Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Capital Bikeshare Bikes Tenderly Ridden and Reviewed

The 20th Century was the century of competition: wars cold and deadly, nuclear and idealistic (its a war on drugs!), and pitting half the world against the other half. It was the century of TINA: there is no alternative. Nature pits all creatures against each other, and, yeah, it sucks, but the best thing to do is to just roll with it--there is no alternative.

I don't believe in this vision of nature and of humanity, but these days it's hard to find examples of cooperation working. Development in Africa has utterly failed. Social welfare doesn't seem to work well, if at all. The world is just too full of wheelsuckers.

That's why when organizations in the real world built upon cooperation thrive, it gives me hope.

I say this after having finally received my Capital Bikeshare key, and having commuted on their sturdy machines for the past week.

I'd read gushing articles in the Post and in the City Paper, but I remained skeptical about the system. After all, its emphasis on cooperation is in its very name: Capital Bikeshare. And sharing, my economics professors proclaimed, is for losers, poor people, and communists. A business concept built on sharing is bound to fail, since we humans are products of struggle, hardwired to screw each other over.

Generally, the bike is sort of tank-like: sturdy, easy to operate, heavy, and slow.

It has three gears on an internal hub. Their ratio allows easy climbing but prevents "drilling it," as we say.

I sat pleasantly spinning up 16th Street to Columbia Heights at a very, very slow pace. I estimate max speed somewhere around 15 mph; that's about where I spin out. Some of you fixed gear remnants might be able to get it up to 20.

The rack is handy for a bag of groceries or for strapping down a sedated child or drunken compadre of svelte stature, I'd imagine. I've only used it for my pack, and it seems sturdy and secure.

The pedals are flat and I estimate the crank length to be somewhere less than 165mm, which may not provide an optimal pedal stroke for some of you. Thankfully, the chainguard protects you from exposure to filth, so you can ride in your tweeds or business performance aero casual attire without sullying yourself, except in cases of sheer joy or extreme surprise, should you be prone to such undisciplined tendencies.

Then there's the seat, which is fully and easily adjustable, and built for those folks who insist on lots of padding under their asses, even if it means pressing right into the soft matter between their thighs. I have thus far had a hard time finding an appropriate height, having to compromise between losing aerodynamic positioning and losing the ability to have children.

I have not yet ridden the thing in the rain, but you'll notice the extensive fenders, and the rear wheel almost entirely shrouded in plastic, which not only prevents moisture from spraying up on you and exacerbating what has been termed "swamp ass," but also from suffering sticks and bike pumps to be inserted in your spokes.

The thing that really brings the joy is simply walking up to a bike on the street and walking away with it, then, when you're finished, throwing it in a slot and walking away. No locks, no fumbling with your keys, no wondering if you'll be missing a wheel when you get back or if someone has urinated on your seat. With Capital Bikeshare, you can be sure that someone has urinated on your seat at some point, so you don't have to wonder. I can't tell you how full of primness my cup is every time I throw the bike in a slot and walk away; people look at me like, "that dude is efficient and obviously a maven, despite smelling like urine."

Maybe the best part about the bikeshare program isn't the bike, but the app. Download it, and it will provide a map, showing you locations of available bikes, parking spots, and making you feel prim as a flower girl on wedding morn.

In fact, I do feel prim as hell, commuting on the damn thing. I don't know why; it's a dorky outfit, to be sure, and I'm your typical middle-aged white guy bent over the thing in deep aero tuck, sweating in my business performance aero casual attire. I'm not advertising my genetic dominance; I'm not winning any competitions.

I don't know if the venture will make money--my economics professors might be right about enterprises built on cooperation being doomed to fail.

But they can go to hell. When I use the bikes, I feel like I'm more part of DC than I've ever been. And that's a good thing.

PS: check out Fleet Foxes' new song about this very topic.


Drew Armstrong said...

I'm interested in them for racing purposes. How would you rate their lateral stiffness and vertical compliance?

Too Slow said...

Excellent review. I've put in about 25 rides since obtaining my annual key to bikesharing fun. Based on my experience, I would add:
1) There is truly no quicker and easier way to get between downtown daycare site and downtown jobsite than bikeshare;
2) Except when the GD docks at Union Station are full and I'm about to blow my 6pm pick-up deadline, which vexes me to no end!;
3) On a steady downhill, I have managed to tuck and spin one up to 33mph, so said the digital police speed sign on Mass Ave;
4) Climbing on these is no fun at all -- crunching painful squares is the only way to get up any moderate hill;
5) Which exertion really throws off the accuracy of my WKO+ performance manager chart come race day; and
6) It's fun having a kickstand again.

CGM said...

Well, I am going to go all dorky economist on you now (sorry, professional deformation), mostly to say that I am more hopeful that the cooperation will be sustainable in the long run.

Your econ professors are right when we are talking about a one period (actually, a finite) repetition game. In this case, I think we can think of it as an infinite game or a game for which we do not know when it will end. In these cases, there is this theorem called "the folk theorem", that basically says that any outcome may be sustained as an equilibrium (even cooperative ones) when the horizon is infinite (and provided that everyone gets their desired minimum). Sooooo, hopefully, Capital Bikeshare will last...

Yeah. I am a dork.

Calvini said...

CGM, busting out game theory is far, far beyond dorky, but it is also very cool.

Drew--I am not giving away an race secrets on this baby before the Capital Bikeshare Pseudo-Race. No way.

Too Slow--either you can spin at 220rpms or you are extremely heavy. Getting that beast up to 33mph is impressive. And the kickstand is amazing, isn't it?