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:


*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 ūüôā

a warning on shifting baselines

It is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain in it. -Wendell Berry

The Guardian recently highlighted a very disturbing trend: the potential widespread loss of insects across massive swathes of the world (Germany in this study, but trends are similar in the U.S. and elsewhere). Subsequent Guardian posts can be found here and here. In sum, there was a 75% drop in insect mass within the last 27 years.

Insects (class Insecta), of course, are among the planets most successful group of organisms and form the base of the food chains for many vertebrates, like ourselves. The are millions of species, still millions of which have not been formally described by Western science.

One particular phenomenon we must guard against is the idea of “shifting baselines.” As a child growing up in the 90’s, I saw occasional monarch butterflies here and there during the summer. I did not see, however, the massive clouds of many thousands that would roost overnight at my grandparent’s Iowa farmstead. What I consider “natural” or “normal” is in fact a much diminished state, or may even be a temporary stopping point in a trend of long decline. Ask anyone over 50 years old about driving through the country in the summer… they would describe a windshield splattered with bugs, fireflies in great numbers, swarming moths around the outside lights.

(Here’s a TED talk on shifting baselines as it relates to ocean ecosystems).

We are trying our best to aid pollinators and insects in our land management. We are sowing filter strips along the waterways with native grasses and flowers. A pollinator patch is being installed. Additional plants species are being added here and there. On tillable acres it is more difficult.

Sr. Mary reaches for the seeds of Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium maculatum), a purple-flowered native plant that supports dozens of insect species.

I don’t want to dwell on the topic too long, for the news is not good, especially as I think of the baseline we’ve left for my kids to discover. Instead I should return back to the work there is to do. However, I came across another article that I thought provided an interesting addition to the news on insects.

Black butterfly wings offer a model for better solar cells.” The idea of biomimicry is imitated nature’s design into our human products, services, and systems.

Biomimicry has a history in many commercial products. Whether or not this particular design eventually turns into a commercial product is besides the point. I found the poignancy and symbolism of a solar cell based on a butterfly too powerful to resist. It encapsulates some of the fundamental challenges of our time. Fatalism can too often be an cop-out. The world we build is to a large degree our own choice.


Indiana Promise campus visit (kids and pollinators)

Last month we hosted some 1,500 kindergarten and 1st graders from across Marshall County for “Walk Into the Future,” a whirlwind tour of academic life at Ancilla College. In conjunction with The Center at Donaldson, it was¬†organized by Marshall County Promise, encourages all students to prepare for their future by opening a 529 savings account and saving for their future education needs.

It’s these unique partnership opportunities that I think makes The Center at Donaldson a very unique place.

Each class made quick rounds at various stations. I had the “nature table.” Since I only had 5 minutes with each group, I tried to keep it simple. I put out my college insect collection and a colorful map of N. America’s native bees.

A representative fraction of N. America’s 4,000+ species of native bees.

I tried to make the connection between food and bees. Y’all like apples and blueberries and strawberries and almonds, right? Each one started as a flower. Only the flowers that got visited by bees made fruit. Take care of the bees!

Who’s ever eaten an apple?

There were already little kids who knew about pollen and nectar. We gave them each a paintbrush and had them visit a flower (audibly buzzing as they went) to pick up some pollen. Then they “flew” over to another bucket of flowers and pollinated another one. Now that flower could make a fruit, nut, or seed. We get to eat, and all the wild animals get to eat.

It’s not very often we get to speak into the lives of little kids. They grow up pretty fast. The broad outline of our conception of the world is shaped at a very young age, and it’s important to teach them that our fate is tied to these small, hard-working, underappreciated neighbors.

We read a lot about future calamities in some far off time. 2100 … by 2050, etc. Scientists are now telling us that the decisions we make today (in regards to the atmosphere, nutrient cycles, etc) will actually reverberate for centuries.

It’s important to remember that these “far off” dates¬†are within¬†the lifespan of little ones we have already named. By 2050 my daughter will be in the middle of her career. By the end of the century, Lord willing, she may still be in the land of the living¬†and in need of clean water and healthy food.

As Wendell Berry wrote, “Invest in the millennium.”



a brief moment for beauty

Monday we were doing some chainsaw work around the edges of an oak woodland, getting fire lanes prepped for the prescribed burning season. Cutting fire lanes allows us to more quickly and safely cover more ground with the same amount of staff. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention…

Most of the flowers by now have turned to seeds. Pollinators are migrating, hibernating, or receiving their final meals before dying as adults. At this time, we usually turn to colorful leaves for the fall splendor beauty. But leaves don’t have all the color yet.

But in a wet patch in the woods we stumbled across several of these beauties:

Trying my best at a quick phrase to describe the scene in a few words, I came up with this:

Jack be nimble
Jack be quick
Jack uses color as a bully pulpit

Not my best work (or my best photo), but it’s the first thing that came to mind.

I at first thought that these were fruits of Arisaema triphyllum, (Jack-in-the-pulpit)¬†though I had a suspicion that I was wrong.¬† When I returned the following day to collect seed¬†I noticed that the shriveled¬†vegetation was still attached. It was distinctive enough that I realized it was Jack’s cousin,¬†the Green Dragon (Arisaema dracontium).¬† I’ll take the seeds to a less biodiverse patch of wet woods to help spread the population.

Here’s what the leaves look like during the summer:

Unedited photo by Bob Gutowski ( CC BY 2.0

There’s a lot of tension, chaos, and pain in our world right now. It’s important to not forget why it’s all worth struggling for. There is beauty all around us, but we have to slow down and contemplate it, to relish in its¬†own sheer lavish existence.

Make time today for a walk, for a sit, to pick up a seed or watch the birds. Your soul needs it.