LimeBike – a review of South Bend’s new bicycle rental company

When I first heard about LimeBike, South Bend’s new bicycle-rental business, I’ll admit that I grimaced a bit through a curious smile. I really want initiatives like these to succeed, but watching several of them stumble has tempered my enthusiasm. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Details and execution are everything.

After my first ride, I think LimeBike has as good a chance as any to succeed. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and had a hard time coming up with a complaint.

I’ll let LimeBike themselves introduce the concept:

It’s a challenge. Indiana does not (yet) have a well-developed cycling culture. South Bend is flat, but hot/cold temperatures and precipitation can be hurdles to entry. For LimeBike to success, several things need to be in place at once:

*affordability

*ease of use (renting/returning/user experience)

*cycling infrastructure

*availability of bikes

South Bend is the closest city of any scale to The Center at Donaldson. As such, it’s where many of us visit for food, healthcare, sporting events, and arts. My review here is of a daytime visitor, not a resident. Though you shouldn’t ask me actually fix a bicycle, I have a lot of experience biking year-round in Indiana towns and cities.

I had driven to downtown South Bend to celebrate Mass with a friend on a Sunday morning. Afterwards, I had one hour to burn until an event that was also downtown. I walked about 0.7 mile to a grocer to grab a bite to eat. On the way, I passed about 5 LimeBikes. Availability and distribution of the bikes is key for users to develop the expectation of bikes always being convenient.

There was a LimeBike at a bike rack right at the grocer. I pulled out my cell phone, opened the app, made a few taps, and a lock over the back wheel made a metallic “click” as it unlocked. I quickly adjusted the seat, tried out the bell (rung by a quick twist of the handle bar), and was off…

South Bends network of “Complete Streets” are designed to safely accommodate all users: pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists. This lowers one “barrier to entry” for wary cyclists.

The bicycles have a single, fixed gear. Your top speed is therefore limited, as well as your ability to climb hills. Adding 3-speed models would expand the usability of the bikes, but I quickly learned to simply adjust my cycling effort to the road conditions.

I wondered if they would eventually add an electric assist drive to the bikes, expanding their speed and utility even further. Of course, that would add cost and complexity. Hmm… could they be powered by photovoltaic solar cells on the bike? Perhaps too expensive?

As I pondered all this, I saw a pop can on the side of the road and figured I would throw it in the cup holder in the basket over the front wheel (which was very handy by the way). Looking closer at the basket, I realized that it did indeed appear to have a PV solar cell integrated into it.

The cell doesn’t power the bike’s propulsion, but presumably this is how power is supplies to the modem somewhere in the frame, which makes the networked, smart-sharing feature possible. Something has to also power the lock to be opened and closed. This should take relatively little power. Smart solution.

I was coming up on 30 minutes, the end of my ride. The service is $1 per half hour, but new users get a free ride to try it out. I ended up at the Century Center, and found another LimeBike parked between the bike lane and the road. I figured I would just leave mine next to the other in case two folks wanted to ride together. Not having fixed docking stations really increases the flexibility of the network. You just leave the bikes… anywhere.

I took out my phone, made a few more taps, and ended the session. The bike wheel locked up again. I was provided a summary of my ride, including distance and route traveled.

In the end, it delivered exactly what I wanted: affordable, clean, healthy, and convenient transportation.

LimeBike recently announced that they received a fresh infusion of investment and will be expanding. They also have a job posting in management in South Bend. I look forward to seeing what they can do.

If you want to take a ride, ask me for a referral so you can try for free 🙂

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