Howell: Going Steady with Lime-E


After a month of anticipation, LimeBike released 300 e-bikes into its fleet of 4,000 bikeshare bike in Seattle this past weekend, with plans to release another 200 by this Wednesday.  Eventually, “Lime-Es” will comprise forty percent of LimeBike’s fleet.

Here’s the thing — I had never ridden an e-bike in my life. And while I believe e-bikes have transformative power to flatten Seattle’s hills and get more people to ride, unlike many e-bike evangelists, I believe e-bikes shouldn’t be allowed to have e-assist past 15 or 17 mph.

As I rode from my Tangletown home to downtown where LimeBike was providing the test rides to the media Sunday afternoon (Seattle Bike Blog Editor Tom Fucoloro sent me to attend on behalf of the blog), I first had to pump up my rear wheel to address its slow leak. As I pedaled, I noticed my bottom bracket creaked an unusual amount. These problems need to get addressed.

I smoothly went down Stone Way.  As I passed Fremont Brewing, I saw four “Lime-Es” along with the full citrus spectrum of ofo and Spin bikeshare bikes out front.  The 300 e-bikes were already in use, helping people imbibe outdoors on a beautiful afternoon.  As I rode along the Westlake Protected Bike Lane, Bell Street, and the 2nd Avenue Protected Bike Lane, I hit all the usual number of red lights.  But I made it to LimeBike’s meeting spot at a WeWork space on Spring Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues.

My initial impression: E-bikeshare is awesome.

As you get on the Lime-E bike, the first thing you notice is how the bike feels solid. Thanks to the battery and a thicker, stiffer frame, the e-bike is 20 pounds heavier than LimeBike’s 40-pound pedal-only bikes.  The bike’s handlebars also didn’t flex or creak, adding to the “solid” feel.

The next thing you will notice, if you are a taller person, is the bike’s seat has higher positioning than any other bikeshare bike.  As a 6’ 1” person, the seat height was perfect for me.

No matter your height, you’ll appreciate the bike’s geometry that puts you in a more upright position than LimeBike’s pedal-only bikes, which already have decent upright positioning.

It’s time to go. As you push down on the pedal, the e-bike springs into action, giving you an extra boost off your starting line.  You are immediately aware you are on an e-bike, and you have got a headstart on your fellow cyclists.

I started down an alley toward Madison Street, turned right, then turned right on 1st Avenue, then turned right on Spring.  Up the steep hill I went.

I was told early on, the harder you pedal, the less assist the Lime-E’s motor will provide to you. So, if you don’t want to work hard going up a hill, pedal softly.  As someone who has only ever used his own power to climb hills by bike, the Lime-E’s approach was counterintuitive to me. This counterintuitive approach to hill climbing is also one of the greatest promises to how e-bikeshare will transform bicycling in the city.  Anyone will be able to go uphill on an e-bike.

I then turned right into the 2nd Avenue Protected Bike Lane.  Despite the bike’s 60 pounds, I had no problem keeping up speed.  However, I was not able to go too fast either.

The Lime-E is not a speedy steed — instead it favors steady speeds.  That’s by design.  The Lime-E provides less e-assist as it goes faster, cutting out altogether at 14.8 mph.

In part, this is for safety and liability concerns.  As the Seattle Department of Transportation regularly reminds us, pedestrians have a one-in-ten chance of death when a driver collides with them at 20 mph.  For LimeBike, any crash or collision at that speed is a serious liability.

As I continued down the 2nd Avenue Protected Bike Lane, I was making all the green lights when I noticed someone else riding a Lime-E in front of me.  I caught up with him when we both hit a red light at Cherry Street.  We briefly chatted.  This was also his first ride on a Lime-E, a trip he took completely spontaneously without regard to knowledge about the bikes or their cost structure.  In our brief chat, he seemed to be genuinely enjoying the ride.

