I have had some bad luck lately when it comes to commuting vehicles. My bicycle has been in the shop for two weeks with many problems to be resolved including replacing parts the shop does not have in stock. I made the fateful decision to surrender it to the shop thinking that I would always have my scooter to fall back on. Two days after handing over my bike I found that my Vespa had a flat back tire. My bad luck was compounded by my scooter mechanic not being able to fix my ride until the first week of August.
Lucky for me I come prepared! I have a stash of bus tickets I have been using while I have been in this state of congealed personal transport. It’s like the good ole days riding the bus in the morning. Jockomo, jockeying for the best possible seat as the bus begins to fill, upgrading my seats as the bus starts to empty. After getting an encouraging progress report from the bike mechanic, I was hoping that Friday (yesterday) would be the last day of taking mass transit to work. Standing at my bus stop, hearing the bus downshift to clear the hill in front of me, I knew I had a whole hour to burn until the next coach. I could have gone back home and made another cup of coffee and listened to another podcast or two, but instead, I looked at my phone, launched the Jump Bike app to see if there was a bike close by. There was–sort of. I walked to the closest Jump Bike.
In case you don’t know what a Jump Bike is I’ll let Wikipedia explain:
Jump Bike is a dockless electric bicycle sharing system operating in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. The bikes cost $2 for the first half-hour to rent (then 7¢ per minute) and are located using a companion smartphone app. They are neon red and weigh seventy pounds (32 kilograms). Each JUMP bike has a 250-watt electric motor which powers the front tire. JUMP employees swap out the battery packs every three days. At the end of a ride, the bikes have to be locked to a sidewalk bicycle rack. A pilot program began in February 2018, allowing certain users of the Uber app in San Francisco to access JUMP’s fleet of electric bicycles. Here’s the link: Jump Bikes.
Before the bright red electric peddled-assisted bikes were omnipresent in downtown Sacramento, there was the Tower Bridge Bike Share. I saw the white bikes parked on R Street as I rode into work every morning. I believe the fledgling company was bought out
by Jump Bike. There have been other bike share companies. When my wife and I were in London in 2011, there were plenty of ride-share bikes that we couldn’t use. (Damn chipless Yankee debit cards!) Barclays Cycle Hire (now Santander Cycles) nicknamed “BorisBikes” after former mayor and Brexit figure Boris Johnson, who launched the idea were everywhere. Currently, there are other ride-share bike companies in Northern California, but I think Jump Bike has a monopoly in Sacramento. LimeBikes can be rented in some Bay Area cities, and I am sure there are many other ride-share bike companies in America.
When Jump Bikes first came to Sacramento, my wife and I downloaded the app to our phones then drove around looking for two available bikes that were close together on a sunny Sunday afternoon. When we found two bikes across the street from one another, we reserved them. Wow, that was easy! (Beginners luck, I would realize later. Read on.) We rode around the California State University, Sacramento campus until we got the idea how the bikes work and handle. After we were satiated, we hooked them back up near our car. Wow, that is cool.
Quickly forgetting how uncomfortable the ride was compared to my Giant hybrid or my Vespa or, hell, a bench seat on public transportation, for that matter, I was kind of on a high thinking about our little ride on the red electric bikes. I also failed to ask myself, “Why do the bikes have to be electric? What does that buy the rider after the cheap thrill of the first ride?” But that wasn’t the point–it was an adventure. Still, when the euphoria would subside–and it eventually did–I had to ask myself what good the Jump Bike is to me, personally?
The only application I could see for me is riding a short distance in town (and a nonelectric bike would be just as effective and, ultimately, cheaper). This would be tested a couple of times. Each time I wanted to ride to 5-One-5 Market, a small grocery store/deli located in downtown Sacramento only ten blocks away from my office. I’ve been walking there once a week since it opened its doors in May to buy lunch fixings and to treat myself to lunch at the deli, sit back and enjoy a meal out once a week. If I took a Jump Bike there or take one coming back to the office that would cut down on travel time and considering it’s summer in Sacramento and the walk in 90 degree-weather invariably makes me sweaty, a Jump Bike would come in handy. Each time I eyeballed one of those red bikes or found one on the app close enough to make it worth my while the bikes were reserved. No biggy; if walking both ways to the market was time prohibitive I wouldn’t have done it or brought it up here. So I walk. Anyway, I usually ride a bike to work so why not ride that? This was just a test, remember. Later, I would find out I was not alone in this problem. Other people I know wanted to use these bikes often to find they were reserved by someone else.
