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Biketown 2.0 is here and the electric bike share era has begun

Posted by on September 9th, 2020 at 11:25 am

All ready to go.
(Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

It’s a big day for Portland’s transportation system. Last night the transportation bureau flipped the switch on a long-awaited Biketown expansion.

Old (left) versus new (right).

The Biketown app is now fully upgraded and 500 electric bikes are ready to be rented and currently spread over the expanded, 32 square-mile service area. And since Biketown’s operator Motivate Inc. is owned by ride-hailing juggernaut Lyft, the bikes can also be rented via the Lyft app (which also offers excellent public transit info).

I grabbed one of the new bikes from a station on Northeast Killingsworth this morning and gave it a test ride.

The first big upgrade I noticed was that the bikes no longer rely on a clunky, unreliable keypad. With the app open on my phone all I had to do was scan the QR code, answer a few quick questions, and the bike was mine. I also like the new locks much better. It’s a flexible cable instead of a hard metal u-lock.

How does it ride?

I’ve owned an e-bike for a while now, so the added boost wasn’t a major revelation. But boy-oh-boy the new Biketowns are so much easier to ride than the old ones! The 250 watt motor zipped me along effortlessly. I was able to ride 16-20 mph and felt confident merging with drivers and taking the full lane on residential streets. And I barely noticed the hills. I pedaled the uphill on SW Broadway from Burnside to Portland State University and easily hit all the green lights. No heavy breathing and no sweat. That’s what these bikes make possible.

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I don’t think people realize how much it changes your perspective to ride with a motor. The balance of power on the street — especially with posted speeds of 25 mph or lower — almost levels out. Like it or not, American road culture equates might with right (of way). And motors give bicycle riders more might. This gives you a confidence and sense of safety that’s hard to explain until you’ve experienced it.

I also like how the new bikes are quieter than the old ones — even with the slight hum of the motor. This is because the new bikes are chain-driven instead of a shaft drive. One thing I didn’t like was how bumpy the ride was. PBOT has the large Schwalbe Marathon tires pumped way up to avoid flats and extend the time between air refills, but the downside of the high pressure is a jarring ride over any crack or bump.

Other minor changes with the new bike include a shallower step-through frame, a much more shallow front basket, and a full rear fender. I thought the old bikes looked pretty cool, but the new ones look even better. The design is minimal and everything is integrated and sturdy. I came across an old bike and snapped a few shots to help you compare side-by-side…

As I rode around I started to worry about the battery level and didn’t see any gauge on the bike to monitor it with. Then I discovered I could view the remaining estimated range of the battery just by pulling up the app. One of the things I’m curious about is how well crews are able to keep batteries charged at all times since I didn’t see any stations with built-in charging capability.

PBOT says they plan to add 1,000 more bikes to the fleet in the coming weeks. That will bring the total number of bikes to 1,500 — compared to the 1,000 we had with the old system. And by 2024 PBOT says we can expect 3,000 bikes in the system and a six square mile expansion of the service area.

As I reported back in July, the price of using this new system has gone up. I haven’t gotten an annual membership yet so I was on the “Single Ride” plan which charges $0.20 per minute plus a $1.00 “unlock fee”. This morning I had the bike out for 109 minutes and it cost me $22.80. Ouch! (Yes I realize the Single Ride plan is meant for quick trips, so it’s partly my fault.) The Annual Membership plan is $99 plus $0.10 per minute and gets you free unlocks. Sort of a bummer that there are no more free minutes; but PBOT says there was just no way to keep costs low while also upgrading the bikes and expanding the service area.

Have you tried out the new bikes yet? Please share your experiences with us.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Momo
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Momo

There is a way to keep costs low for users, which is to provide a public subsidy like we do for public transit. TriMet would be something like $10 per ride if there were no subsidy, and ridership would plummet. Transportation services meant for a broad swathe of the population instead of a wealthy niche pretty much always has to be subsidized to truly be successful. It’s great that we have e-bikes, but I think bike advocates should push on this issue of the lack of subsidy and what it does for the long-term health and success and accessibility of Biketown. Treat it like a transit system! Lyft can still be the operator, many transit systems are operated by a private company. But there’s still typically an operating subsidy to keep user costs low.

squareman
Subscriber

Quick word of advice if you had any outstanding credit on your old BIKETOWN account:

An email went out for the old system some time ago to “convert” the account or update it so the credit would carry over (in my case, about $42 from the PBOT transportation wallet). I did that. The BIKETOWN app updated today. So I opened it, it took me through a few steps to re-confirm that I was me and my credit was nowhere to be seen. Same thing on the website. However, when I logged into the Lyft app, that app showed my available credit. Stupid, yes, but at least it’s on record.