We got the green and he was off.  I crossed the intersection but then decided it was time to turnaround and head up to Pike Place Market.  I did not give much thought to it when I started my turn-around in the 10-foot wide protected bike lane, but I soon realized that a 60-pound bike is not easy to maneuver in tight spaces.

In my experience, riding a heavy bike can be awkward, with the potential for the bike to lose control while turning or even while standing with it at a stop.  Generally, that was not so with the Lime-E.  While sharp turns like mine in the 2nd Avenue Protected Bike Lane are not practical, I never felt concerned that the bike would fall over or that I would lose control.

So I headed north.  For those of you who are hoping that the e-assist would give you the boost you needed to hit all the green lights going uphill, northbound in the 2nd Avenue protected bike lane, I’m sorry, you will still hit all the reds.  This bike is steady, not speedy.

I made it to Pike Place Market just in time for an iconic sunset photo, then headed back to return the Lime-E and ask a few questions of the LimeBike VP of Marketing & Partnership and Seattle general manager.

“Whether you’re trying to go a quarter mile to three or four miles, and you’re trying to go up a hill or just down the road, LimeBike becomes a solution for you,” said Caen Contee, LimeBike’s VP of Marketing & Partnership. “I think that’s partly just additional use cases and also new demographics that will find using bikeshare as form for them to accessibly use rideshare and get around town.”

“It’s really a paradigm shift right now,” added Jason Wilde, LimeBike’s Seattle general manager. “I think previously to access bike share, most people that were not cyclists thought of cycling as a recreational activity. And now more access is actually providing a legitimate mobility solution. It’s getting people who would have never gotten on their own bike, because maybe they didn’t have one, introduced to cycling. So I think it’s doing nothing but accelerating that.”

Operationally, the battery packs will provide 62 hours of runtime and will need to be replaced every five days, on average. The battery packs can be recharged within four hours and redeployed.

With the e-assist, LimeBike expects more people to ride the bikes uphill, resulting in a more balanced distribution of bikes across the city, reducing some of their operational costs related to rebalancing the bikes.

In addition, LimeBike also expects that the e-bikes will be used for longer trips than the average one-mile trips on its current pedal-only bikes.  Forty percent of LimeBike’s current trips end near transit stations and bus stops, a percentage that is likely to decrease as the Lime-E bikes are used for longer trips that replace transit trips altogether.

With 500 e-bikes in its system by Wednesday, Lime-E bikes will both equal the number of bikes in the original Pronto bike share system and be the largest e-bike share system in North America.

LimeBike expects to eventually have 40 percent of its fleet be Lime-E bikes. If LimeBike kept its bike share fleet at its current size of 4,000 bikes, that would be 1,600 e-bikes.

Two additional bikeshare companies are expected to rollout e-bikes in Seattle: Spin and JUMP.

It’s amazing how quickly Seattle’s bike share systems have arrived since Pronto ended service in March 2017. Pronto had 500 bikes with just 50 kiosks. As of this week there will be more than 10,000 bike share bikes blanketing the entire city, including 500 e-assist bikeshare bikes.  Seattle has been transformed.

“This is us enabling futurism now,” Contee said. “The idea you can see a change the landscape in two or three weeks, where the middle of the bell-curve citizens who wouldn’t consider jumping on a bike are suddenly going to see this as just another form of rideshare, that is the most accessible, affordable, and convenient for them.”

My time test riding the Lime-E ended.  I unlocked my bike from a street pole, and had to pump up my rear tire again — something I would not ever have to do with the Lime-E’s solid rubber wheels.

Then I pushed my bike halfway up the steep Spring Street block before heading back north in the 2nd Avenue Protected Bike Lane.  I was left wishing I had the extra e-boost to start me up that hill.

I think I’m in love with e-bike share.  For Valentine’s Day, I might have to go on a date with Lime-E.

I can’t wait for Spin and JUMP to bring their bikes to Seattle, too.

