In April of this year, dockless bike sharing services rolled out (pun intended) in the St. Louis area. Since then, I’ve been spotting the colorful bikes all over town. I see clusters of the Lime bikes positioned in and around parks in my South city neighborhood. The yellow Ofo bikes popped up along my commute in a more random distribution with a customer’s ride ending at a city street corner or along a neighborhood sidewalk. The new bikes are part of a bike sharing network where bikes are available for short-term use. It’s a trend that has already hit cities like Chicago and D.C. In St. Louis, the system is dockless, meaning you locate the bikes using GPS via a smartphone app. Each bike is self-locking, so it doesn’t require a docking station, providing more flexibility with where you may end your ride.
Our efforts with Let’s Move! STL are to encourage physical activity, and what better way to fit healthy movement into your day than during the daily commute to work or school. Since it is back to school time, I was curious - could bike sharing provide a way for students to try cycling?
My curiosity led me to interview Bill, a Washington University (Wash U) student working as an intern within the Department of Health. Bill moved to St. Louis for school and lives north of the Delmar loop in U City. Though he is no stranger to biking leisurely and owns a bike, his use of the local bike sharing services could offer insight to those of you who may want to try it out.
What led you to try bike sharing?
I used bike sharing on a couple of occasions. The first was to explore Forest Park. I wanted a leisurely bike ride and the flexibility of leaving the bike in the park. If I used my own bike, I’d have to figure out how to get it back to my apartment before meeting up with friends. Bike sharing made it convenient to plan a one-way trip.
The second time I used bike sharing I was meeting up with a friend early in the morning. I didn’t see a convenient bus route and the distance seemed too short for an Uber. My own bike was broken and I spotted the Lime bike. It was right there in the parking lot near my apartment.
It sounds like the bike was right there and it made it very easy to use on that day. How did you locate the bikes at other times?
The smartphone app makes it easy to locate a bike.
Tell us about your experience. What did you like?
It is convenient. The app makes it easy to find a bike and to locate an approved parking zone [you can’t leave them just anywhere]. There is a phone holder on handle bars to make it easier to use the app during your ride.
There are 3 simple steps to get set up:
What could be improved?
It isn’t a comfortable ride on rough roads and paths. The wheels are hard and there is no spring action where the frame meets the wheel so you feel the road with each bump. It may be best for a paved, dedicated bike trail.
With my own bike, I can adjust the gears for hills. This isn’t the case with the Lime bike so it is challenging riding up a hill and there is no traction when riding down hill. The seat can be adjusted for height but the frame is not adjustable. The handle bars are wide set so the bike is more “one size fits all”. Since it isn’t tailored to your size, it isn’t designed for faster cycling.
How do you think the bike sharing could impact active transportation within the city?
My thoughts - without a dock, these bikes offer more flexibility in terms of where you can end your route, but it could mean a more haphazard placement. I’ve seen them knocked over on a sidewalk. I do see them on the Wash U and Saint Louis University campuses so students are using them.
What would you tell others who may be considering using the service?
It’s worth a try. Bike sharing companies are still finding their niche. I think St. Louis has a way to go in terms of “bike culture”. Ofo got started in China where there is more of a bike culture and the cost was more affordable.
If you are a first time cycler, inform yourself of the rules of the road and tips for safely riding, like wearing a helmet. Also, bikes offered in bike sharing programs may be best for adults as bike fit is important when it comes to children riding safely.
Bike sharing may be a great way to try a new form of active transportation or to give cycling a go as a new leisure activity. It sounds like Ofo is pulling out their bikes in the St. Louis area, but Lime bike is sticking around so you still have a chance to try it out.
More great resources:
Greenway Search: Locate Greenways with this handy tool!
St Louis Bicycle Works: Earn a bike program gives kids a chance to earn a free bike while learning about bike safety and maintenance.
St. Louis City resources to help you cycle safely: Bicycling Safety in St. Louis
Trailnet: They are making walking and biking in St. Louis better for everyone with routes, group rides, and advocacy.
Check out their page on Confident City Cyclin
Let's Move! STL Dietitians