Why they only show the credit in the Lyft app and not the BIKETOWN app I’ll never know — especially because the credit is only good for bikes or scooters, not Lyft rides. It might be that the BIKETOWN app is more for people who will hold an annual membership and Lyft expects people doing occasional one-offs like me to use the Lyft app to find a bike. I simply don’t know.

Jon
Guest
Jon

It will be interesting to see what the plan is for charging these bikes. The shared electric scooters have a terrible carbon footprint because of the fossil fueled vehicles that drive all over the place to pick them up and recharge them. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/aug/02/electric-scooter-eco-friendly-greenhouse-gases

squareman
Subscriber

I’m not thrilled with the open-back, low-profile front basket (really more of a tray now). I suppose it helps with logistics as it’s less likely to be used as a trash receptacle by passersby, but it also means I’m going to be more paranoid about using it hold anything smallish that I’m afraid of losing along the trip.

I may take one out for a spin soon just to try it out, but the cost is going to make it much less frequent as part of my transportation plan. Has anyone napkined this one out how this would compare to TriMet to get around?

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

Is there anyone we should email to opt-in to being able to sue them?

I remember on the old system you had to email them to allow you to sue them in the future.

https://bikeportland.org/2016/07/21/biketown-forces-users-to-waive-their-trial-rights-unless-they-act-quickly-187949

SuWonda
Guest
SuWonda

$$$$$ 🙁

Todd/Boulanger
Guest

The choice of a cable lock vs a hardened lock (u-lock or chain) makes a lot of sense “operationally” BUT in many high theft US bikeshare service areas it may make little sense…unless the bikes can be written off affordably (which I do not know). Portland may be able to get by with cable locks for now.

Stephan Vertal
Guest
Stephan Vertal

I do not remember reading whether there has been any decision has been made as to the fate of the first version of the bikes.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

I too am bummed about the basket; the only one was the perfect size for my travel suitcase, so I could use one to get home from the airport. I probably won’t be flying anytime soon, but still.

AndyK
Subscriber

So they’re fast? NICE.
Based on the fact you can go 16-20mph pretty easily, the two systems are probably similarly priced (when comparing cost per mile)

EP
Guest
EP

“the bikes no longer rely on a clunky, unreliable keypad”

OH THE RAGE that horrible pad created. And so inconsistent in it’s inconsistencies from bike to bike. Quick tap, long press, press & wiggle, nothing works, WTF! Sometimes I gave up and walked!

slabtownie
Guest
slabtownie

I can’t wait to try these out when the smoke clears. The electrification should make them much more useful for commuters. Shame they won’t be as cheap as before but that’s what we get when the city doesn’t want to pitch in.

Robert
Guest
Robert

First day riding observations:
– I am an annual member and what would have been a free day on my typical commute, has charged me $2.30.
– I took 2 minutes off my typical one way work commute!
– Hard to lock. Lock does not align with the hole in the current racks and my second attempt did not actually lock all the way.
– Easy to unlock. The QR code to unlock has saved me so much time trying to push the buttons and wait for a connection.
– Seat is farther forward than it should be. I wish I could push it back 2 inches.
– I feel a lot more of the bumps, especially Railroad tracks. Could be due to the higher speed though.
– I lost a bag of groceries rounding a corner. Basket is way too shallow.
– Very important to shift up before you stop. If your in a low gear when riding with e-power and stop, the power doesn’t kick in right away and it’s hard to get going, or even keep balance, when you start again..
– As a member I am now being charged $1 for not locking at a BIKETOWN station.
– My ride credits seem to have transferred over, so I have $176 worth of charges to decide weather to continue being a member.

Peter W
Guest
Peter W

Hypothetically – if someone were to use one of these bikes to disrupt a motoring Trump rally and the bike got run over, would Lyft come after the Portland Police for not protecting their private property?

(Or does protesting while riding void the warranty?)

