Take a Bike

In Hilly Seattle, It's Electric Bikes or Bust

Bid adieu to your morning leg workout: Seattle's Lime bikes are going all electric next month.

By Aly Brady February 20, 2019

Image: Rosin Saez

In green lovin’ Seattle, bike-share company Lime reigns with readily available rentals that can be dropped off literally anywhere (like in a tree). Even better, for those who'd rather not pedal up that 19 percent slope on Madison Street, Lime's electric assist, or e-bikes, can push riders up hills at 15 miles per hour. They're a little pricier—$1 to unlock and $0.15 a minute as opposed to a manual's $0.05—but it might just be worth it. And clearly, for Seattleites, it is. E-bikes have been such a hit here that Isaac Gross, general manager for Lime in Washington, announced the entire Seattle fleet will be electric by mid-March. The shift has been part of the company's plan since it filed an application with the city back in August.

What's more, Seattle bike riding skyrocketed during the viaduct shutdown, with 13,752 bikers going southbound on Second Avenue during January, compared to just 9,323 in December. (Admittedly, the numbers dropped significantly this month, though our recent snowmageddon is a likely culprit.)

Lime declined to share information comparing electric and manual bike ridership. But according to the company's 2018 year-end report, Seattle is one of Lime's best customers. In the past 17 months, Seattle clocked over two million rides, making it the first U.S. city to reach the milestone. And thanks to state law, you can ride these bad boys virtually anywhere. 

Last March, Governor Jay Inslee signed Senate Bill 6434 into law, establishing which e-bikes are fit to ride on the sidewalk. E-bikes are broken into three categories:

  • Class One: You need to pedal on this one. The bike gives electric assist and stops once you hit 20 miles per hour.
  • Class Two: No need to pedal; the motor will give you power until you reach 20 miles per hour. 
  • Class Three: You do need to pedal on this bike, but the motor will give you an electric assist up to speeds of 28 miles per hour. 

Class three bikes aren’t permitted on city sidewalks. But Lime’s e-bikes clock in at a genial 14.8 mph, so they’re fair game for commuters rushing downtown on the sidewalk. Still, e-bikers can't race too fast. Seattle Municipal Code notes that bikers sharing the sidewalk should ride at a “reasonable” pace in relation to the sidewalk’s size.

The jury’s still out on what exactly is “reasonable," and many Seattleites think e-bikers don’t know the definition. On Reddit's “E-bikers, these sidewalks are made for walking” thread, locals say bikers should ride at a jogger’s pace. Other frequent strollers threaten to walk in the middle of the sidewalk in the hopes of slowing down high-speed e-bikers. No doubt that come March, the debate will continue.

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