Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Capital Bikeshare: an earmark for rich white people?

Reason magazine -- associated with the Cato Institute -- recently declared Capital Bikeshare a subsidy for rich white folks.
Capital Bikeshare, which rents bikes at more than 165 outdoor stations in the Washington D.C. area, serves highly educated and affluent whites.
There's nothing wrong with that, of course, except that the program has received $16 million in government subsidies, including over $1 million specifically earmarked to "address the unique transportation challenges faced by welfare recipients and low-income persons seeking to obtain and maintain employment."
I'm no expert on Capital Bikeshare, but just based on a few perused articles I've read in the past and the Reason video, it's reasonable to conclude that the direct-effect of bike sharing has done little for DC area poor.  If one is going to evaluate it on that basis alone then indeed, it's a boondoggle.

But if we're going to ask ourselves ...
Why are affluent, educated, and employed whites riding taxpayer-subsidized bikes?
... in the greater context of whether a transportation subsidy is worthwhile, then it seems appropriate to evaluate it in the context of other subsidized transportation which would include driving, public transportation, and just about anything that comes to mind.  For instance, consider the subsidy to driving ...
Economists have long criticized the current system of roadway pricing, contending user fees should be structured so that different classes of vehicles would pay their respective costs. One such study found that single-unit trucks weighing more than 50,000 pounds contribute in user fees only 40 percent of the estimated costs of their use. Autos contribute 70 percent of their costs; pickup trucks and vans, 90 percent; and single-unit trucks weighing less than 25,000 pounds contribute 150 percent of their costs through the taxes and fees they pay.
If you think the important question is whether we should subsidize bike share or -- in the context of the Reason video -- if you think that we shouldn't subsidize rich white folks, then it may be the case that subsidizing rich white folks to ride bikes might reduce the subsidy they receive when driving.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

My STRIDA folding bike

Personal friends are probably rolling their eyes and muttering something along the lines of, "You got another folding bike?"

Indeed, I have indulged again in the sin of folding bikes and picked up a STRIDA folding bike through a GROUPON special.  For quite some time I was eyeing this odd bicycle for "multi-mode trips": travel with Metro combined with some longer walking distrances.  Often these trips involve some visit to an office during the middle of the work day.

Some quick tidbits about the bike.  The singlespeed bike has a greaseless belt drive and consequently is very clean.  The hubs mount onto the frame on a single side making tire changes and flat tire fixes faster.  Disc brakes stop the bike, fenders come with the bike, and the saddle has two preset heights: Note that there is the Mini and SX versions for short and tall people respectively.  Last but not least, tubes and tires are generally available for the 16" (ERTO 305) wheels; although you will probably have to mail order high quality tires.

To be blunt, the bike's handling is quirky to say the least.  One can quickly get used to it but an ordinary task like riding without any hands is a fantasy in my experience.  There is a considerable amount of flex relative to any standard bike and even other folding bikes that I've ridden.  Moreover the STRIDA's geometry is quite unusual.  Both likely contribute to the unusual handling.  The bike's fit can also be awkward relative to a standard bicycle since it's designed to be an acceptable fit for those 5'0" to 6'4".  The saddle is has two preset height positions and there is no stem to alter the reach.  One can move the saddle forward and aft a limited amount.

In short, if a high level of riding performance is necessary for your tastes, you should look elsewhere.

The fold, however, is very robust.  The STRIDA's rather appealing feature is the tiny footprint of the fold.  Even though the folded bike is tall, it is quite compact in an appropriate way for a Metro car.  I'm no giant, but at roughly 6' tall and 190 pounds, I can sit in a row seat on a Metro car and fit the STRIDA between my legs.  Moreover it fits well in closets and coat check rooms since it is quite easy to lean against a wall or a corner; small elastic bands keep the brakes applied when the bike is stood on its wheels.  In the following video, I fold and unfold the STRIDA in a deliberate manner to make the process absolutely clear.  (click here for a higher resolution video)

The unfolding steps are straightforward:
  1. Unfold handlebars and lock them in place with spring-loaded buttons and quick release.
  2. Rotate drive-side crank forward.
  3. Break magnetic lock on hubs with a slight turn on the handlebar.
  4. Slide the front wheel forward. 
  5. Connect the horizontal bar with the male/female connection near the front wheel
Folding the bike is quite similar to unfolding it.  In the video, I also demonstrate the STRIDA's second appealing feature; the folded bike is remarkably easy to roll while folded and I have done so with long flights of steps and tight quarters.  While the factory settings were fine for me the magnetic lock strength is adjustable if the hold is too strong -- unfolding the bike is difficult -- or weak -- the bike unfolds at inopportune times.

After a month or so of using the bike, I've been quite happy with the STRIDA.  I've taken it on Metro several times during peak travel and never had to bag it nor experienced any annoyed looks/comments from other travelers.  I've taken the bike into several offices, doctor visits, and stores without a single hitch outside of getting past Secret Service around the White House.

At the doctor's office

At an ordinary business
I've used the bike for distances up to two miles over relatively flat terrain and, while no speed records were broken, the amount of time saved has been considerable for all of my travel.  Interestingly, I've received many positive comments on the bike and it is a general conversation starter ... which can be a positive or negative aspect according to your personality or mood.  It's not particularly good at carrying "stuff".  If I have something to bring I would use a messenger bag or backpack.  

While I have used the bike for riding with the kids, I don't imagine ever using the STRIDA for "fun rides" as opposed to utilitarian rides.  For the purpose I discussed earlier, it is an excellent bike.  If instead, one is looking for a casual bike for weekend rides on trails and so on, I would steer that person away from the STRIDA and towards a regular bike or a folding bike with 20" wheels.  

But what if one is looking for a compact folding bike for Metro, fun and/or utility rides?  At this point, whether one should purchase a STRIDA is about tradeoffs, in my opinion.  For context, I used to own a Brompton and have a Downtube Mini.  I've test ridden a Bike Friday tikit.  I could go into excruciating details, but in a nutshell I'd steer the ...
  • ... more performance-oriented or long-ride-oriented rider towards the tikit.
  • ... person who needs a super compact fold, travel moderate distances, and carry lots of stuff towards the Brompton.
  • ... person who fits into one of the above categories but is constrained by a budget towards a Dahon Curve or the Mini.
  • ... person looking for something simple and convenient for short trips to the STRIDA.
The retail price -- $650 when I last looked -- is a bit steep for me.  But for compact folding bikes with some resemblance of manufacturer support, the price is competitive and with a little patience one can find a better price.  Obviously, there is little for me to say about bike maintenance other than it appears that there is little to do other than periodically adjust the brakes.  The cables themselves are routed internally which should protect them from the weather but make it somewhat of a pain in the butt to change them.