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33 Responses to Howell: Going Steady with Lime-E

  1. Gary Yngve says:

    You could go at light speed, or even ludicrous speed, and still hit multiple lights going uphill on the 2nd Ave bicycle lane, because of the timings of the lights and the need for phase-protected turns. Most strong cyclists trying to go somewhere fast northbound in downtown avoid 2nd Ave and take 3rd Ave instead (and ride in a general-purpose lane on 2nd southbound). One of these days, Seattle will build more and better bicycle infrastructure than a narrow 2-lane cycletrack with driveway crossings, red turn signals that car drivers ignore, and other conflicts that make much over 10mph to be unsafe.

  2. Rob says:

    Sweet, more motorized vehicles on the Burke.

    • JTinWS says:

      It’s hard to imagine anyone on these bikes even breaking into the top 25% of bike speed on the Burke Gilman. The pedal assist cuts off entirely by 15mph, and it is hard to push such a heavy bike, given its gearing, beyond 15mph via human power. Did you read the article?

      • Rob says:

        I read it. Where do you draw the line on motorized vehicles? 16 mph? Do you think an inexperience rider who doesn’t even have the fitness to pedal a bike up a mild incline is capable of piloting a heavy E-bike on the MUT through crowds of people at 15mph?

      • Brock Howell says:

        @Rob, as the story says, this was my first time ever riding an e-bike. I think if you rode a Lime-E, you’d agree with me, that it’s very much still biking and that it’s just as safe as any other form of bicycling, no matter the individual’s skill level. Try it. I think you’ll be impressed.

      • Rob says:

        @Brock Howell I’m fine with E-bikes, but not on MUTs or singletrack. Ultimately, they have more in common with mopeds than bicycles, and should be treated as such. I imagine there will eventually be some sort of restriction on E-bikes on MUTs (there are already a few posted restrictions but probably not enforced), but in the short term it’s just gonna clog up the urban bike trails and most likely cause a few accidents with pedestrians and cyclists.

      • Brock says:

        I think I share many of the same safety concerns as you do. Not all e-bikes are created equal. If you ride a Lime-E, which is very difficult to bike faster than 15 mph and at which speed you’d be 100% human-powered, you’d agree with me that they’re perfectly okay for the Burke-Gilman or any paved trail.

        I’m less in-tune with the mountain biking scene and my gut reaction has always been that e-bikes have no place on singletrack. But now having experienced the Lime-E bikes, I think a more nuanced consideration is probably merited. But that consideration should be done by people other than me, who has very little experience with mountain biking.

      • Rob says:

        @ Brock Agree not all E-bikes are created equal. There are easily available kits to hot rod conventional E-bikes into much higher speed bikes. Why? I have no idea. And the UCI is having a hard time detecting “mechanical doping” in professional bike racing. I’m afraid the ship has sailed. But I definitely would hesitate to glorify a private for-profit company pushing E-bike sharing onto the masses in the name of the greater good. I’d rather people just get a Nissan Leaf or Tesla or something. Or take the damn bus.

  3. BallardBiker says:

    I can’t wait to find some cheap electric motors on Craig’s List!

  4. Evan Manvel says:

    “pedestrians have a one-in-ten chance of death when a driver collides with them at 20 mph” applies to cars. People on bikes have about 1/20th the force of a mid-sized car (force = mass x acceleration).

    So, yes, be safe – no need to cause crashes – but 20 mph on an e-bike ain’t nothing compared to 20 mph in an SUV.

    • Conrad says:

      1/20? Bikes weigh about 1% of what the average car does. Also, a lot of pedestrians outweigh me and my bike. So it really is in your best interest as a cyclist to not hit pedestrians. Whereas a driver can just say they didn’t see you and the case is closed.

  5. Joseph Singer says:

    Is there going to be some special identification when getting an e-bike rather than a pedal only bike? (when you look at a map of where bikes are located.)

