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City Life – Dockless Bikeshare

Bikes… without docks?

Though bikes are not what I associate with docks in the first place, I find dockless bikeshare to be exceptionally innovative.

Dockless bikeshare is exactly what it sounds like – a bikeshare program where the bikes are not tethered to stationary docks. Instead, they can be picked up and parked almost anywhere.

They arrived in Washington, D.C. mid-September 2017

In October, I hardly saw any. By the end of February, they were too ubiquitous for me to avoid.

There are green ones – Limebike, orange and silver ones, MoBike, yellow and black ones – Ofo, and orange and black ones – Spin. I am not going to include electric bikeshares like JUMP in this post. Though JUMP is pretty cool and partners with Uber.

Capital Bikeshare is our current docked bikeshare in Washington, D.C.. I have a dock by my apartment, and another one near my workplace and so I considered getting the $85 annual membership for a cheap commute to work. The annual membership includes unlimited rides as along as they are less than 30 minutes – anything 30 minutes or more incurs extra charges. The Google bike directions for my commute estimated a 45 minute ride. For me, each trip between home and work would be $2 extra. The bus trip for me is $2 each way so I would not be losing any extra money… and I would be getting exercise. Still, I wanted to look into dockless bikeshare to have more freedom in destination and better pricing.

Dockless Bikeshare Cost:

Per Ride:

Ofo charges $1 per hour.
LimeBike, Mobike, and Spin charge $1 for each 30 minutes.
Capital Bikeshare charges $2 for a 0-29 minute ride. The next 30 minutes are $2, the next are $4, and all the next are $8. This can get pretty pricey.


LimeBike offers 100 half hour rides for $29.95 per month. (Rides longer than 30 minutes are counted from the total 100 monthly rides so no extra charges come up each 30 minutes)
Spin offers unlimited 30 minute rides for $29 per month or $99 per year. (Extra charges of $1 for every 30 minutes incur after the first 29 minutes… however, since it’s dockless, can you just dismount, lock, and unlock it every 29 minutes?)
Capital Bikeshare offers unlimited 29 minute rides for $85 per year. (Extra charges for rides 30 minutes and longer)

Some also offer discounts – Limebike offers student prices of 50 cents per 30 minute ride and $14.95 per month for 100 rides. If you have special status, veteran, student, federal employee or otherwise – it is worth looking into if your choice bikeshare has a discount.

Cost Estimates:

It is important to calculate the cost for your rides. If you can keep all your rides under 30 minutes, Spin or Capital Bikeshare might be the option for you – depending on whether or not there are docks where you are going. I have one hour rides in each direction, so I have to consider what the extra costs are.

I’ll show you an estimate of my commute to work- comparing Limebike and Capital Bikeshare for a 1 hour ride each way, twice a day, 3 days a week, for 4 weeks a month.

That’s 2 half hours * 2 rides a day * 3 days * 4 weeks = 48 half hour rides per month.

Limebike would include all of those 48 half hours in it’s 100 half hour rides per month. The total cost would be $29.95 per month.

Capital Bikeshare would be a base $7 per month for membership ($85 per year / 12 months) + $0 for the first 24 half hour rides and + $2 * 24 of the following half hour rides.

That’s 7 membership + 0 included half hour + 2 * 24 extra half hour = $55 per month.

For me, if I ride to work 6 days or more per month, Limebike is more economical than Capital Bikeshare. However, I do want to make sure the program stays before I commit.

My choice – Limebike

As you may have gathered from the featured photo.

Where is it available?

Limebike was founded in California in January 2017. The company currently operates in 16 college campuses, 2 European cities, and several US cities (including surrounding areas). The fleet includes 1, 3, and 8 speed bikes though I haven’t figured out how to discern which is which on the map. I gave them a call to ask about this, and they said that engineering is currently working on adding this feature to the map. They also have 2 electric options (1 bike and 1 scooter) but those are only available in Seattle. The electric options are more expensive to use at $1 to unlock and 10 cents per minute to ride.

In Washington, DC the dockless bikeshare test run ends in April after a six month test period. We are at the mercy of the Department of Transportation to approve the bikes to stay or not.

