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How to use Capital Bikeshare in Washington DC September 24, 2017

Capital Bikeshare in Washington, DC is a great way to get around the city. However, if you’ve never used the system before there is a bit of a learning curve. Don’t worry! You will be riding like a pro in no time.

How much does it cost?

Unfortunately, the pricing is not entirely straightforward if you never used a bike sharing system like this before. The cost to ride is the membership fee plus the usage fee.

Let’s talk about the membership fee first, which you can think of as the fee you pay to get access to the bikes. There are a few membership options. Right now you can pay $2 for a single ride, $8 for twenty four-hour membership, $17 for a three-day membership, or $85 for a one-year membership. For a typical visitor any of the first three will work just fine.  

Capital Bikeshare in Washington, DC also has a usage fee, which is what you pay based on how long you keep the bike checked out. This is where it starts to get confusing for some people. If you check out a bike, ride it around, and return it to a dock within thirty minutes, then you pay no additional fee. However, if you ride your bike for longer than 30 minutes, you pay $2 for the first half hour, then an additional $4 for the next half hour, Then an additional $8 for each half hour that you keep the bike checked out. So if you take a bike, ride around for three hours and ten minutes, and then return it, you’ll pay $38 in usage fees, plus the membership fee that you already paid when you started.

To avoid getting up charged it is imperative that you keep each of your rides to 30 minutes or less. Use Capital Bikeshare to get from point A to point B. Use a regular rental bike for joyriding around Washington DC.

How to check-out a Capital Bikeshare bike at a kiosk

When you’re ready to ride, approach the kiosk at any station and press the “rent a bike” button. The first thing it will ask you to do is swipe your credit card. After that, it’s going to show you a warning about the usage fees. You can click yes to accept since you’re now well versed now about how that works.

Then you pick what kind of membership you want to buy. You can take either one or two bikes per credit card, but if you select two you will pay double. If you have a gift certificate, you can enter it on this screen, but most visitors probably won’t.

It’s going to give you a summary of the transaction and the initial price. Press OK when you’re ready. The next two screens are where you enter the phone number and billing zip code associated with your credit card. After that you’ll confirm that you’re 18 years or older. Finally, you’ll have to read the terms of service, click OK when you’re finished.

Next you’ll be given the choice to either view the bike code on the screen or print a receipt with the code on it. If you have a good memory you can view it. Otherwise you can print it. Take your code to any bike, enter it on the keypad and once you get the green light you’re ready to go. It is easiest to pull the bike out if you lift up under the seat and then pull back.

When you’re done with your bike bring it back to the dock and push it hard to return it. If the return was successful you’ll get the green light and a pleasant beep. If you get a red light and a loud buzz you need to try again.

Are helmets required for Capital Bikeshare?

No. If you are an adult you do not legally need a helmet to ride a bike in the District of Columbia. But, helmets are strongly recommended. Remember that if you want to use a helmet you do need to bring your own.

Tip: avoid being penalized for a late return

If you arrive at a dock and it’s completely full, you can go to the kiosk and press the “time credit” button then swipe your credit card. This will give you an additional 15 minutes to find another dock without charging you for the time.

Use common sense when using Capital Bikeshare

Treat the bikes like you would treat your own bike. Don’t do anything that you wouldn’t do back home. For example, don’t ditch your Capital Bikeshare bike when you’re going to run into a store or a coffee shop or to go look at the Lincoln Memorial. You might not think that anyone would want to steal one of these bikes but if they do you’re going to be on the hook for $1,200. That is not worth the risk.  

Use the Capital Bikeshare App

The Capital Bikeshare app lets you control your entire Capital Bikeshare experience. You can use the app to buy a pass, check out a bike, and do everything else on Capital Bikeshare without ever having to visit a kiosk.

What happens when you use Capital Bikeshare app for the first time?

When you launch the Capital Bikeshare app for the first time, it pulls up a splash screen and gives you two options. These are “get a pass” or “login”. If this is your first time you’ll click “get a pass”. Then the app will give you a choice of which type of pass you want. You can do the single trip, 24-hour pass, three-day pass, 30 day or annual membership. After you decide it gives you some basic information about how the system works.  

Create a Capital Bikeshare Account

Once you’ve selected your pass options you will need to create your account and enter your phone number. Then you’ll have to create a password. Now you have to enter your name, birth date, and gender. After that it will give you a summary of your purchase. Then you will see the liability waiver. Make sure you read the entire thing and then click agree. Finally we get to the rental agreement, read it and agree.

You have to pay for your Capital Bikeshare rides so this is where you need to enter your credit card information.

Use the Capital Bikeshare app to unlock your bike

Once you start using the app you will never need to visit a Capital Bikeshare kiosk again. Use the map in the app the select the station where you are located, click the little pin, and then “unlock bike”. Just like the kiosk, the app will give you a numeric code that you can enter on the keypad to unlock a bike. When you’re ready to return the bike just push back into the dock. The app will actually give you a push notification to confirm that it worked.

Do we recommend Bikeshare?

For many visitors, the answer is yes. Biking is a great way to get around the city. That said, Capital Bikeshare isn’t always the best option. If you have kids in your group, Capital Bikeshare isn’t an option. If you want to keep the bike checked out for a long period of time, Capital Bikeshare would get very expensive. And if you need a lock, helmet or other accessories, you will have to bring your own, because Capital Bikeshare doesn’t provide them.

However, don’t worry. There are rental bike companies in DC that cater to families with kids, have daily pricing and rent helmets and all the other accessories. Don’t think you can’t ride a bike in DC just because Capital Bikeshare isn’t for you.

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Nicole Cremente

Nicole Cremente is a writer and marketing coordinator for Trip Hacks DC.

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