The idea of commuting to work (or back) on a Jump Bike seems indulgent–but I almost did it a few days ago, anyway. Someone in my neighborhood decided they didn’t want to respect Jump Bike’s boundaries and rode one to their house about a third of a mile south of the thick red line on Jump Bike’s GPS screen. I nearly walked over there but thought better of it before my bus came and picked me up. Then, as I stated above, I missed my bus last Friday–I mean I was twenty feet away from my bus stop and the bus shot by. So, I ended up weighing my options: sit around for about fifty more minutes and catch the next one or walk to the closest Jump Bike and ride the Big Red Bike in.
I don’t live within Jump Bike’s Sacramento sphere, so I had to hoof it to the closest bike; about 2.3 miles. Not ideal, but at the time I guessed I’d make it into work faster that way than sitting around for the next bus. It’s absurd that any metropolitan mass transit system has buses that run only once an hour during rush hours, but that is the reality here in Sacramento with our Regional Transit District.
So I walked over two miles to the nearest Jump Bike reserving it when I got within .2 miles. When I arrived at the red electric peddle-assist bike I enter my PIN, the U-lock pops free, I dropped the U-lock in its holder, my bag in the big red handlebar basket and start peddling. I turned onto Riverside Boulevard–a busy and occasionally dangerous street for both bicyclists and motorists. Immediately I felt the thrill of the new bike/service dissipate. I was now doing calculations on my way to work: Why is this lug on wheels so damn heavy? Well, there’s a computer onboard to assist the customer and to track the company’s asset. This isn’t your bike, by the way! But did they have to make the product electric peddle-assist? No, but it sure helps to lug the ponderous piece of shit around, doesn’t it? Circular thinking!
I rode 2.5 miles. I wondered how long the average Jump Bike ride for Sacramento customers is? If it is over two miles it is a rough two miles if it is under I have to reiterate, why does the Jump Bike have to be an electric peddle-assist bike? Those lonely and ill-fated Tower Bridge Bike Share bikes would have been ideal. There needed to be a lot more of them and a lot more publicity (and for God’s sakes, any other color but white. Who wants to ride what looks like a ghost bike. It’s as if you are asking for it!).
Of course, one could ask why is there a demand for the Jump Bike. I wouldn’t have thought there would be such a demand for the fancy bike until they arrived now the red bikes are all over downtown. Perhaps the answer can be found in the rise in popularity in ridesharing and smartphone applications. A few hours of this posting my wife and I were toggling between an A’s vs. Giants game (A’s won in extra innings!) and a Cubs vs. Cards game (alas my wife’s Cubbies lost). She looked at her Jump app at least two times commenting on how close a couple of Jump Bikes were. We were in for the night. She had no interest in going for a ride at 9p.m. Still, I wanted to ask her if she had an app that located her Cannondale EVO forty feet away in our garage. She won’t have found that funny. Seriously though, why do we get so excited about this stuff–especially when there are more straightforward solutions already available? I want to revisit the Jump Bike phenomenon a year from now to see if the fascination is still there; will the streets of downtown Sacramento have more or less of the big red bikes? One happy ending (beginning) to this is the Jump Bike encourages more people to buy and ride bikes. Somehow, I don’t think bicycling has much to do with the rage. I just had s shudder: would if the evildoers at Uber creates a fake event like “June (or some other month besides May) Is Jump Month.” God, shoot me!
I’m not trying to make too close a comparison between Jump Bike and its parent corporation–Jump Bike doesn’t exploit worker insecurity. I don’t think any struggling cab drivers will be hanging themselves thanks to Jump Bikes. Nor do I think bus drivers will lose bargaining power thanks to those red bikes. I just can’t fully appreciate the business model. The first time I had the Jump Bike Experience (tracking a bike down via my smartphone, performing the transaction, riding the peddle-assist two-wheeler, and locking it up damn near wherever I choose), it was exciting. And that’s precisely because it was the first time–it was new, novel, fresh. The second time I rode a Jump Bike, it was uncomfortable and inefficient. I thought up a bunch of improvements to the thing, first one losing the wasteful electric peddle-assist feature, but I suppose that and the app are the hooks.
Last night I received a call from my neighborhood bicycle shop. My commuter bike was ready to go. Actually, I need a new derailer, but that’s being shipped, so they asked me if I wanted to pick up my bike now with the option of replacing the derailer on the spot when the new one comes in. It had been two weeks without my bike and one week without my scooter. Hell yes. From work, I took the trolley to the station only a couple of blocks away from the shop, paid the bill, and rode my bike home. A much better ride.
As I peddled back to the house I wondered, if I didn’t have my own bicycle, if I lived a little closer–inside Jump Bike’s area of service, and if missed my bus would I ride a Jump Bike in? No. There are too many ifs in the above situation. The Jump Bike is a desperate last resort. I can always have another cup of coffee at home.