cycling experience consists of the occasional ride as a kid and one week at Burning Man. So the prospect of hopping on a bike with a motor in Seattle’s busy downtown core, just after rush hour, had me more than a little apprehensive. But I am a journalist, an urbanist, and self-proclaimed new mobility advocate — and a new way to get around Seattle arrived this week.
Dockless bike-sharing service LimeBike has started rolling out electric-assist “Lime-E” bicycles in Seattle, the first market for the new additions to the LimeBike fleet. On an unseasonably sunny, brisk Tuesday, I decided to try one out. A novice cyclist, I was grateful when Jason Wilde, LimeBike’s general manager for the Northwest, offered to be my guide.
We met on the corner of Second and Spring, where Jason had an electric-assist LimeBike reserved for me. Although LimeBike is deploying the e-bikes in small batches at first — starting with 300 and extending to 500 this week — Wilde didn’t have trouble finding another one for himself nearby. The e-bikes are distinguishable in the LimeBike app because they have lightning bolts over the icons marking them on the map.
After a wobbly start (and a mental note that it’s best to adjust the bike seat before hopping on) we were off. Lime-E bikes don’t require much training, since riders don’t have to turn the electric assist feature on or off. The motor is always running, increasing and decreasing the amount of electric assistance it provides based on how fast the rider is peddling. If you peddle more slowly, it turns up the electric assist.
I learned that counter-intuitive lesson when we climbed our first hill. We made a loop through Pike Place Market and approached the hill that we needed to climb to return to LimeBike’s Seattle headquarters at the WeWork co-working space.
Wilde informed me that the slower I pedaled, the more the bike would help me get up the hill. I briefly feared I was pedaling so slowly I might roll backward but the electric assist immediately ramped up, helping me climb the hill without much effort.
Despite the assist, don’t expect one of the e-bikes to zip you up hills at top speed. I still felt the resistance of the incline but it wasn’t a struggle.
LimeBike currently has about 4,000 bright green bicycles operating in Seattle, in compliance with the maximum set by city rules. LimeBike has been pulling some of its analog bicycles to make room for their electric replacements. Eventually, LimeBike expects around 40 percent of its fleet to be electric assist bikes.
“We look at this as a vision for our overall fleet going forward,” Wilde said. “This is the future for us in terms of trying to tap into something beyond first and last mile.”
The e-bikes cost $1 to unlock and an additional 10 cents for every 10 minutes of ride time. The analog LimeBikes cost a flat $1 for every 30 minutes of ride time. Lime-E bikes have a maximum speed of 14.5 MPH to comply with the 15 MPH cap that many cities put on e-bikes. This week, LimeBike also announced plans to add electric scooters to its fleet.
Last week, LimeBike competitor Spin announced plans to roll out its own e-bikes and electric scooters later this year but a formal launch date hasn’t been set.
Both companies want to make biking more accessible to customers with limited cycling experience, like me. Though I don’t see myself becoming a full-time bike commuter, today’s experience will definitely make me consider taking an e-bike on a sunny day without feeling intimidated by Seattle’s infamous hills.