I chose to go with Limebike originally because of their bonus bike option. If you pick up a bike that is in an inconvenient location – you get a $1 credit. If I get an inconvenient bike to ride home or to work (45 minute ride), my ride is already 50% cheaper than taking the bus! If I don’t, then I am still not losing anything. And if I choose to get the membership, I can apply my credits to my payments.


Bonus bikes have a different icon from regular bikes, as seen selected above.

How does it work?

  1. Download the app.
  2. Make an account.
  3. Add credits.
  4. Use the map on the app to find a bike.
  5. Unlock the bike by scanning the QR code.
  6. Ride the bike.
  7. Park the bike in an appropriate bike area and close the lever on the back tire.
  8. Go about the rest of your day.

Directions are printed on every bike.

Time to shine – I tried it out!

I asked my husband to take the bus down to meet me at work and take the bike with me. In case anything happened, two people are safer than one.

We downloaded the app and set up our accounts before getting ready to leave.

If you use my welcome code RGCL6U3 (even after you take a ride) you get $3 in ride credits and so do I!

We used the map on the app to look for bonus bikes. The GPS is not 100% and sometimes places the bikes on the wrong corner or the wrong side of the street. The first bike I found wasn’t unlocking, but there were two more bikes across the street and the second one I tried worked. My husband got his on the first try. I scanned the QR code through the app and the lever on the back wheel unlocked. We both got 3 speed bikes, just by chance. I adjusted the seat (I’m pretty short) and we were off.


The handle bars were extremely comfortable and I did not have to hunch over at all. There is a pretty big and convenient basket in the front and I put my jacket in it when it got too hot. In the photo, I am riding with my friend’s Sweetgreen salad.

The bike was a 3 speed and the top gear was not as high as would be comfortable – I lost traction with the pedals just going down slope of the road. The other downside was I could not go very fast on flat ground. Mobike and Capital Bikeshare also carry 3 speed bikes, but I hear they are faster. However, I have hope for finding an 8 speed Limebike. The low gear was comfortable enough to get up all the DC hills I encountered in my trek home.

Not everyone is happy with dockless bikes

People don’t like change and see the bikes as a nuisance. If you don’t ride bikes – you certainly don’t want them showing up all over the place – that would be annoying.

It is true that they are sometimes parked inappropriately – but as one tweeter points out– so are cars! The onus really is on riders to treat the bikes and our community with respect – this includes parking them responsibly and not in the middle of sidewalks. I’m also disappointed in the public communities which have made it their hobby to destroy these bikes.

While people who don’t use them see them as a nuisance, I see dockless bikes as freedom… and not just for me.

It has been postulated to be a way-point for making biking more accessible in our community. One of Capital Bikeshare’s issues has been with docking adaptive bikes for people with disabilities. The excuse has always been that the docks do not support the bikes – but without being restricted to docks, that problem shouldn’t exist. Another plus is that it may be diversifying the face of the DC cyclist – which is currently typically a white male. These bikes are available all over instead of being tethered to docking stations which tend to be in white and affluent neighborhoods.

This system is not replacing the docked bikeshare – it is a complement to it. By just having Capital Bikeshare and no access to dockless bikes, riders be limited to only places with docks. But who said you have to choose? Dockless bikes can be seamlessly used in conjunction with Capital Bikeshare. By getting riders used to biking places, all bike usage will increase. Read the excerpt from Washington Post’s Express below.


Excerpt from the Washington Post’s Express

I fear for the future of these bikes because they have failed in so many other places thus far. They have been pulled from rivers in Australia, found in trees, on lawns, and blocking sidewalks. In Paris, December and January saw a mass destruction of their dockless bikes – consequence of new form of entertainment for young individuals. Even in one of the friendliest bike cities in the world, Amsterdam, commercial dockless bikeshares have been banned. They still have private bikes for sharing – but no commercial.

There have been many stolen bikes and damaged bikes in DC, but I hope they are here to stay. However, I am not yet adding any money to my current credits.

Would I do it again?

Yes. It took twice as long as the bus… but it was wayyyyy more fun that the bus! And it was so much nicer to spend an hour in nature on the trail than on the bus. Additionally, the bikes give me more freedom of leaving when I want and arriving where I want. I sincerely hope the bikes stay past April so I can use them in the nice weather!!

I’ll update if I can find an 8 speed!


Two Limebikes ready for riding!

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