Dockless bike share – oBike vs ReddyGo

October 3, 2017 at 13:52 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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Dockless bike share has come to Sydney, with two rival companies setting up within a few weeks of each other. Red and yellow bikes are becoming a common sight scattered around Sydney; indeed already a controversial sight as tempers flare about ‘blocked footpaths’. The authority that maintains the foreshore areas of Sydney have already started removing share bikes left in their precincts – which include a number of major tourist areas such as Darling Harbour.

Bike share schemes have been around for quite a long time, of course. Traditional schemes use docking stations to park the bikes; there are schemes such as this in Brisbane and Melbourne (I tried out the Melbourne one some time ago). They have been extremely popular almost everywhere in the world – with the exception of the schemes in Melbourne and Brisbane, which have been dismal failures. Why? Helmets, of course. If it’s illegal to ride a bike without a helmet, it kind of makes bike share schemes a bit of a non-starter. Including helmets with the bikes has been tried, but generally people don’t want to put a skanky, pre-used helmet on their heads, and in any case they tend to go missing.

So it remains to be seen how these new schemes will fair in Australia – and especially Sydney, with it’s eye-watering fines for helmet non-compliance. The bikes in the scheme do have helmets – but I saw a number of helmet-less ones around, so clearly they are already getting lost or stolen. Both schemes ask you to clip the helmet around the bike lock when you fish your ride, to secure it – but many bikes I saw had the helmets in the basket or hanging over the handlebars. Clipping the lock shut through the helmet straps is a bit fiddly, so I can see why people don’t bother.

Dockless bike share works via an app on your phone – you download the app, register, and then use your phone to scan the barcode on the bike. This causes the bike to magically unlock, and you can ride away. At the end of your ride you lock the bike up, and it registers the end of the trip and you are charged accordingly. The lock is an integrated one that goes through the back wheel, so it prevents the bike being ridden, but not from being moved or carried away. I have registered with both schemes and gone for some test rides, so here’s my take on the two schemes.

1) The app

Both apps are pretty similar, in that they present a map that shows where the nearest bike is. However, registering for ReddyGo was significantly easier – I was riding the bike away within seconds of downloading the app. oBike requires you to go through a lengthy registration process, registering your credit card etc, which is much more clunky. And generally, the UI is better on ReddyGo, offering a nicer route map of where you went after a ride and so on. So that’s a win for ReddyGo.

2) Charges and user agreements

Both schemes charge $1.99 for each 30 minutes. ReddyGo offers initial free rides when you sign up, which oBike doesn’t. Both schemes require you to make a deposit, ostensibly to ‘ensure your responsibility’. This deposit is refundable, and whilst ReddyGo make is clear in their user agreement that they will keep it if you damage a bike, the oBike terms are much less clear, only stating that you are liable for any damage to the bike. There’s some strange things in the user agreements for both schemes, such as clauses forbidding use in adverse weather conditions and requirements to return bikes to ‘designated parking racks’.

The deposit for oBike is $69, whilst for ReddyGo it’s $99, although ReddyGo allows you to initially hire a bike without paying the deposit. I’d call it a draw on the cost.

3) Bike comfort

OK, so now we get to the bit you were waiting for. What are the bikes actually like?

The general style is the same for each – upright, rather heavy, small-ish bikes with a basket on the front.

Both bikes feature adjustable saddles, although the oBike saddle is really hard to adjust. I tried a few bikes, so it wasn’t just one – I had to tug at it and twist it like mad to get it to move. (By default all the bikes I tried seemed to have them set really low.) The ReddyGo was better in this regard too – easier to adjust and get to a more sensible height. That said, both bikes are on the small size. I’m not that tall (about 176cm), and they were both too small for me – especially the oBike, with it’s very low saddle.

