The cherry blossoms aren’t out yet, but one sign of spring sure is: the tourists. And a heck of a lot of them are on two wheels. I can say this with certainty, in part because I was nearly mowed over by a family of cyclists while walking near the Air and Space Museum on Tuesday.
Capital Bikeshare — aka CaBi — acts like a bright red billboard all over the city, touting how easy it is to get around town by bike. In theory, this should be awesome for Bike and Roll DC, the rental and tour company that’s operated in the District for 15 years.
“We used to say someone on Bikeshare isn’t a lost customer but an additional cyclist,” says Catharine Pear, Bike and Roll’s marketing director. But that view has shifted as CaBi, which launched in 2010, has expanded its network of stations, particularly to the Mall.
“That’s a stick in our spokes, so to speak,” she says. Another problem? People confuse the two, according to Pear: “I say, ‘I know the rack is full, but that’s not us.’ ”
To make sure that at least hotel concierges know the difference, Pear provides them with a comparison card. Some major points: Unlike Bike and Roll, CaBi doesn’t offer tours, helmets or any kid-sized equipment. (CaBi’s one-size-fits-all bikes are technically off-limits to anyone 15 or younger.)
The other big difference, Pear notes, is price. Bike and Roll customers pay $35-$60 for a 24-hour rental (depending on the type of bike), which includes a helmet, lock and map. CaBi charges $7 for a one-day membership that covers unlimited short rides. But if folks don’t redock their bikes every 30 minutes, usage fees apply, and they can get stuck with a much higher bill than expected.
As the 2014 season gets underway, Bike and Roll is changing lots of gears. The company just moved its headquarters from the Old Post Office Pavilion to L’Enfant Plaza. It’s also changed the address of its location in Alexandria. The fleet of rentals at Union Station is doubling in size, and a new location is debuting this month in front of the MLK Jr. library (901 G St. NW).
It’s well located for tourists downtown who want to take the Ninth Street bike lane directly to the Mall, Pear says. And in addition to Bike and Roll’s regular Trek comfort bikes, that spot will also rent a dozen “European, commuter-style bikes,” she says. As a tie-in to the “DC Cool” tourist campaign, each one will be named after a celebrity depicted in the National Portrait Gallery’s “American Cool” exhibit.
“Basically, they’re a lot cuter,” Pear says, and riders can tell friends they took a spin on Johnny Cash.
A fifth location is in the works to open this summer, too.
More outposts is undoubtedly more convenient, but if I were running Bike and Roll, my tactic would be to add more tours and introduce themed rides. Locals without bikes of their own could be a fun new market to tap into — and a way to stay on course even when the tourists go home.