Thursday, April 7, 2011

10 Tips for Making the Most of Capital Bikeshare

by Herb Caudill

We're lucky in DC to have the biggest bike-sharing program anywhere in the US, with 1,100 bikes and 100 stations in DC and Arlington. I signed up for Capital Bikeshare (CaBi) when it first became available last fall, and it's the single best thing that the district government has done lately to improve my day-to-day life. Here in Cleveland Park we have stations at Newark & Connecticut (down from the 4 Fields), and Wisconsin & Macomb (in front of the Giant). There are also stations in Van Ness, Woodley Park, American University, Tenleytown, and Glover Park. 

Now that the weather is getting nicer, it's a great time to try it out. Here are 10 tips for getting the most out of Capital Bikeshare. 
  1. Get the yearly membership. It's cheap - $75/year works out to about $1.50 a week, and for that flat fee you get unlimited rides (as long as your trips are under 30 minutes). It only takes a few seconds to sign up at .
  2. Keep the key where you'll always have it with you. This little plastic rectangle is your key to the city, so keep it in your wallet or on your keyring. Once you get started, you'll notice that CaBi comes in handy in all sorts of unanticipated situations. You can use it for one-way trips, to go places where other public transportation is inconvenient (Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights, Georgetown), or just to shorten an otherwise long walk. 
  3. Use the free mobile app (, for iPhone, BlackBerry, or Android) to see where stations are, and which ones have bikes or empty docks. This site also provides a nice visualization of where there are available bikes or docks. 
  4. Know where other stations are near your destination. Sometimes your preferred destination will be full, in which case you get another 15 minutes to leave it at another station nearby. This hasn't happened to me in a while, now that CaBi has figured out the daily patterns and keeps the bikes well distributed over the course of the day; but it doesn't hurt to be prepared.
  5. Learn your seat height. The big, comfy seats on CaBi's bikes are easily adjusted up and down, and the seat post is numbered so you can quickly set it to your preferred height.
  6. Come as you are - You don't need special clothes. These bikes let you sit comfortably upright, and have chainguards and fenders so you won't get dirty. Spandex is all good and well, but it warms my heart to see civilians out and about in the city on their bikes in their regular clothes. A helmet is recommended, but it's not required (for adults) by DC law. 
  7. Know where the bike lanes are. We're fortunate that DC's current and past administrations have all been committed to improving the infrastructure for cycling, and we have an excellent and growing network of bike lanes. Google Maps is a great resource - when you search for directions, just click the bicycle icon to get bike-specific directions and to see where the dedicated trails, bike lanes, and designated bike routes are. 
  8. Know the rules of the road. You're allowed to ride in the street, in which case you have the same rights and duties that any vehicle has, including stopping at lights and stop signs. You're also allowed to ride on the sidewalk  anywhere in the city except for the central business district (between Mass, 23rd, and the Mall). There's a handy guide to DC, MD, and VA laws here:
  9. Be courteous. Whether you're in the street or on the sidewalk, be especially considerate of the drivers and pedestrians around you. It's not exactly fair or logical, but for some reason jerks on bikes always come up as an argument against bicycle lanes (no one cites jaywalkers as a reason to get rid of sidewalks, or road rage as a reason to tear down freeways). We're all better off if there's broad public support for making cycling safer and more convenient, so go out of your way to be extra nice when you're on a bike.
  10. Make sure the bike is securely locked when you return it. One of the most satisfying things about bikesharing is parking your bike in the dock and walking away, knowing the bike is no longer your problem. Do make sure that you hear it click into place, and see the light on the dock go green; if it doesn't lock securely you might be charged for extra time. (The one time this happened to me, CaBi's very friendly and helpful support staff at 1-877-430-BIKE was happy to reverse the charge.)

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