Test riding a Bluegogo stationless bike share bike in downtown Seattle

Yours truly about to ride a Bluegogo bike around downtown

I took a ride on what could be one of Seattle’s next bike share bikes and made it up one of downtown’s steepest hills.

It was a Bluegogo bike, one of at least two companies actively pursuing Seattle as one of the first major U.S. markets to launch a low-cost, app-connected, stationless bike share service.

We broke the story late last week about Bluegogo and Spin eyeing a Seattle launch in the very near future. How near? Bluegogo has thousands of bikes in storage in the Bay Area right now (UPDATE: Bluegogo requested I not list how many thousands), said Anthony Desnick, who works on strategy and expansion for Bluegogo. 3,000 of them are earmarked for Seattle. That’s six times as many bikes as Pronto.

But because stationless bike share is such a new concept, Seattle does not even have a permit these companies can buy for their bikes, let alone a set of rules for how they can operate. Both companies have expressed a desire for the city to create these rules soon, saying they can have bikes in operation on Seattle streets this summer.

If the city delays, however, another company could choose to launch without permits, following the “ask for forgiveness” business model that Uber used when it first launched. Companies are eager to gain market share ahead of the competition, and that means getting on the ground first.

But before getting too far into the weeds about market share and city regulations, perhaps you all want to know: How are the bikes?

Desnick invited me to take one of the company’s bikes for a spin downtown Monday. 

The bike has a universal step-through frame, auto-on front and rear lights (UPDATE: The rear only has a reflector, not a powered light) and a comfortable upright position, like most bike share bikes. The basket in the front is much more usable than Pronto’s odd gear holder thing. The seat seemed to have a wide range for people of many heights, but I didn’t have any short or tall people with me to try it out. Next time!

It is lightweight, at least compared to Pronto bikes and especially compared to B-Cycle and older Motivate bikes like Capital Bikeshare or CitiBike. But it also feels cheaper than those more traditional, bomb-proof bike share bikes. That wasn’t a problem on my ride, but the true test will be how well the bikes are working after a year of hard city life.

It has a rim brake on the front wheel and a drum back on the back. The front rim brake gave easier stopping power than Pronto bikes had on steep downhills, which is great so long as the company maintains that front brake often enough (rim brakes require more regular maintenance than drum brakes, which is why most bike share systems don’t use them).

The tires are solid rubber, so they cannot get flats. You probably wouldn’t even notice that there’s anything different about them. But they are not super-wide like Pronto’s tires, so there could be a streetcar track risk (all the more reason to build the Basic Bike Network as soon as possible).

It has three gears, which is fewer than Pronto had. And the low gear is not quite as low as on Pronto (which was very low). I rode up Spring Street from 2nd Ave to 4th Ave, which is a very steep section of downtown. I needed to stand up when pedaling because the low gear wasn’t low enough to sit, but I made it.

I don’t know if I can say whether this bike is easier or harder to pedal up steep hills than Pronto. On one hand, I had to stand. But on the other hand, it is a significantly lighter bike. It’s essentially a toss up. Certainly nothing compared to the e-assist Bewegen bike the city had initially hoped to bring in to replace Pronto. Mayor Ed Murray abandoned those plans in January.

Like with Pronto, I doubt many people are going to use Bluegogo to get from 2nd to 4th or 5th downtown. But you can definitely ride a Bluegogo up the less steep climb to Capitol Hill, which is important.

I was not able to try the app or the rear wheel locking mechanism because the system is not yet up and running in Seattle. But there was an explainer on the front basket:

And the biggest selling point is on the back of the saddle:

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18 Responses to Test riding a Bluegogo stationless bike share bike in downtown Seattle

  1. RoanokeRebel says:

    Any idea what the Seattle zone would be for any of the stationless bike companies? With Pronto it was how far you could travel from a docking station in 30 minutes. But these would be stationless, so….?
    99-cents for 30 minutes, but what if you go over? 99-cents more (rinse, repeat…)?

    The big bugaboo will be any helmet requirement – ack!

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      From what I understand, there is no escalating cost structure. So 30 minutes is $1, an hour is $2, etc. Pay for what you ride. Spend an afternoon biking to 192 Brewing in Kenmore and back on the Burke for $6. Same cost as two bus rides. Not a bad deal.

      The helmet issue… I wonder. Spin’s plan so far is to just tell people the law says to wear a helmet, but leave it to the users to bring their own. They could keep a helmet with each bike, I guess, but ew.

