City Cycling with Capital Bikeshare





DC’s Capital Bikeshare: 6 months old, 1100 bikes, 114 stations in DC and Arlington. Over 5,000 members who so far have logged over 250,000 rides. Impressive!

Often mentioned by DC bloggers, it’s popularity is evidenced by the growing number of people pedalling around the city on it’s distinctive, red-framed bikes. This GGW post does a nice job of detailing CaBi’s advantages. Among them: you save wear and tear on your own bike, you have no worries about finding parking or about theft, you can bike just one way if you like and it can cost less than public transit.  Other bloggers writing about CaBi include Lane Change’s Kate Ryan and A Girl and Her Bike’s KC, both of whom participated enthusiastically in the Winter Warrior contest.

I joined CaBi in November.  I have ridden it 8 times now as an occasional part of my multimodal Catonsville-DC commute. This commute currently involves car (6 miles), MARC (about 35 miles) and then either bus, Metro or CaBi bicycle (3 miles to the station closest to my office).*  

I’m not quite the CaBi enthusiast that these other bloggers are, though there are things I appreciate about it:

  • There’s a CaBi station right next to Union Station.
  • Riding a bike is lots better than squeezing onto an increasingly unreliable Metro and getting trapped in experiences like this one.
  • The bike are make you very visible, as least in daylight.
  • They have internal hub gears which is very convenient in city traffic.
  • The seats easily adjust for riders short and tall.
  • The bikes have chain and skirt guards and grippy enough pedals that you can ride them in office wear.
  • I get a little exercise. 
  • It eliminates the cost of renting a bike locker at Union Station and keeping a bike there.

Here’s what I see as CaBi’s drawbacks:

  • There’s no rear rack for panniers, so you can’t carry much. I have to opt for public transit on days that I am lugging more than can go in my backpack.
  • The LED lights are barely enough to provide nightime visibility.
  • No one would use the word “nimble” to describe these bikes. They are heavy and ponderous.
  • The closest station to my office adds 8 minutes or so of walking time to an already long commute.
  • The time to walk and then bike the 3+ miles between my office and Union Station means I don’t use CaBi when I work a little later than planned, which is often. The extra travel time it takes (compared to the walking to and using Metro, if it is running well) means a missed MARC train and a very late arival home.
  • There are sometimes supply/demand problems, though Alta, the company that runs CaBi is working to resolve this.

The average CaBi trip is under 30 minutes and less than 1 mile, and that’s what I’d say these bikes are best suited for. When I’ve used CaBi for a quick ride to a meeting or to do an errand, it’s a much better experience than the longer 3 mile ride I do more often. My dissatisfaction is probably particular to my commuting needs. I bet if I lived in DC I’d use CaBi happily for quick trips and errands. As the final leg of my trip to work, or the first leg of the trip home, it’s ok, but not great. I hope to work out a better system over time. Maybe once the new Halethorpe Marc Station is built, using my folding bike will be a more realistic option.


*Stay tuned for the shift to cycling from home to MARC station.


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