FutureStructure

Inside Sacramento, Calif.'s New Electric Bike-Share Program

The bikes are candy-red and electric-assisted.

by Tony Bizjak, The Sacramento Bee / May 31, 2018

(TNS) — The streets of Sacramento, Calif., are suddenly dotted with a legion of slightly-cool, slightly-dorky looking candy red bicycles.

What's up?

The Jump Bikes are the first of 900 community bikeshare rentals coming to central Sacramento, West Sacramento and Davis this year. They're stationed at bike racks around town for people to use as they wish, mostly for short rides around urban areas.

Bikeshare programs aren't new. But Sacramento's is notable. It's among the first motor-assist bikeshare fleets in the country.

The motor kicks in automatically with the first pedal stroke. The bikes have been instantly popular, and have prompted questions and curiosity. So The Sacramento Bee test rode them over the past few days. Here's our take:

What's it Like?

In a word, fun. For one, they just look jaunty. People waved at us. A woman in a pickup truck on Alhambra Boulevard shouted, "I love your bike!" and a guy on 19th Street near J Street stopped us so he could check the bike out.

The bikes are a cross between a cruiser bike and a moped. You have to pedal, but as soon as you do, you get this "whoosh" feeling. It's the electric motor, silently kicking in to help out.

Midtown resident Chelsey Payne is among those who've tried them. She was jazzed. "It was fast! I'm sold.”

How Fast?

The motor automatically stops when you hit 15 miles per hour. You can go faster than 15 mph, but at that point, it's all leg power. I tried one on the bike trail by Sacramento State and got up to about 18 mph, but that was a real push.

Are they Dangerous?

The rentals do not come with helmets. I brought my own helmet on my rides. But many users are riding without helmets. Reader Dave Metcalf, a nurse, called us to express alarm. "Those things are going to be liabilities! Wait until the first subdural hematoma happens."

But Jim Brown of the Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates is not concerned. He says the bikes will encourage more riders, which will push the city to build more bike lanes, which will lead to safer city biking.

Speed may be a safety issue in another way. While 15 mph isn't especially fast, it felt fast when I rode through some tight midtown intersections with limited cross-street sight lines. It leaves little reaction time if a pedestrian or errant driver cuts in front of you.

On the plus side, the bikes' shiny "look at me!" red color can be seen blocks away, easy for drivers to spot. And the motor doesn't control the speed. The rider does. You can creep along at walking pace if you want.

The Basics

To use a bike, you download the Jump app onto your smartphone, then type in your credit card number. The app assigns you a user ID number. You add a PIN.

The app displays a map showing where you are and where every nearby available bike is stationed. They are typically at bike racks. You can hit a button on the app and reserve a bike before you get to it. But your meter starts ticking immediately.

When you get to the bike, you punch your PIN into a computer behind the seat to unlock it. Each bike has an identifying number on the back fender.

Cost

You'll pay $1 for the first 15 minutes, then 7 cents per minute after that. That's $4 an hour.

By comparison, a bus or light rail ride costs $2.75, and you'll pay $1.75 per hour to park your car at a Sacramento city parking meter.

You can ride the bikes anywhere, but the app's map shows a large geographic zone that you are supposed to park the bike in. In Sacramento, that zone is basically the central city, East Sacramento, Sacramento State, UC Med Center, Oak Park, Tahoe Park, Land Park and Curtis Park. If you drop off a bike outside the zone, it will trigger a $25 fee.

You also can sign up for a monthly $30 Jump Bike membership, which gives you a free hour of riding each day.

Jump Bikes plans to set up a separate account with reduced fees for lower-income people who can show that they qualify for CalFresh, a housing voucher program or the Sacramento Municipal Utility District's low-income program.

Recreation or Exercise?

If you're looking for a workout, this isn't it. Pedaling is just too easy. That's good, though, if you are in work clothes. You get around without working up much of a sweat.

There is a large basket up front for a few belongings and a water bottle holder. The bike seat is wide, slightly cushioned and adjustable. You sit upright. The tires are big. But some city streets are really bumpy. (33rd Street, yeah, I'm talking to you.)

Problems

The bikes are popular enough that I've had to walk more than a half-mile to get to the nearest available bike. That left me worried that someone else would get to it first. (I reserved one bike in advance, when I was about three blocks away. It added 21 cents to my bill, three minutes worth.)

So far, about 300 of the 900 bikes have hit the streets. The rest are due this summer.

I've come across three bikes already that were out of service. It's possible the batteries on those bikes had run down, and the operator had not yet gotten someone out to recharge them. None of those out-of-service bikes were visible on my smart phone map. When they go out of service, they go dark.

Your app will tell you how much of an electric charge each bike has. Each bike has a rough range of 30-40 miles at 100 percent charge.

You are supposed to leave the bike locked to public bike racks in the street or on the sidewalk. But some users are leaving them locked to street signs, poles and even parking meters. Officials say they will be installing more bike racks.

The city also has gotten some complaints of bikes left blocking sidewalks. You can report an illegally parked bike to the city by calling 311.

Easy to Ride?

I found the Jump bikes easy to adapt to. The motor was helpful, not scary. But a family member who doesn't ride bikes rode one around the block and felt unsteady. She dismounted OK, but said the bike was heavy.

One of the bikes I rented didn't have nearly the same zip to its motor as others. That made it a bit harder to get going in traffic at intersections, given the bike's weight.

A tip: When you come to a stop at a light, nudge one of the pedals up with your foot, so that you can get a good push when you restart. That allows the motor to give you a boost so you don't wobble into traffic.

The bikes' weight makes them slightly cumbersome when you are guiding them into a rack or against a pole to lock it up.

©2018 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.