The Jump Bike, by Social Bicycles, is one of the crop of dockless bike rental startups in the area. I already have a stable of bikes and a Capital Bikeshare membership. I haven’t cared about the other startups, but this one got my attention because it’s electric assist. So, how does this thing hold up to my single speed and CaBi? Or, what we really want to know, how’s the ride? And who will use it? I got a $10 credit for signing up for Social Bikes and took one for a ride.
Using their web app, I was able to reserve a bike. You have 60 seconds to cancel the reservation, then it starts charging time. It took me about 10 minutes to pedal my single speed Big Apple 29er to the Jump Bike’s location, but the bike was mine the whole time. This is a very reasonable trade, and I desperately wish CaBi had a similar feature. The stressful afternoon dash to the dock is partially why I rarely use CaBi. The same rule allows you to lock the bike and hold it while you run an errand. With CaBi you either hike from a dock or leave the bike unsecured and pray. This is a win for public bike usability. They can’t be parked outside of the District right now, but you could ride into a neighboring town and run an errand if you stay on the clock.
Before the test ride, I did a quick inspection of the body. The steel body looks well-constructed: the welds are strong and the paint is even.The pedals sit close to the ground. I’m 5’10” and a 6 or 7 on the CaBi seatpost. Here, 7 was far too large – I was comfortable at 6 but a less experienced cyclist at my height would probably like 5. The range should accommodate all but the shortest adult riders.
As for creature comforts, there’s a lot of protection against puddles and muck. The bike has fenders – half up front and full in the rear. The drive is a carbon belt, and the cranks are fully enclosed. Importantly, it sports lights in front and rear. They probably aren’t as bright as CaBi, as they weren’t visible in daylight. The basket is robust. I’d estimate it could support 20 pounds without issue.The basket doesn’t state a weight limit, but it does state a broad range of potentially useful warnings, conveniently facing the rider during use.
With the seat adjusted, I punched my PIN into the back (no phone needed!), pulled out the U bar, stuck it in the weird holder, and hopped on.
The electric assist kicked in with the first downstroke, which was a bit shocking as I was turning into the lane from the sidewalk. I had to quickly turn the wheel to avoid flying into the other lane. The first stroke is a doozy.
With only marginal effort, the bike was up to full speed within a quarter block. I would estimate that speed at about 15 mph. The ride was super smooth, thanks to the 2″ Schwalbe Marathon tires.But what I wanted to know about were hills, and fortunately my route was full of them.
At first, climbing was effective but difficult. Then my single-speed fog lifted and I realized there was an 8-speed grip shifter. I ratcheted down to gear 4.
In a lower gear, this thing climbs. The electric assist only works during pedal strokes, which means that you get more assist with higher frequency pedaling. Light and fast, rather than slow and hard, is the way to go. You can keep your butt in the saddle. I barely broke a sweat climbing 2nd St NE and Hawaii Ave.
The pedal stroke doesn’t feel like an analog bike. Adding pressure or weight to the pedals does not overcome the resistance as you’d expect. I suspect that the bike uses muscle power to supplement the battery.
On descents, the bike got up to max speed extremely quickly before pedaling became pointless. The pedals become useless at about 25mph. It was shocking to easily hit road bike speeds on a comfort bike frame. The riding position has terrible aerodynamics.
In about 15 minutes of riding, I managed 2.5 miles of hilly terrain without trying to set speed records and without breaking a sweat. One 30-minute rental should get cyclists about 5 miles of distance, enough to get about anywhere within the District. The electric assist should be amazing for climbs out of downtown, and it opens up otherwise challenging routes for less fit riders. 15th St at Meridian Hill would be no problem on this.
Between the fenders, carbon belt, and electric assist, you could ride one of these in formal work clothes and show up to your office, date or happy hour without dripping sweat. That being said, there are certainly some safety considerations.
Let’s talk about the brakes. The basket warns you to brake early, and that’s no joke. At max speed on flat terrain (about 15mph), the stopping distance is comparable to CaBi. When speeds exceed 20mph, however, the brakes cannot keep up. The bike is extremely heavy (I’d estimate around 60lbs) and carries a lot of momentum. The low center of gravity means it’s unlikely to throw the rider, but it took me well over 10 car lengths to stop from high speed in dry conditions. You must use both brakes, which might confuse less experienced cyclists. Ideally the brakes would be linked onto a single pull lever. As it stands, emergency stopping cannot occur from high speed.
The other danger comes from turning. Because the electric assist kicks on during downstrokes, if you add a bit of power to a turn, you will suddenly find a lot more power is added a second later. Experience should compensate for this but it’s shocking, especially because the initial burst of power happens at a slight lag from the stroke, not immediately with it. Between the braking and sudden power, the bike has some unexpected behavior that could result in trouble for inexperienced riders.
Lockup was pretty easy because the U is enormous.It easily fit around a street sign and should easily fit parking meters as well. However, because the lock will always be in at a set angle and distance, some bike racks might be challenging or unusable.
Social Cycles says that this will “solve” the problem of bikes being dumped everywhere, but that simply isn’t true. The bike doesn’t detect whether some object is actually inside the lock. The bike was “locked” to air when I found it.
In all, the Jump Bikes are robust pieces of equipment that provide a unique and accessible service. I’m eager to see more of them arrive, and the features mean I might actually use them. The max flat speed is no higher than I can achieve on my road bike; there is no reason that these electric assist bikes should not be allowed on Metro Branch or other trails. The price ($4/hr) is extremely reasonable, especially because most destinations should be reachable in 30min or less. That being said, they need some caution during use and riders must be mindful that the braking is below par. I would not be surprised to see a Jump-related incident in the near future as the service expands. The product is compelling, especially because it opens up long distance and hilly rides to less-conditioned riders, but safety concerns need to be a top priority as Jump grows.
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