9watts
Subscriber

“I don’t think people realize how much it changes your perspective to ride with a motor.“

The Force (used to be) strong with this one…

I know we disagree about this, Jonathan, but the beauty of the bicycle is that it doesn’t (didn’t used to) have a motor, require a smart phone, a fleet of juicers, and to be thrown into the trash after, e.g., four years. The fact that in the 21st Century ‘we’ have invented a ‘bicycle’ that requires all these things won’t surprise anyone here, but I think it is worth considering what we gain and what we lose by taking this step; as well as who wins, and who loses. The dependencies of this tightly coupled system are not trivial, as we saw with the previous system which you first celebrated and then decried when the sheen wore off the fragile subsystems, people tired of it.

Ebikes are not the apex, the culmination, the advanced version of the bicycle; they instead represent a variant utterly dependent—-as the bike itself was not—-on cheap fossil fuels, breathless obsolescence, multinational corporations, and of course the breathtakingly unsustainable and toxic lithium mining.

CaptainKarma
Guest
CaptainKarma

The beauty of a bicycle is that it depends on literally NOTHING. I might ride these orange bikes depending on a whole series of contingencies like, having a broken limb, all broken bikes, a broken car. When Covid goes away, it’s bus and Max, but 30 lb bike first. Not a fan of orange right now either….

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

These look identical to the Nice Ride (also a Lyft-run system) e-bikes we’ve had for a few months on the streets of Minneapolis. Same basket, same motor placement in front, same pink-tipped cable lock. I finally took a couple spins on them on Monday. Fun! Despite the cruiser handling. They get up to speed fairly quickly if you stand on the pedals, and boy do they zip along at 18mph. Granted I’m not one to let the motor do all the work, and I was pedaling as hard as I would have been on a regular bike, I used less of the “estimated” range that the app said I had.

My only previous rides on e-bikes were on the Lime e-bikes in Seattle, and a ride in Beaverton on a much more powerful rig (either 500W or 750W) which I thought it was total overkill. I want to have to put in some of the work. Riding this lower-powered bike, I enjoyed it more because I still have to do some of the work, but I can still cruise along. On flat ideal conditions it’s only a “few” mph (ha!) faster than a pedal bike, but the fact that you don’t slow down much for hills and headwinds is HUGE. I took a ride up a pretty good-sized hill (yes, we do have a few hills) and didn’t even slow down, which I thought might happen on a “lower-powered” bike. Still plenty of power for my purposes. Helps having the NuVinci hub: some e-bikes (like the Lime bikes) have a fairly tall singlespeed setup for pedaling, and unless they have a really huge motor you can end up walking the hills.

Also nice that it uses a crank torque sensor rather than a cadence sensor, which gives it a very natural feel. Feels like a pedaling a normal bike except that your force is amplified. Pro tip: if you adjust to maximum assist, and stand up to take off from a stop, you can get a slight bit of wheelspin off the front during the first couple of pedal strokes. Yes, on dry pavement. Kinda nifty.

One thing I don’t like is the lack of any kind of display showing your speed or remaining range, something even the cheap e-scooters had. It would be nice not to have to look at the app while I’m riding.

But overall I enjoyed it more than I expected, which tempts me more to get one of my own. I think if I did I might actually ride more, because I can cover a lot more ground.

Rain
Guest
Rain

I wonder, will E bike riders ride when it rains? If the attraction is “sweat free,” what if moisture falls from the sky rather than armpits?

Kimberly
Guest
Kimberly

The updated map appears to lack a legend to show riders where the hubs are to lock a bike when the ride is finished? I’m so confused by all of this. I moved out of Portland but still love to ride the bikes when in town. So for me, an occasional rider, these rides are now prohibitively expensive. And the map lacks essential information. Kinda stumped.

emmy
Guest
emmy

Hi! Did we ever find out what they did with all the old bikes?

Connie
Guest
Connie

Thanks for this post. Was thinking of trying this tomorrow and your photos are the only clues I can find to the controls. I’m assuming no gears, only a throttle, but I guess I’ll have to find out on the street.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

Tried one today. Rode up Harrison from 20th, and they are great on the hill. The bikes themselves feel a bit “skittish” but when you’re hauling along, they’re pretty fun.

But waaaaaay expensive, and I seriously question the environmental benefit given that they need to be charged somewhere off the street. If I hadn’t ridden, I’d have walked.

AllGoodUsernamesTaken
Guest
AllGoodUsernamesTaken

Fenders are inadequate for protecting riders from tire spray. An odd design choice for a city known for rainy weather. Nice for summertime tourists, but impractical as basic transportation for those of us who ride year-round.