Both bikes have another controversial feature – solid (airless) tyres. No doubt great for the company as there are no punctures, but it does make for a rattly, harsh and slightly uncomfortable ride. Anything you put in the front basket that’s not strapped down is likely to jump out with all the vibration as you go along. And it you hit a bump or pothole, boy do you feel it. After a long-ish (45 min) ride on the not-very-comfortable saddle I definitely felt a bit, erm, chafed. For whatever reason, the ReddyGo tyres feel much harder than the oBike ones, making the ReddyGo ride much harsher and more bumpy.

Mind you, at least the ReddyGo has tyres with a sensible profile. The oBike has what seem to be cyclocross types – smooth in the middle, but with really big rubber treads on the edge. This feels very odd when cornering, and makes the bike harder to ride than it should be. More sensible urban / hybrid tyres would be much better.

Overall, I think the ReddyGo pips the oBike for comfort. The oBike seat is just so low that it’s like riding a clown bike. So it’s a win for ReddyGo in the comfort stakes, but neither bike is really that comfortable.

4) Bike rideability

Comfort aside, what are they like to ride?  The oBike is the more basic of the two. It doesn’t have gears, and the components are much more basic. The ReddyGo has more upmarket components (Shimnano gears, Tektro brakes) which work much better. In fact, the brakes on the oBike are hopeless. I hope you never need to do an emergency stop on an oBike, because even yanking the levers with all of my strength I was unable to do much more than ‘slow down gradually’.

The gearing on the oBike is rather high – getting up a slope can be a struggle (see below). The ReddyGo is much better in this regard, with the gears giving a sensible, low-ish range for cruising and tackling the occasional hill.

Perhaps because of the cheap components, the oBikes also seem to suffer more mechanical issues. I twice experienced mechanical issues on the oBike (strange noises from the front wheel, and a wobbly crank), whereas the ReddyGo bikes were all fine. The ReddyGo bikes are also a bit lighter (aluminium vs steel?), and just ride more like a normal bike. The oBike feels like a toy in comparison.

So it’s a clear win for ReddyGo on rideability.

5) Availability

It seems that there are more oBikes around than ReddyGos. Of course, it’s somewhat anecdotal and patchy (the Chatswood area, for example, has plenty of ReddyGo bikes bu no oBikes), but around the CBD there are definitely a lot more yellow bikes than red ones.

Both schemes are adding more bikes to their systems, so things could of course change, but i wonder if oBike are more intent on flooding the streets – given the lower quality (and one supposes cost) of their bikes they perhaps can afford to lose a few more and / or manage with a lower usage rate per bike.

For now, I’d put this as a win for oBike. But it’s worth checking the region where you are likely to do most riding.

6) The Gladesville Bridge test

Every day on my way to work I rider over Gladesville Bridge. When I tell people my route to work, they always comment on this, as if it’s some sort of epic achievement to summit this arch. In reality, it’s not that big a hill, but given its sort of iconic status, I thought I’d ride both the oBike and the ReddyGo to the top.

After reading the above, you can probably guess the result. Riding up Gladesville Bride on the oBike is indeed epic. Hard hard work – out of the saddle, knees hurting with the uncomfortable posture and high gearing. If it wasn’t for pride and the knowledge I’d be writing about it later, I’d probably have got off and pushed. I’m a fit guy used to riding a fixed gear up crazy hills. For the average non-cyclist jumping on one of these, any slight incline is going to be a struggle.

Whilst the ReddyGo was hardly a breeze, it was no harder than riding the Radish when loaded up. The gears help tremendously, and whilst I think perhaps could be set a little lower will at least give some relief when tackling an incline.

ReddyGo wins again!

7) Overall result

I was kind of hoping it would be a closer contest, but in fact there is a really clear winner. ReddyGo has a better app and much better bikes, and is the same cost. If you are going to sign up for one scheme, make it this one.

 

It remains to be seen if these schemes will be a success in Sydney. To my mind the environment is against them – a government generally hostile to cycling, apathy on the part of the public and helmet laws could well end up making them nonviable. But I hope not. It would be great to see them become a part of everyday life in Sydney.

 

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