Casualties of the wind.
Casualties of the wind. KH

After the failure of Pronto, a municipal bikeshare system that cost the taxpayers $1.4 million, three privately owned startups have taken its place. They are hard to miss—orange, green, and yellow bikes parked on sidewalks, dumped in yards, abandonded in Puget Sound, and even mounted in trees for some reason (maybe art?).

LimeBike, Ofo, and Spin, the three newscomers, seem to have done well this summer. You cannot leave home without nearly getting plowed by a helmetless stranger speeding down a bike lane, at least when the sun is out. But how well are these bikeshares going to do now that Seattle's dark, gray, nine-month long winter has settled it? On my walk to work today, I saw a half dozen bikes either blown over during last night's storm or, perhaps, pushed over during last night's bar crawl.

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"Ridership will almost certainly be lower in winter than summer, when spontaneous joyrides seem like a lot more fun," Tom Fucoloro, who runs Seattle Bike Blog, told me. But, he adds, "I’m sure the companies have all planned on a weather-related slowdown. After all, winter happens every year."

Yes, it does. But, as Fucoloro points out, winter isn't just hard on people, it's hard on bikes. "The biggest challenge for these young companies, I think, will be keeping up with maintenance. They are new bikes, so I’m sure they don’t yet know the extent of the work needed to keep them in dependable shape.... Especially is there is a freeze this winter, maintaining thousands of bikes will be a lot of work."

As for bikes littering sidewalks, streets, and yards, Fucoloro encourages people who want to see bikeshare programs succeed to right any bikes they see out of place. "If enough people make fixing fallen or sidewalk-blocking bikes part of their regular habits, then the system will work much better for everyone."