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Electric-assist bike share is on its way to Seattle

Limebike will be adding e-bikes to our hilly city streets

One of Limebike’s new electric-assist bikes, rolling out in Seattle in the next month or so.
Courtesy of Limebike

Shareable electric bikes are likely coming to Seattle—and soon. Limebike, which currently operates about 3,000 bikes in the Seattle area, announced late Monday that it’s rolling out electric-assist bikes called “Lime-E” in all the cities where it operates. While Limebike didn’t have a firm timeline ready, a spokesperson told us the bikes will be available “sometime later this month.”

This has been a long time coming in hilly Seattle. As the ill-fated docked bike-share program Pronto headed toward shutdown, city leaders floated the idea of a fully electric bike-share program. Funding for that idea was eventually scrapped.

The city eventually just carved out room for electric bikes in its private bike-share pilot, which ended in late December. The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is trying to figure out what’s worked about the program and what hasn’t. And although no electric bikes made it in during the pilot phase, the city had them in mind when the program launched.

For example, while standard bikes have a minimum fleet size of 500, there’s no minimum for electric bikes. Companies have to share fuel-level data with the city in the same way they share ridership, location, and other data.

Some safety guidelines were written specifically for electric bikes, too; electric bikes in the program must have “fully operable pedals, an electric motor of less than 750 watts, and a top motor-powered speed of less than 20 miles per hour when operated by a rider weighing 170 pounds.”

Although the pilot has officially ended, bike-share companies are still beholden to the pilot’s rules until the city comes up with some more permanent regulations.

“If we’re going to do bike sharing for everybody, we think that electric bikes are critical to that,” explained then-SDOT director Scott Kubly when the department first rolled out bike-share rules. “We’re going to find out if it’s the number of bikes that’s the difference or electric bikes or both.”

SDOT didn’t get a chance to do that during the pilot phase, but better late than never.

Lime-E bikes will cost $1 to unlock and $1 for every 10 minutes of ride time—so $2 total for 10 minutes of riding or $3 for 20 minutes. Bikes will have a maximum speed of 15 miles per hour, well within the limit. A press release from Limebike assures us that “the power will smartly adjust to adapt to the users’ natural pedal experience,” and that the bikes will “easily” climb up 30-degree hills—which covers even Seattle’s steepest grades.

The bikes’ batteries last for 62 miles, and can either be charged while on the bike—they take about four hours to get a full charge—or swapped out entirely.

The bikes are also splash-proof to protect from the rain.

Limebike will increase their operations team in Seattle to meet the maintenance needs of the bikes, and will continue providing discount pricing to low-income riders and students.

Meanwhile, Spin—which operates the orange bikes around town—unveiled its own electric bike yesterday, also with a 15-mile-per-hour top speed, but they’re not destined for Seattle streets just yet. “As scale is needed to truly have an effective e-bike program, we will be rolling out our bikes to some of our exclusive partners first, after which we’ll roll out in Seattle at scale,” Spin co-founder Derrick Ko told us over email.

This article has been updated with additional details about the bikes’ waterproofing and battery and to add a comment from Spin.