    • Brock Howell says:

      @Joseph, I’m pretty sure the app distinguishes between the two types of bikes. Regardless, it’s very easy to tell the difference just by looking at the bikes.

    • mjd says:

      I just checked the app because I was curious about the same. There’s a little blue lightning bolt on the icon of the Ebikes. The details show how much charge is left.

      $1 to unlock, and $1 per 10 minutes.

  6. Law Abider says:

    Going to be interesting when the first accident happens with one of these on a cycling facility where they are supposed to be banned.

  7. asdf2 says:

    Do you consider helmets more important on an e-bike than a normal bike? I’ve thought about trying one, but I’m not quite willing to lug a helmet around all day, just in case I happen to come across one.

    • Brock Howell says:

      @asdf2 – I do not consider helmets to be more important than numerous other factors. The most important thing to me is that people ride bikes. I take the position of Chris Boardman. http://road.cc/content/news/111258-chris-boardman-helmets-not-even-top-10-things-keep-cycling-safe

      I do consider e-bikes that provide assist past 15 mph to be needlessly less safe than e-bikes that provide assist up to 15 mph. Of course, one could say that about any arbitrary speed, except that there is evidence that 15mph is an important speed in terms of sightlines/visibility, reaction time, stopping distance, and collision impact.

      The Lime-E bikes provide a decreasing amount of assist until it reaches 14.8 mph. Because the bikes are 60 pounds, it’s very difficult to go faster than 15 mph on a Lime-E bike. For this reason, a Lime-E is likely safer than biking on your standard bike, and I would say that I would personally feel more comfortable riding a Lime-E bike helmetless than a regular bike.

      FWIW, I test rode the bike helmetless.

    • Peri Hartman says:

      Try one of the folding helmets. For example,
      https://www.ecohelmet.com/
      or
      http://www.berkeleywellness.com/fitness/injury-prevention/article/are-folding-bicycle-helmets-safe

      I haven’t tried one. If anyone has, it would be interesting to have feedback.

      • Chad N. says:

        I have the Closca folding bike helmet mentioned in your Berkeley link. Same type of construction as a normal bike helmet, just telescopes down to 2″ thick when stored. Comes with a stylish cloth cover and a carrying bag. Great to carry in my shoulder bag for bikeshare.

    • Rob says:

      I assume you’ve never seen someone fall off their bike and land head first on the pavement without a helmet. I have, and I almost puked. Plus, I’m not sure the guy lived.

      • Breadbaker says:

        And I’ve done it with a helmet and lived. So I’m not particularly interested in anyone’s opinion about it. I carry a helmet with me. Period.

  8. Eli says:

    By the way, I’m have to go back to Seattle for a few days and was going to use one of the bike share systems for a few small trips (since your transit sucks).

    But it’s really confusing as an outsider now. I’m not going to sign up for 3 services. Which one is best? Thx!

    • Andrew Squirrel says:

      It’s surprisingly easy to download all three apps and enter credit card info before you need to actually use one, takes about 5 minutes. I keep them all in one folder on my phone. Not that big of a deal to be prepared in my experience. If you had to choose one it should probably be Limebike, especially now that they have both an electric version and normal.

    • NickS says:

      Eli, as others have stated, you will need the individual apps installed on your phone to complete the rental process. However! There’s an excellent app called Transit for determining bus directions and arrival times, and it also includes integration with car-share and all three common bike-share companies in Seattle (LimeBike*, Ofo, and Spin). That will allow you to use one app to plan your bus trips (just enter a destination, it defaults to current location for origin), give you estimates on travel time in walking, bus, and bike.

      * – Ok, so I just tested, and for some reason LimeBike isn’t showing up, just Spin and Ofo. I do have LimeBike turned on in the settings as a mode of transport under Bicycle, so I’m not sure what’s going on. Still, this is a tremendously useful app, and I’d put it right up there in my list of essential commute tools along with OneBusAway.

