Seattle Times Traffic Lab reporters have attempted 206 rides on Spin, ofo and LimeBike bikes since November. Here’s what we found.
Some 10,000 of the colorful bicycles populate Seattle roadsides, under a loosely regulated pilot project. The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) proposes a permanent program that could double the bike count to 20,000.
As of spring, each bike was ridden on average 0.84 times per day, a city report says, while LimeBike says it just surpassed 1 million trips.
What the city report doesn’t tell you is the odds the nearest bike will work.
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Seattle Times Traffic Lab reporters have attempted 206 rides on Spin, ofo and Lime bicycles since November, for work, commutes and personal trips, based on which brand was closest at hand. Most occurred within the X-shaped area from Shilshole to Beacon Hill, South Lake Union to Sodo, and the University District to West Seattle Junction.
A total 141 bicycles, or 68.5 percent, were ridable.
Of the other 65 bicycles, 12 showed obvious damage, while 53 failed to unlock, due to communications or battery failures. Dead spots appeared at McGraw Square near the Westin Hotel on Dec. 21 and March 5, thwarting eight attempts in ofo or Lime apps.
We made 27 attempts on electric-assist Lime bikes, of which 20 worked. At least four showed a low-battery message in the app.
Lime records for the past two weeks show a combined 87 percent of its Seattle e-bikes and regular bikes are ridable, said Gabriel Scheer, director of strategic development.
Each electric bike is being ridden two to five times per day, he said. New kinds of trips are happening uphill north of Green Lake and up the West Seattle hillside, so bikes must be recharged more than the expected twice a week, he said.
Brake-cable cutting by vandals kept maintenance crews on the move, Scheer said. Traffic Lab found about two-thirds of Lime bikes ridable over eight months.
Ofo said it won’t answer reliability questions for competitive reasons, except to say its Seattle team is “data driven every morning and night when rebalancing our fleet.” Spin hasn’t replied to requests for comment.
Some general impressions:
The yellow ofo bicycles were the most likely to work, at 77 percent, perhaps because they’re constantly replenished. On July 2 for instance, ofo parked a truck on McGraw Square where a team unloaded new yellow bikes.
Lime offers the broadest and lowest gear range to conquer hills. New e-bikes make climbing Capitol Hill feasible, but their weight and a 15 mph governor prevent quick maneuvers on level streets.
Orange Spin bicycles offer the most comfortable geometry to transmit pedal power, and for taller riders.
Sidewalk clutter is a problem, so along with more rules, SDOT proposes spending 40 percent of the yet-to-be-approved franchise fee of $250,000 per company per year to build more on-street bike-parking corrals.
SDOT says at least five companies want to operate here, although only four would be allowed under the proposed regulations.
One of the companies expressing interest in Seattle is Uber’s red “Jump” bicycles, which lock to public and private bicycle racks — a feature supporters say will keep them from blocking pedestrians.