A stroll on the bike bath by the Gano Street revealed a tantalizingly impromptu adventure. There, right beside the trail, leaned a bright red JUMP bike, available for rent. Sure, I could walk my way as far as I wanted to go (I had to break in my fancy barista boy boots anyway) but, I thought, I could also tear it up on an electric pedal assist bicycle.
The choice was hardly one at all. Soon enough, I was rocketing toward Riverside at a speed of at least 10 miles an hour, absolutely soaring past kids being towed by Fitbit parents and old ladies with walkers. I pedaled (with assistance) past beautiful coves filled with seabirds, an intimate view of a dormant shipping vessel, happy people on regular road bikes, grumpy people on tricked-out road bikes and many folks on their own rented wheels. It cost less than $4 to get from the bridge to Borealis Coffee (great cold brew) and back to India Point Park.
I know; I wanted to hate the JUMP bikes, too. I had (and still have) plans to carry my single speed down the tiny stairwell of my third floor walk-up, get it tuned up, and commence panting and wheezing my way around town with one pant leg rolled up. I didn’t want to be part of the red bike problem, careening into traffic and casting the clunky machine across the sidewalk, done with my toy. I was a true blue bike boy, but then, there it was, the immediate opportunity for a dopamine rush. All I had to do was take out my trusty phone and the trail was mine for the taking.
Worth noting is that the JUMP bikes would be unusable without the pedal assist. They’re bulky and heavy, but once the juice kicks in, it’s breezy. I was fine riding in my fancy boy barista boots. The ease was part of what made it so fun. The bikes are fast, they’re cheap to use, they’re everywhere, they sound like TIE fighters. I didn’t even have to download a new app since Uber’s is all-inclusive.
Ah, yes, good old Uber. Their emissaries pick us up and drop us off, they bring us food, and now the company has given us the power to pedal with minimal effort. They’ve invested heavily in their JUMP bikes, having launched a new generation of more resilient models this year. The new ilk have cable locks and swappable batteries so technicians can simply put fresh ones in as opposed to hauling the entire bike to a facility for recharging. Maintenance is still done at a central hub, but an Uber spokesperson optimistically told The Verge that each bike should be able to handle 10,000 miles before that’s necessary. The bikes are built like tanks, but I imagine the many potholes in PVD will pop more than a few tires. One look down our city streets shows that the bikes are seeing action.
It’s not all smiles for rentable microtransit, however. Folks with limited mobility have called out companies behind rentable bikes and scooters for littering sidewalks, making vital thoroughfares impassable for many. Despite dedicated crews to keep things tidy, it’s not unheard of to see scooter handlebars poking out of municipal trash cans. A few JUMP bikes in dumpsters or at the bottom of the Woonaskwatucket river may happen. Public opinion is, at best, split.
Still, the bike aren’t going away. It’s too good of a market. Even if rides become more expensive and require docking in special zones, the bikes will doubtlessly stick around. Maybe the best thing we can do is be the change we want to see in the world, rent some red bikes and ride them like we know what we’re doing.