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Tech review

By Ron Scopelliti

JUMP e-bike sharing

If you’ve been in downtown Providence lately, you’ve no-doubt seen those awkward-looking red bikes zooming through traffic, and wondered what they are and how they work. The answers are: they’re JUMP rental e-bikes, and, after trying one out, I think they work pretty darn well.

Founded in 2010, JUMP has bikes in 19 North American cities, as well as Berlin, Brussels, Lisbon, Madrid, and Paris. Their bikes are equipped with GPS, and can be located and rented via cell phone.

The company was bought by Uber just before starting service in Providence last September. This means that if you have an Uber account, you don’t have to set up a JUMP account, and can rent a bike directly through the Uber app. A separate JUMP app is also available.

With either of the apps installed, you can simply walk up to a bike and rent it through your phone. Alternately, you can find an available bike on your phone, and reserve it up to 30 minutes in advance. If you do reserve a bike, billing begins from the time you make the reservation, not the time you start riding. In Providence, the rental cost is $2 for the first 30 minutes, and about 7 cents a minute after that.

For my test ride, I chose to start at the large bike dock outside City Hall, and head out into the weekday-afternoon traffic downtown.

Getting started was simple, and there was a short list of instructions printed inside the bike’s basket to remind me of the procedure. I simply opened my Uber app, scanned the bike’s QR code, and after a few clicks on my phone to confirm the payment method and such, I heard the cable lock unclick, signaling that the bike was ready for me to ride.

While I was expecting a motorcycle-style throttle to control the electric motor’s output, the output is simply dictated by how fast you pedal – the faster you pedal, the more the power the motor contributes. Where the throttle would ordinarily be, there was a grip-shift with three different speed ranges.

The pedals felt oddly disconnected from the rear wheel, and the pedaling effort was very low. It felt more like I was pedaling a generator that then sent power to the rear wheel. It takes some getting used to but once I adjusted to it, the light pedal effort and quick acceleration made me feel like I’d been given a superpower.

I found that setting the adjustable seat lower than I would on a conventional bike worked well, because the light pedal effort didn’t really require an optimal pedaling position. And sitting lower helped me plant my feet better when dealing with the stop-and-go downtown traffic.

The handbrakes were smooth and linear, and offered plenty of stopping power. The weight of the bike made it very stable even over bumps, though it was not quite as nimble as a normal bicycle. While the bike didn’t have any mirrors, it did have a bell, which I used once to alert a driver who was snoozing at a green light.

After a 27-minute ramble through Providence I returned back to City Hall, and ended my rental period by locking the bike, and following the prompts on my phone. While I chose to return to my starting point, I could have locked it at any public rack in the service area. If I needed to make a stop along the way, I could have also put my bike on hold for up to an hour, though I would have continued to pay during this period.

Though the bikes strike me as a great asset for running errands around the city, they also strike me as an entertaining way to see Providence from a new perspective. I’m hoping that my next ride will be on a quiet Sunday morning, when I can pay more attention to the beauty of the city, and less to the cars and buses.