  2. Dave0 says:

    I was a frequent Pronto user, but if I had to carry around my own helmet and pay per ride I don’t think I’d use a bike share very often. The appeal of Pronto was that I could just be walking by and think “why not? I’ll grab a bike and get to my destination faster.” I had already paid via the annual subscription, so one more trip cost nothing, and I could grab a clean helmet for free. They should offer a subscription option to appeal to people like me, but I don’t know what the solution is for the helmet dilemma.

    Another thing they’ll have to figure out is how to avoid having all the bikes end up at the bottom of Seattle’s hills. Pronto had workers constantly shuttling bikes from Seattle’s low points to the top of Seattle’s hills. Maybe they could create geographic zones in Seattle’s peaks and valleys, where if you start the trip in a valley and end it in a peak, your trip is free. That might incentivize people to deliver the bikes back to the tops of hills. Maybe everything below 100′ elevation could be considered a valley while everything above 300′ could be considered a peak.

    • Clark in Vancouver says:

      I think many of us know the solution to that helmet dilemma.

    • Peri Hartman says:

      I like the idea of incentives to keep the distribution optimal. This could be more than just hills. It could include supply and demand factors and, like uber, give you a price that depends on the current situation.

      For example, in the morning most people want to go from a residential area to business centers. That might drain almost all the bikes from residential areas. To a degree, that’s fine, but people in residential areas still need a bike at other times of the day. So, with slightly higher pricing for the morning commuters and slightly lower pricing to bring bikes in the opposite direction, you can have some degree of automatic balancing.

      No need for zones, either. Even regarding hills. GPS can take care of that and give you a break depending on your net elevation gain.

      • Evan D says:

        Any possible abuses would be hugely entertaining. I can’t wait to see people dumping bikes at the top of the Volunteer Park observatory.

        Realistically, they can filter for that, but it’s still a great image.

  3. MikeG says:

    Can they provide the functionality into a mobile-friendly web site? Upload a photo of the QR code from a mobile browser. Why does it need an app?

    • RoanokeRebel says:

      Why an app? To locate a nearby and available bike (assuming one is not in direct view) would be my guess.

      • MikeG says:

        This too can be done with a modern web (HTML5) application. It doesn’t require an app to get geolocation data.

  4. Tim F says:

    Wow, 3000 bikes. I don’t know if bluegogo supports Portland-style virtual docks (which could be an issue for updating the app if Seattle requires them. Even if that was the case, there’s no fixed size for a dock (where Pronto’s was about 10 bikes/14 spaces). Locations away from the city center could get away with far fewer bikes on hand, so let’s say 6 bikes on average.

    3000/6 = 500 “docks”
    Seattle’s land area is 80 square miles, so 500/80 = 6+ “docks” per square mile.

    So that’s maybe still a little thin for covering the entire city, but not bad for a start. You could easily cover half the land area at 12 docks/sq. mi. which is pretty decent.

    I don’t know if there are similar metrics for completely dockless networks, but this sounds plausible. Another way to work it out is about 40 bikes per square mile if it is in fact completely dockless.

    Either way, even if the number of bikes is 6x the number Pronto had, the effective number of “docks” and more importantly destinations should be many times that.

  5. GM says:

    The model sounds similar to Car2Go, which I like a lot. I had an annual Pronto membership but rarely used it. Even though I lived in an area technically covered by Pronto, the stations were too few and far between to be useful to me. I’d love to be able to just lock up the bike at my destination instead of searching out a dock and then walking from there.

  6. Logs says:

    As a former daily Pronto commuter I’m really hoping for an annual membership option. Otherwise I would be looking at ~$50/month vs the $85/year I was paying before.

  7. jeff says:

    oh wow, so Queen Anne residents will have a reason to use a bike share program finally? novel concept

  8. Stephen M says:

    Sounds viable to me. Id love to see Seattle rebound from the Pronto failure, have it be privately run (city subsidy, perhaps?). An app based, pay as you go, dockless system should be highly flexible – we can iterate on fare structure, load rebalancing, etc as we go. Let’s go! Would love to be riding by this summer (if summer ever comes . . .).

  9. Mark Smith says:

    What..is this Soviet era Russia? Why does the government need to offer a permit and “provide rules”? It’s a private business. Let them run it as they see fit.

    Geeze

    • Gregory Scruggs says:

      Mark,

      The rationale is because streets and sidewalks are a public good. They are maintained by the city government with our tax dollars, so the city gets a say on moneymaking ventures that benefit from those public investments — from taxis to pedicabs to buskers. Thus, bikeshare shouldn’t be any different.

      Hope that helps!

      Regards,
      Greg

  10. so where will all these bikes live between rides? free standing with the rear wheel locked? Sounds like a recipe for a mess and angry pedestrians. Some sort of secure corral? Public bike racks? I sure hope it’s not the later, there isn’t a ton of rack space in the popular destinations as it is.

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