This past weekend, Middle Age Miles visited Washington DC. We spent several hours on Saturday on the National Mall and exploring the monuments. We found it incredibly useful to rent bikes and scooters from Capital Bikeshare and Skip Scooters, and we wanted to share this experience and trip tip with you. The monuments are fairly far apart for walking, so the bikes and scooters allowed us to get to more places and cover more ground far more quickly and easily than we could have done by walking. They also allowed us to stay independent and not tied to a big tour group with an inflexible schedule. We’ll introduce you to these services and share some pros and cons so you can consider this option on your next visit to our nation’s capital.
Capital Bikeshare is a bicycle rental service that apparently has more than 4,000 bikes at more than 500 stations in the Washington, DC area. Bicycles are docked at stations, which seem to be plentiful around the national monuments and the tourist areas of DC. In short, you rent a bike through the Capital Bikeshare app for single-use or buy a day pass, take a bike from a docking station, ride it, and end your ride by re-docking the bike at any Capital Bikeshare station.
Capital Bikeshare describes how its service works as follows:
And here are the Capital Bikeshare payment plans:
Before you can ride, you’ll need to download the Capital Bikeshare app. Then you’ll want to be at a Capital Bikeshare docking station with one or more available bikes. Open the app, and then you’ll be asked which option you’d like to select – a single 30-minute trip for $2 (with your first 30-minute single ride being free); a 24-hour pass for $8; a 3-day pass for $17; or an annual membership for $85. We chose a 24-hour pass, given that we knew we’d be riding around town for a few hours. We paid through the app using Apple Pay (of course, using our US Bank Altitude Reserve, which earns 3x points on mobile payments).
Once you pay through the app, you receive a 5-digit code, which you enter into the keypad of the dock holding the bike you want to use. When the code is accepted and the light turns green, you can pull the bike back to dislodge it from the docking station, and you’re on your way.
It’s important to note that both the “Single Trip” and the “24-Hour Pass” entitle you to trips under 30 minutes. If you’re using the 24-Hour Pass, you’ll need to dock your bike before the 30-minutes is up. At that time, you can immediately request a new code and undock your bike again, or choose another one if you don’t like the one you’ve been riding. If you exceed 30 minutes, you’ll be charged an additional fee. The app includes a timer you can check to see exactly how much time has elapsed since you last undocked your bike.
Capital Bikeshare bikes are 3-speed, with the gear shifter on a dial on the left side of your right hand grip. The bikes have normal front and rear hand brakes. Seat height is adjustable, by loosening the clamp on the seat post, adjusting the seat, and then re-securing the clamp. The bikes have kickstands and small carrying spaces on the front with a bungee cord to help secure your possessions. We never had any real problems with the bikes, although I thought the front tire pressure was a little low on one of the bikes I rode.
Skip Scooters is an electric scooter service that apparently operates in several cities, including Washington, DC. Unlike the bike rentals, Skip Scooters are not docked. Instead, they are just left wherever the user decides to end a ride, and another user can rent them from there.
Skip Scooters describes how its service works as follows:
This requires a little additional explanation. The first thing you’ll need to do is download the Skip app on your mobile phone. Next, you’ll need to find a Skip Scooter. This is more haphazard than finding a bike at a docking station; you’ll have to just spot a scooter that’s not currently in use. Open the app, and use it to scan the QR code on the scooter you’d like to rent. This will unlock the scooter. And then you’re on your way. We paid through the app using Apple Pay (again using our US Bank Altitude Reserve to earn 3x points on mobile payments; interestingly, Skip Scooters coded as travel, so we received a Real-Time Mobile Rewards text alert – and indeed, we went ahead and redeemed points for our Skip Scooters charges (on both the original authorization of $10 and our later final charge of $17.50!)).
The charge for a Skip Scooter is $1 to unlock the scooter and then 15 cents per minute thereafter. The app includes a timer to let you know how many minutes your ride has lasted at any given time. You can end your ride at any time by pressing “End Ride” in the app. At that point, you just leave your scooter wherever you are and go about the rest of your day. You can start another rental later, and if you do, it’ll again cost $1 to unlock plus 15 cents per minute.
You make the scooter go by pulling the lever in front of your right hand grip. There is a brake in front of the left hand grip, although often, just letting off the gas will slow you down enough.
Here’s what Skip Scooters has to say about the performance and features of its scooters:
The print is kind of small in that picture, so I’ll recap:
- The electric motor is 36V/360W
- All-day battery life with a 30-mile range
- 18 mph top speed (varies by city)
- Dual suspension
- Adjustable handle bar height (note: this did not appear easy to do; we did not adjust the height on any of our scooters)
- LED headlights, tail lights, and brake lights
I was a little anxious about the scooters, but we found them to be pretty easy to use and control. The scooters surprisingly handled bumpy sidewalks and terrain pretty easily and comfortably (this was very important around the Mall area and other places in DC).