  9. Breadbaker says:

    Took a Lime-E from the U District down the Burke to Wallingford and up the hill. It was very nice getting the assist up the hill and this was in fairly heavy rain, so it was nice to know I’d be a little less wet from the extra speed. I pedaled essentially the whole way. Much better size than the usual Lime (I’d taken one of those from UW station to my destination at the U and it was one of the smaller ones and it sucked.

    Lime is running a special where if you take certain bikes for at least five minutes you get a $1 coupon and I got a $3 coupon for taking the Lime-E, so basically the rides were free.

    Only problem was the Lime-E didn’t shut off when I parked it. I sent a photo of it being locked to them and presume they won’t charge me.

  10. NickS says:

    Thanks for the excellent review! Great tip on the “pedal lightly to get more assistance”; this is generally the reverse way that torque sensors on the mid-drive e-bikes that I’m familiar with work.

    I absolutely think that there’s a place for e-bikes on MUTs, but not all e-bikes. Just as there’s a place for an electric mobility scooter in a grocery store, but driving a highway capable electric car into the store would be frowned on. Bike manufacturers have been placing electric bikes into three common categories or classes. Class 1 e-bikes only provides assistance via pedaling (no throttle) and are limited to <= 20mph assisted. Class 2 e-bikes are equipped with a throttle in addition to providing assistance while pedaling, and are also limited to <= 20 mph assisted. Class 3 e-bikes, or "speed pedelecs" as they're referred to in Europe, only provide assistance via pedaling (no throttle) and are limited to <= 28mph assisted. In most locations, Class 1 e-bikes are generally permitted onto trails, while the other two are not.

    LimeBike's electric bicycles fall into Class 1, and are even limited below the requirements of that class to < 15mph assisted. This is _significantly_ slower than most healthy bicyclists can pedal on the flats. I see no interference issue between pedestrians, bikes, and e-bikes at Class 1 speeds.

    I've been riding bikes in Seattle for quite a few years, and the least safe riders I've seen on MUTs have not been e-bike riders (admittedly still rare to see), but high-speed (25+mph) road bike users with unsafe speed differentials between themselves and pedestrians and slower riders.

    • Breadbaker says:

      On an E-Lime on 34th Street, I could not catch up to a relatively fast cyclist with no e-assist. Clearly, no one could accuse an E-Lime of being outside the norm of pedal-only bikes on our streets and MUTs. It was nice going up the Dexter hill with the help but I still felt I was cycling.

  11. michael from Seattle (but many years ago) says:

    This is a very good article – thanks.

    It is interesting that the desire to have a governor on the speed for the Lime eBike is probably driven by anticipated liability, but it hardly matters why they have done this so much as that it is excellent that they have.

    I live near Washington DC and commute along the Potomac on a multi-trail – the occasional casual eBike rider is fine (and so far few in number); the problem is with persons who can’t afford to drive a car to work, who don’t like our poor mass transit system, and have figured out that an overpowered eBike that will be easily maintain over 20 mph is a relatively cheap solution (compared to a car, anyway). Such riders exhibit a casual at best attitude towards the safety of other trail users, in my experience. (Leaving aside their attitude towards their own safety, which also seems casual.)

    At any rate, any effort by a commercial operation to normalize a more rational approach to eBikes is to be applauded.

  12. GrumpyOldGuy says:

    I just got my first ride on a LimeE. I was very impressed. I rode directly up Vine from the waterfront to SLU. I never tried riding fast, so I can’t speak for the speed governing capabilities. But it made climbing that extremely steep hill absolutely effortless. I zigged onto the sidewalk in a couple of places where I didn’t feel comfortable in traffic (e.g., Denny between Vine and Dexter), and had no trouble moving at a walking pace to keep from sowing any discord with our two-footed friends.

    It was a very civilized ride. This might just be a game changer.

  13. Mr. Bradley says:

    Yawn. Isn’t the fun part of riding a bicycle precisely because you are the motor? It is for me.

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