Bikeshare riders and people who like playing I-Spy on the streets of San Francisco: prepare for a scavenger hunt.
Starting Sunday, June 6, Lyft will begin releasing its next generation e-bike into the city’s Bay Wheels bikeshare system as part of a “public beta” test, making San Francisco the first city to see the new bikes. These two-wheelers will be easy to spot, day or night, with their bright white paint and ovular pink headlights. They also come with a host of new features and do-dads that, Lyft hopes, will get even more people riding.
Step one, of course, will be avoiding the spontaneous combustion that plagued the rollout of the last generation of Bay Wheels e-bikes in 2019.
On paper, there’s a lot to be excited about for riders, and, in some cases, drivers and pedestrians. The new bikes are coated in a special reflective paint that makes them glow in the dark. The LED headlight will be brighter than the previous version, and the brakes stronger. Sensors with wifi and bluetooth connectivity will monitor parts in real time to make sure everything is working properly.
These new bikes won’t have any gears. Instead, they’ll respond to the amount of force the rider applies to the pedals, and provide a commensurate amount of electric assistance. The bikes are more powerful than their predecessors, making for quicker acceleration, and easier travel up San Francisco’s many hills. They will, however, still top out 20 miles per hour on flat ground.
Another major change is the addition of an LCD screen and speaker on the handlebars, providing information on parking, unlocking, and trip duration.
The new bikes are expected to last longer than the previous model, with a design Lyft says will be less susceptible to damage and vandalism. Their batteries have a range of 60 miles, compared to 25 miles for the bikes currently on the road.
These new bikes will also have the capability to charge in their bikeshare docks. Lyft will begin testing that capability in Chicago later this year, and does not yet have a timeline for debuting docked charging in San Francisco. The new bikes will be gradually rolled out as the older ones need replacing.
Wired writer Julian Chokkattu took a test ride in New York, and reported that the new bike “really is effortless to ride.” Chokkattu suggests that people used to the existing Lyft e-bikes could be in for a bit of a shock. “It might be too effortless. The current ebike used in Lyft-operated bike-share programs can still make you huff and puff, especially when riding up steep hills (or the Williamsburg bridge), but the more powerful motor and improved acceleration in the new model makes for smoother, easier rides.”
San Franciscans will soon get a chance to judge for themselves.
E-bikes represent an increasingly important part of the bikeshare networks Lyft runs in big cities across the country. The company reports that its e-bikes are used two to three times more often than its standard bikeshare bikes.
In some cities, bikeshare is more popular than ever, with the systems in New York City and Chicago both breaking their single-day ridership records last month. San Francisco’s Bay Wheels has been slower to rebound from the pandemic. The system saw 122,000 rides in April, down from close to 200,000 rides per month for much of 2019. However, a recent report made clear that many of the people who continued to use bikeshare during the pandemic were essential workers with few other mobility options. The bikeshare network also recently expanded to the Presidio.
Whoever rides, and wherever they go, bikeshare riders in San Francisco will soon be hard to miss.