Pros and Cons of the Bikes and Scooters
Let’s start with the biggest pro of the bikes and scooters – you can cover far more ground than you can by walking, and you’re far more nimble than in a car. This allows you to see more of DC in far less time and more easily than you would by walking. Also, as I mentioned earlier, using the bikes and scooters allows you to roam independently, on your own time schedule, not tied down to an unwieldy, inflexible tour group. For these reasons, the bikes and scooters are fantastic options to have, and they can be incredibly valuable and fun in exploring DC.
Here are our other observations, some pros and some cons:
- It was fun to ride the bike and the scooter. I was a bit apprehensive about both, as it had been a few years since I’d been on a bike, and I’d never ridden an electric scooter. Riding a bike is “like riding a bike,” I guess – I was a little rusty but didn’t really have any problems with it. I was anxious about the scooter because my sense of balance isn’t the greatest. But as with the bike, I didn’t have any problems keeping my balance or getting around on the scooter. And it was very cool to floor it and pick up some speed on the couple of occasions we hit an uncrowded, non-bumpy stretch.
- Obviously, it needs to be a nice day to use a bike or a scooter. They wouldn’t be very helpful at all if it’s rainy or cold. And on a hot day, riding a bike might make you pretty sweaty; whereas a scooter might be a godsend.
- On a crowded day, you might have a problem finding an available scooter, and that might cause you to want to hang on to a scooter once you have one. I’d note that we didn’t have any serious problems finding available bikes.
- Both the Capital Bikeshare app and the Skip Scooters app have maps that will show you the location of docking stations for bikes and available scooters, respectively, at any given time.
- It can be tough to really visit and spend time at the monuments. You either have to dock your bike/end your scooter ride, or have one person stay with the bikes/scooters while the others visit the monument. Since I’d seen the monuments before, at both Lincoln and Jefferson I stayed with the bikes/scooters while Philly and Maria went up to visit.
- The 30 minutes on the bike rentals passes really quickly. It’s a little stressful to always have to keep a part of your brain alert to how much time you’ve had your bike out and how you’re going to get to a docking station before your 30 minutes are up.
- On the other hand, at 15 cents a minute running constantly, the charges for a scooter can really add up. Our longest ride was 110 minutes, which resulted in a charge of $17.50. That’s not cheap.
- Capital Bikeshare and Skip Scooters both advise riders to wear helmets and say that this is required by law. We didn’t wear helmets, and we didn’t see others wearing them either.
- It was a pretty crowded day when we went, and there were many times when we had to walk our bikes/scooters. Sometimes this was because there were too many people to ride comfortably; other times we needed to walk rather than ride because of posted restrictions and proper decorum (like at the Vietnam, Korean, and WW II memorials, and the FDR monument). During these times, you’re not really getting the value from the rentals, because you’re walking anyway, and you have to haul the bike/scooter along with you!
- Different people in our party had different preferences between the bike and the scooter. Philly preferred the bike. Maria wasn’t entirely comfortable handling the bike, so she greatly preferred the scooter. I was fine on either one. The scooter was fun and took less energy, but the bike made it quicker to cover more ground, plus it was easier to navigate rough terrain.
- At any given time, we usually had a mix of bikes and scooters. We were able to stay together and use the bikes/scooters in tandem pretty easily. So, your group doesn’t have to make a unanimous either/or choice.
- We probably had bikes/scooters for about 3 hours total, and we covered a lot of ground. We started near the Smithsonian Metro station, then visited the Washington monument; the WW II memorial; the Lincoln monument; the Vietnam War memorial; the Korean War memorial; the FDR monument; and the Jefferson monument. After that, we made a fairly long ride across to the Newseum, near the Capitol; and after that, Philly and I rode our bikes to a docking station at 15th and Pennsylvania near the Willard Hotel, across the street from the White House. I’m not sure how this comes out mileage-wise, but we covered a lot of ground.
For us, the option of renting bikes from Capital Bikeshare and scooters from Skip Scooters was great. We enjoyed our day and got to see a lot more than we would have seen otherwise. We generally felt safe and secure on the bikes and scooters, and we had fun. That said, we had a good weather day that was really nice for being outside and favorable for riding. We’re glad to have Capital Bikeshare and Skip Scooters available as options in DC, and we hope sharing this trip tip with you helps you on your travels![To be clear, we were not solicited or compensated by Capital Bikeshare or Skip Scooters. This article is based on our personal experience using these services recently.]
Have you used Capital Bikeshare or Skip Scooters? What was your experience like? Please let us know in the Comments!
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