A new era of dockless commercialized bike sharing dawned in our city this past weekend, with two companies, Pace and Lime, scattering some 200 two-wheelers all up and down Rockaway Beach Park, with a promise of more to come, including pedal-assist models. Both Lime and Pace are app-driven operations, meaning that if you don’t download the app to your phone you can’t use them. Both offer bikes that are sturdy and well-balanced, provide smooth, multi-gear rides (though you will likely just stick with the highest gear for your entire trip), and have a basket up front that easily fits a beach bag.
But there are some crucial differences between the two! I took several rides on both Sunday, basically just cruising around the boardwalk in the rain, and though I am an instant enthusiast of both, I definitely have a favorite. It should be noted that I am what they call a Founding Member and heavy user of Citi Bike, signing up on day one back in 2013, and using that dock- and key-driven program almost every day since. So I’m predisposed to be a supporter of the sharing format. Anyway, here's how Lime and Pace work.
Finding Bikes: Open your app from either company and you get a Google-looking map overlaid with your location and icons denoting each available bike in the immediate vicinity. With Pace, it's a "P"; with Lime, it's a slice of the fruit. Because Pace bikes require a rack or post or railing of some sort to lock them up (like a regular, privately-owned bike), known bike racks also appear on the map as blue circles with white scribbles inside. It should be said that on the boardwalk there were lots of bikes in obvious places like near the beach entrances and concession stands, so you wouldn't really need your app's help up there during this step.
Unlocking Bikes: Once you find your nearest bike—and with Lime's bikes, which can be left literally anywhere by their previous rider, this can feel extremely random—you need to unlock it to "start your ride." Both companies require you to open the app to get going. With Lime, you take a photo of the QR-code attached to the bike you want to ride, and the lock mounted to frame magically retracts its U-shaped pole from between the spokes. It even plays a little tune while doing so! This is an extremely simple operation.
The unlocking mechanism with Pace is also easy. Stand before the bike you want to ride and your app will call up its five-digit ID number, which also appears on its fame. Hit the number on your screen to confirm, then hit a second confirm command (I had put away my phone before this latter step appeared, and thought I had screwed up when nothing happened). If everything goes right, the lock releases automatically and your bike falls awkwardly to the ground at your feet if the previous rider hadn't deployed the kickstand.
Locking Bikes: Here's where the two companies really diverge. Pace bikes need to be locked to something, and the cable is not long. I guess I'll get used to it, but it took me many frustrating minutes each time to get the lock lined up at the right height and proximity with the rack/fence/pole. Also, you need to open the app and say "done" before the lock will engage. And you need to go to a second confirm page before you're safe. I felt a little clumsy during this whole process.
Because Lime's locking system is self-contained, there's no fumbling or awkwardness. Just tell the app you're finished and hit the orange button on the lock. That same jaunty tune tells you everything's fine. In addition, Pace allows you to "Hold" your bike if you're just popping into a store or something without restarting the 30-minute/$1 clock. Of course, the potential for impolite behavior—blocking sidewalks or pathways, leaving bikes in places they don't belong like roller skating rinks—increases exponentially with this system. As one Rockaway local, Whitney Aycock of Whit's End, told me, "They're already up in the trees!"
Mayor de Blasio rides with his Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg on the new dockless bikes Friday. (Michael Appleton / Mayor's Office)
Paying For Bikes:
The cost is the same at both Pace and Lime, an extremely reasonable $1 for each 30 minute period you have the bike. In both cases, though, you need to have money in your account's "wallet" to get a bike, so it's not quite pay-as-you-go, with an automatic $1 deduction from your bank account. I put $10 in each of my accounts (which is the smallest amount you can do with Pace—Lime is $3—that I could figure out while standing on the boardwalk looking at my phone in the rain) which will likely last me three summer's worth of beach-going, so here's hoping these things stick around.
Neighborhoods like Rockaway Beach Park—relatively self-contained and/or a destination by other means (subway/ferry)—are perfect for these low-commitment, dockless bike-sharing systems. Surfers at Beach 67 can now easily grab a Hardbody at Rippers for lunch, for example, or everything at Tacoaway Beach. And getting from the A train stops at Beach 90 or Beach 116 over to Jacob Riis or Fort Tilden has suddenly changed from embarking on a dreaded Q35 bus transfer and a long-ass walk to a pleasant bike ride. In the end, although Lime is definitely more convenient, there's really no reason (other than an extra $10) not to just download both and grab whatever's closest.
This is a pilot program, and bikes have to stay within each neighborhood's pilot boundaries during the course of the pilot, though it's unclear if your bike will spontaneously combust if you stray outside the official share zone. Five companies have been tapped for the pilot program, and after Rockaway, the next communities to get the dockless bikes will be the central Bronx (July), the North Shore of Staten Island (July), and, sometime later this year, Coney Island.