Riding a bike is nothing like riding a horse. I grew up in a small town in Iowa, and, rather than riding my bike around town, I mostly rode horses around fields with friends. I learned how to ride a bike, I just rarely practiced it. So, when Uber proposed I ride their cherry red shared bikes around London, I was nervous. I hadn’t been on a bike in years, and I was much more comfortable with giving a horse control than I was with entrusting my safety to myself. I have been known to run into things and people on foot. I was sure if I doubled my speed on an e-bike, I would accidentally pedal into a river, a car, or a person.
But I gave it a shot, and felt a little more comfortable after learning more about the bikes at the In Goop Health summit (Gwyneth Paltrow’s crystal-fueled brainchild) in London’s Hammersmith neighborhood. The electronic JUMP bikes are available in select cities, including London, Chicago, and San Diego. They’re fairly new, and their purpose is a-few-fold. There’s the obvious: Uber wants to be the ultimate transportation app, and adding bikes to their fleets is good for the environment and appealing to eco-conscious millennials. But JUMP's original mission was and is to make the world more sustainable and provide healthier transportation options to people. Acquired by Uber in 2018, Avra van der Zee, Uber's JUMP bikes director of market entry, says they want to maintain this original goal.
According to researchers in the UK, active commuting that incorporates cycling and walking is associated with an overall 11% reduction in cardiovascular risk. Meanwhile, in a survey of 123 employees in Montreal, participants who cycled to work showed significantly lower levels of stress within the first 45 minutes of work than those who traveled by car, according to the International Journal of Workplace Health Management.
But it's not just about health. It's also about the planet. “On a societal level, we know the tremendous impact responsible transportation choices can make,” van der Zee says. “Climate change is real and cities around the globe are grappling with air pollution and congestion. In the U.S., transportation causes more greenhouse gas emission than any other sector. If we can create a transportation ecosystem with multiple transportation options — public transit for longer city trips, bikes and other forms of micro-mobility scooters for shorter trips, cars as complements — then we help create the option for people to rightsize their trip and we reduce reliance on cars.”
But why share a bike, when you could buy your own? “One benefit of a shared system is optionality,” van der Zee explains. “What works for you in the morning might not be the perfect mode for you in the afternoon or after dinner. Another huge benefit of the shared economy is freedom from the tyranny of stuff. I think many of us feel we would be happier if we owned fewer things." Basically, these JUMP bikes give you a sustainable option, without cluttering your garage. (If you even have a garage!)
There are still a few kinks to workout. There are lots of hoops to jump through to get the bikes approved in certain cities, which is why you won’t find JUMP in Manhattan. “While bicycles are over 200 years old, the shared economy is relatively recent,” van der Zee explains. “One huge step [towards making cities more bike-friendly] would be to increase the emphasis on bike lanes and infrastructure to remove barriers to biking and other sustainable vehicles." Van der Zee says her vision is to "have cities that look a lot like Amsterdam around the world with protected and segregated bike lanes, but with more shared vehicles and less personal ownership.”
And, biking can be fun. As someone who was ambivalent about biking, especially in a city, I felt free when I rode a JUMP e-bike in London. I soared down the side of the River Thames and down a busy street. I felt the wind blowing through my helmet (Uber urges riders to wear one and has partnered with Thousand and Retrospec to offer cheaper headgear), and cautiously learned to dodge walkers. I felt more in control than I had in a long time. As I sped along, I found myself imagining a different road map to work. I thought about how I could incorporate biking into my ride home, rather than taking the train. Although I’d always felt that I was far too uncoordinated for biking in the city, it suddenly seemed do-able. Van der Zee told me at the summit that she hoped she could convince just one person to open their mind to biking at In Goop Health. “If it helps,” I told her, “you’ve convinced me.”
Uber paid for the hotel stay and airfare as part of a press trip the writer of this story attended. However, Uber did not approve or review this story.