In September, Spin and JUMP stood out on the low and high ends of the gearing systems the new dockless bikeshare companies in DC were offering.
Spin’s first model was a single-speed bike, while JUMP offered an eight-speed hub. Few reviews mentioned JUMP’s robust gear selection, perhaps because its electric-assist feature made selecting the perfect gear less necessary.
Few, on the other hand, failed to notice Spin’s single speed, including the triathlete in Sadie Dingfelder’s article who remarked, “It was so frustrating…getting up that hill was impossible.”
David Alpert, I should mention, in his comprehensive piece reviewing each bikeshare offering, kicked off his article with an analysis of all gearing systems ranging from single-speed to eight-speed.
Now, in new models, both Spin and JUMP are offering three-speed gear hubs.
Here's why JUMP has switched to three speeds
Why might three speeds be a smart choice for JUMP? Since JUMP’s launch, the most popular demand from riders has been “more bikes… please!” Theoretically, dollars JUMP saves on gear hubs could translate into the expedited assembly and shipping of more bikes into the District — or at least expedited maintenance to keep more of its hundred-bike fleet on the road on a given day.
Also, to succeed as a bikeshare offering, JUMP needs to offer an accessible and satisfying rider experience from the moment a new rider unlocks the bike. Riders unfamiliar with JUMP may be preoccupied with the bike’s weight (70 pounds, compared with Mobike’s 34) and its electric-assist algorithm (designed to calculate how much boost to provide based on factors like cadence and pressure on pedals).
Adjusting to these elements while trying to choose from a selection of eight gears may not provide an accessible learning curve. The orange markings and black icons JUMP has added to its shifters (depicting a bike speeding along a level path and a bike climbing a hill) will simplify the cognitive demands placed on new riders.
Riders using David Alpert’s strategy of riding more commonly-found bikeshare cycles to the nearest JUMP bike may benefit, too, if their muscle memory needs re-calibrating when they make the switch.
And here's why Spin has switched to three speeds
Why might three-speeds be a smart choice for Spin? Spin told GGWash that they always wanted a three-speed, but needed to act quickly to deploy bikes in time for the September launch of dockless bikeshare in DC. Some early one-speed models were available from nearby cities on the East Coast, so Spin deployed those with the hope of replacing them with three-speeds when possible.
Spin’s switch to three-speed models appears to offer the benefit of more gearing choices with few drawbacks. None of the reviews I encountered mentioned Spin’s original single-speed gearing as an asset.
Single-speed bikes offer mechanical simplicity that often translates into durability, but the overall design of Spin’s early model did not convey the impression that that its engineers were building it to last. Its exposed brake cabling and fully-removable seats, for instance, faced early criticism.
Single-speed bikes often weigh less than geared competitors, but, according to Sadie Dingfelder’s bathroom scale, at least, the single-speed Spin bike weighed 39 pounds compared with Mobike’s officially-reported 34 pounds.
To be fair, in Matthew Baker’s video review of the new bikeshare offerings, Spin felt the lightest and handled the best. Without noticeable advantages in weight or durability, though, standing out as the only bikeshare offering lacking a transmission probably seemed like a bad idea for Spin.
Not all three-speeds are created equal
Might three be the magic number? At this point, all of DC’s bikeshare companies appear to have decided by unanimous consent that three-speed transmissions are the way to go. Are all three-speed transmissions created equal, though? Perhaps not.
JUMP’s pictographs demonstrate that JUMP is making a special effort to simplify the mental task of shifting gears. Some riders may appreciate Spin’s efforts to provide more gearing choices, but my personal experiments indicate that — even with the new gear hub — Spin’s bikes are no better at ascending moderate hills in DC than Mobike, Lime Bike, or ofo bikes, none of which do a particularly impressive job.
One way or another, Capital Bikeshare seems to have succeeded in calibrating its chainring (the large, spiky cog connected to the cranks and pedals) and gear hub to better handle the inclines of DC’s hilly neighborhoods.
Although it didn’t upgrade its gearing just for DC, Spin has demonstrated a willingness to modify its bike design in order to offer a riders a choice of gears. Could another tweak, like installing smaller chainrings, help Spin stand out from the non-electric dockless bikes by offering a transmission that can fully handle DC’s hills? It would certainly earn Spin kudos in my estimation.