Ethan Aumann’s love of Capital Bikeshare has brought him to nearly every corner of the Washington region, perhaps more than almost anyone else, at least on two wheels.
“It has truly been an adventure,” said Aumann, 41, who pedaled to more than half of the stations last fall. “I just was really impressed by the extensive network of the system, and I thought, hey, this will be a great way to get around town and see a lot of different parts of the city.”
Two years after the start of the pandemic disrupted commutes, regional transportation officials are touting alternatives to personal vehicles, hoping to steer more motorists to trains, buses and bikes. While public transit is suffering amid a rise in telework, biking and Capital Bikeshare are on the rebound, with the system recently recording its best week of the coronavirus era.
But Aumann said his Bikeshare title of “Top City Explorer” has less to do with the pandemic than it does reaching a personal goal, one that opened his eyes to the area around him.
Before moving to Washington in 2019, Aumann used bikeshare systems in Chicago, San Francisco and New York. But none of them, he said, was as comprehensive as the one in the District. It seemed, he said, a station was close to anyplace he needed to go.
At first, he rode to museums and monuments, but it was not long before he was pedaling around the city boundary line, a 50-mile trip that took him to the hilly terrains of Southeast and its Anacostia River trails, the National Arboretum in Northeast, and to some of the original city boundary stones, among the oldest monuments in the country.
Capital Bikeshare is among the most successful and expansive bikeshare programs in the country, with docking stations in the District, Alexandria, Va., and Falls Church, Va., and the counties of Fairfax, Arlington, Montgomery and Prince George’s. The 12-year-old system, which is owned by those jurisdictions, continues to expand and is upgrading many of its legacy bikes and docks, on pace to add 50 new stations.
Last fall, Bikeshare added a City Explorer feature to its app, allowing riders to track how many stations they have visited. Members have taken to social media to compare notes or share their maps.
“We’ve seen an uptick in the number of stations people are visiting since we launched the City Explorer feature, but Ethan is the clear front-runner, an impressive feat,” said Dom Tribone, general manager of Capital Bikeshare at Lyft, which manages and operates a system subsidized by local cities and counties.
Only Aumann, one of 26,400 annual Bikeshare members, has so far completed the map, which includes stations well outside the Beltway in Reston, Va., and near the Shady Grove Metro station in Maryland. As of April, the second-place rider had visited 472 stations.
When he first completed the expanding Bikeshare map on Dec. 10, Aumann had visited 669 stations. The system then added 14 new stations, with Aumann recently marking his final stop at 10th and H streets NE, outside Ben’s Chili Bowl.
Aumann said his competitive nature drove him to set the record. He was using Bikeshare daily, but his travels rarely took him to the suburbs. As a new Washington resident, he had never heard of places such as White Oak and Greenbelt, both in Maryland.
When the City Explorer feature launched in October, he had been to about a third of the stations, and mostly in the District, home to about half of the stations systemwide.
“I was a little disappointed, like, oh, that doesn’t sound like very many,” Aumann said. “Immediately I thought, well, I want to go to all of them.”
From November to Dec. 10, if Aumann was not at work reviewing policy for possible environmental effects and making recommendations to help communities be resilient to natural disasters, he was on a bike.
He biked every evening and weekend in rain, light snow and freezing temperatures. He took the Silver Line on Metro to Tysons, Va., where he picked up a bike for a day of riding to Reston, covering a swath of Fairfax County and 66 stations.
He has completed 2,695 Bikeshare trips, pedaling nearly 4,000 miles with 545 hours on the road. Each trip requires its own set of preparations.
“I typically take my own snacks and a cold Chipotle burrito on my longer rides and will stop to eat whenever and wherever seems nice at the time,” Aumann said, adding that rides can be rewarded with a large bowl of pasta or an extra burrito at the end of a long day.
Aumann said that staying on safe bike routes was particularly challenging in the suburbs and east of the Anacostia River, places where bike infrastructure is lacking.
He has gotten to know the glitches and perks of Bikeshare. He is a “bike angel” who helps return undocked bikes to stations, earning rewards such as free membership months and credits to use electric bikes free. He knows the chances are slim of finding a bike during rush hour at his home station in Columbia Heights, the most active Bikeshare neighborhood after the National Mall and Capitol Hill, but, he said, it is not hard to find a bike nearby.
His tip for new riders? “Check the app in advance to make sure there are bikes available at the station you are leaving from, and to make sure there are open docks at the station you are traveling to,” he said. “But don’t check too far in advance. Do it on your way out the door because the bikes can disappear quickly, especially if it is a nice day outside or during busy commute times.”
After a pandemic slowdown, riders have started to return to Bikeshare. The week starting April 11 brought the highest Bikeshare ridership of any week since October 2019, with more than 80,750 trips, according to Lyft. March saw 252,000 trips, up nearly 50 percent from a year earlier and down only slightly from March 2019, a sign that tourists and commuters are returning.
Members who left the system during the pandemic also are coming back. The system had 26,400 members as of late April, up from 23,550 a year ago. That is still below the 30,090 members Bikeshare had in spring 2019, even though the number of riders taking single trips or using daily passes is growing.
Aumann began his relationship with Bikeshare during a work assignment in Washington in March 2019, six months before he moved to the city.
An avid bike rider, he grew up in Portland, Ore., where biking was part of his lifestyle. He rode as he earned a chemistry degree at Whitman College in Washington state. In the San Francisco Bay area, traffic was so bad when he was earning master’s and doctorate degrees in environmental engineering at Stanford, he said, that it was easier to get around by bike. Before moving to the District, he had a 16-mile bike commute each way through the Denver suburbs.
Aumann does not own a car and can count on one hand the times he has taken the bus in Washington. Metro is an option only when he needs to get to farther places or if the weather is inclement. He owns a bike, he said, but Bikeshare means he never has to worry about flat tires, regular maintenance or his bike getting stolen.
“I’ve always been that odd guy who is biking everywhere,” he said. “I don’t really like to drive, and I feel like I’d rather rely on my own legs to get me where I want to go.”
Now that he has used every Bikeshare station, he is revisiting some sites. A favorite is Oxon Cove Park and Oxon Hill Farm just outside Washington in Prince George’s County. He is also awaiting the opening of more locations.
But the real rewards for making it to 683 stations, he said, were the joys and memories of branching out across the Washington area, mixed with a bit of personal satisfaction.
“I had accomplished what I set out to do,” he said.
5 things to know about Capital Bikeshare
Visiting President Lincoln. The Lincoln Memorial station ranks as the top destination for Capital Bikeshare users, with 27,840 trips ending at the memorial last year. The station at New Hampshire Avenue and T Street NW came in second with 27,460 trips, while the station at 15th and P streets NW had 26,870 trips.
Most active areas. The National Mall is the most popular destination in the Bikeshare system with more than a million rides in 2021, nearly a third of all Bikeshare trips. It is followed by Capitol Hill, with 684,890 rides, and Columbia Heights, with 322,920 rides.
Bikeshare to flights. A Bikeshare station was added in late 2020 at Reagan National Airport. More than 1,300 Bikeshare trips ended at the airport last year.
Millions of miles ridden. In 2021, Bikeshare riders rode about 6.6 million miles across the system, with about 874,000 hours of riding. Lyft estimates those rides saved 275,000 gallons of gasoline.
More stations coming. Bikeshare is planning to expand to more than 700 stations this year. The system will add about 50 stations, and another 50 will be replaced to upgrade some original stations that entered service in 2010.
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