JUMP bikes in the warehouse, ready to deploy. Image by the author.

JUMP, the dockless e-bike service, is doubling its fleet in DC Thursday. Actually, though, thinking of JUMP as bikeshare misses what it truly is and what it's competing with.

We all have a mental image of the world around us and how we get there. There's the places we'd generally walk to; the places we know we have to drive to; the places we usually take Metro or a bus to. If we are comfortable cycling, there's the places we know we bike to. Maybe there's places (and times and conditions) when we'd usually take a ride hailing service like Uber or Lyft.

Then there's the places we'd go on a JUMP bike. These places look a lot more like “where we'd Uber to” than “where we'd bike.”

That's because riding a JUMP isn't like riding a bike. You float up hills. You shoot past most other cyclists. You effortlessly keep up with cars on neighborhood streets. You can do this thanks to an electric motor that kicks in as you pedal and can power the bike to a maximum of 20 mph.

I recently JUMPed a 5.14 mile trip to JUMP's warehouse near South Dakota Avenue and Bladensburg Road in northeast DC. Let me be clear that I'm not a super-in-shape expert cyclist. In fact, until recently I hadn't ridden for almost four years after getting a back injury when my daughter was an infant.

Even so, a mile or two into the trip I got tired of stopping at every stop sign on the (relatively flat, low-speed traffic, bike lane maximizing) route Google Maps was recommending. So I switched it to driving directions mode and hopped right on six-lane Rhode Island Avenue, NE. Through Eckington between North Capitol and the Rhode Island Avenue Metro is one really big hill, and east of there is miles more uphill. I barely broke a sweat and often kept the same pace as the drivers.

JUMP or Uber?

So e-bikes are easy and fast. What's the point?

South Dakota and Bladensburg is not close to Metro. You can Metro to the very infrequent B8/B9 bus, but I'd have usually driven or taken a ride hail. Instead, I got there almost as fast, for less money, and more fun than on Uber or Lyft.

In my mental map of which transportation choice I'd take, JUMP is competing with Uber. Or car2go.

The numbers bear this out. Nelle Pierson, JUMP's spokesperson and formerly deputy director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, said that JUMP's average trip is 3.4 miles long taking 33 minutes. On some days, the average was 6 miles. By comparison, the average Capital Bikeshare trip is 1.5 miles and 12 minutes. (Aside: We only know this stuff about CaBi because it releases public data; it's important to demand this of dockless operators too, and JUMP is willing to support such a rule.)

This means JUMP bikes can reach many people and destinations in areas too low-density for traditional bikeshare to be at its most economical, and because of the e-assist, too hilly for many less super-fit people to ride comfortably. As Pierson said, “I know that for me, 3 gears, DC's hills, and pencil skirts are a tough combination.”

In fact, JUMP considered launching only east of the Anacostia River, where for the most part the terrain is hilly, the street grid often disconnected, and homes farther apart. It's less ideal for traditional cycling but well-suited to JUMP. DDOT's rules for the dockless pilot program required all companies to serve all eight wards, nixing that idea. Still, I often see a significant portion of JUMP bikes in that area.

Motor vehicle ride-hailing will still be superior to e-bikes in rain and other bad weather, for big groups, when drunk, and going to the airport with luggage, but a lot of the mid-range trips could be perfect for JUMP.

JUMP bikes that will be released into the wild on Thursday. Image by the author.

More bikes, please

The biggest challenge with JUMP is finding a bike. Often the app shows just 4 bikes available for rent, all across the District's 61 square miles of land area. One day recently, I saw 10 on the app. That's because it was pouring.

There are more than 4, or 10, JUMPs out there, but the app doesn't show ones being ridden or “on hold.” Unlike most of the non-electric dockless services, you can reserve a bike for up to 30 minutes, during which time you pay but nobody else can take it. When you get to a destination, you can also hold it (and keep paying) for up to 4 hours, to guarantee it'll be there when you are done with an errand.

I used this feature to get to one for my ride to the warehouse. In fact, I reserved the bike, then grabbed a LimeBike to ride to the JUMP which was almost a mile away!

E-bikes cost much more than regular bikes to build, and JUMP's parent Social Bicycles isn't backed by the kind of huge capital as some of the China-based and California-based dockless companies (and certainly not as much as Uber!) The company is, however, doubling its fleet to about 100 bikes on Thursday night, when it's holding a launch party for its new wave of bikes.

That's not the 400 (the maximum allowed in DC's pilot) that companies like LimeBike, Mobike, and ofo are fielding, but those are a different business serving a different market, really. Those services cost $1 per 30 minutes (ofo is even offering a full hour for $1) while JUMP is $2 for a half hour.

JUMP technicians service a bike in the warehouse.

JUMP isn't your regular dockless bikeshare

The other companies designed very low cost bikes they can place everywhere and not worry so much if they get damaged, vandalized, or accidentally knocked into the C&O Canal. JUMP requires locking its bikes to an actual structure, like a bike rack or sign.

That decision isn't just to stop theft; according to JUMP's DC general manager Colin Hughes, early version of the bike also self-locked like traditional dockless bikes but the company worried people, especially tourists, wouldn't know how to properly park the bikes and would leave them in disruptive places. (Indeed, that's happened with Mobike/Limebike/Spin/ofo bikes, though not as prevalently as I initially feared.) JUMP plans to advocate for DC to require all dockless bikes to lock to something instead of allowing free-standing parking.

The electric batteries require recharging about every 48 hours, but the company is considering deploying a network of charging stations, Pierson said. These would give the system some characteristics of the docked system, except you could still lock it to something besides a dock. The app already has a mechanism to offer a $1 credit for returning a bike to a “hub,” though now the hubs are just designated spots near Metro stations across DC.

JUMP would like to see DC amend its rules to allow at least “class 1” e-bikes on trails, where they are now prohibited. Class 1 e-assist kicks in while pedaling rather than using a throttle, and it tops out at 20 mph. Class 2 covers bikes you can move with a throttle and no pedaling.

Unpowered dockless bikeshare adds a valuable new travel choice for DC, and I'm hoping to see it succeed (with appropriate rules for things like data sharing and equity). JUMP, meanwhile, is a totally different mode of travel, and I hope to see it, too, succeed.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.