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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Bike share in Shanghai

July 26, 2017 at 14:47 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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I had to visit Shanghai recently, and was amazed by the number of bike share bikes there were everywhere. And I mean everywhere. The system there does not rely on the docking stations more common elsewhere, but rather the bikes can be picked up and left anywhere, meaning there are bikes scattered all over the place. You literally can’t walk more than a few metres without coming upon one. It’s quite amazing.

Each bike has a unique QR code on the rear, and to use the bike you scan this with an app. This then tells you the unlock code for the bike, and you can punch in the number and ride away. When you’ve finished with it, you simply click the lock, and leave the bike wherever you want. The first fifty minutes of use are free, and after that it’s I think a few Yuan per hour.

They are certainly well used, with people zipping about on the distinctive bikes everywhere. There are no bicycle lanes or facilities, and the traffic is heavy, but it all just mixes together and I didn’t see any aggression from drivers towards cyclists. Cyclists seem to be able to go on and off the footpaths, ride through red lights, down the street the wrong way and so on without anyone really batting an eyelid. I understand they are supported by the government in order to try and reduce the horrific air pollution in Shanghai.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to try out the bikes for myself. Maybe next time…

Another cycling pot-pourri

June 19, 2015 at 12:00 | Posted in bicycles | 2 Comments
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Some more bits and bobs from my travels, none of which are interesting to justify an entire article..

Public Bike Share in Sydney

bikehiresydneyWho knew there was a bike share scheme running in Sydney? I came across this outside the Ibis hotel in Darling Harbour. Three dusty bikes, looking little used. Apparently helmets are available for free from the hotel reception. So that’s all right then.

At $11 for an hour, it seems a little steep, and there’s only two stations in Sydney. But I suppose if you wanted to spend $11 to get from the Ibis to the Holiday Inn it could be handy…

The CoS, of course, would like to implement a proper municipal system, but won’t do so unless there is a relaxation in helmet laws, in order to avoid the white elephants installed in Brisbane and Melbourne.

Chatswood Bike Lanes

bikelanechatswood bikelanesqueezeThere’s a bike lane near where I work – or at least the sign for one. although whether this counts as a real one is not 100% clear, as according to the road rules it has to have a ‘start’ sign as well. This is the type of ‘door zone’ lane that has been associated with at least two fatalities recently, and cyclists generally would be well advised to avoid them – either take the lane or ride on that nice empty footpath.
However, Chatswood council do like to dial things up a bit, by not only installing such lethal infrastructure, but by then narrowing it at an artificial pinch point. One imagines that this pinch point was initially there to slow motor traffic, but clearly to thus inconvenience drivers is unacceptable. So instead drivers are invited to power through with a full width lane, whilst cyclists get even more squeezed against the parked cars. Removing two car parking spaces to give cyclists space was also clearly not on the agenda…

Bike on Bike action

bikeonbikeblog I once again recently ended up with a bike stuck at work, so needed to bring two home at once. It’s something I’ve done many times, but it does make me somehow happy to ride along with a bike on a bike.

 

 

Adding Utility

bikebasket Chillikebab jnr wanted to up the practicality of her bike, so used some of her birthday money to buy a basket. Top choice, I say, and perfect for collecting interesting leaves, twigs and other artifacts from the park. Clearly a budding utility cyclist.

 

Melbourne bike share

September 21, 2013 at 12:05 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
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2013-09-16 14.13.06I had occasion to travel to Melbun on business recently. My schedule was fairly tight, but in the end I arrived at my destination half an hour or so earlier than my appointment. And, as luck would have it, there was a bike share station right outside the door.  Here was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up – I just had time for a quick ride! I have never had the opportunity to use a pubic bike share scheme before, so I was very excited.

The whole thing is very easy to use. Stick in your credit card, agree to the 60(!) pages of terms and conditions (does anybody actually read them, I wonder?), and then unlock your bike and off you go!

IMG_00011It costs $2.70 for a day’s hire, which seems excellent value to me. Each ride has to be less than 30 minutes – the idea being that you hop from bike station to bike station throughout the day, rather than just getting one bike and riding around on it all day.

Reviews I have seen of bike share scheme bikes tend to go on about how heavy and ponderous they are. I have to say, that didn’t really strike me. Clearly cruising around on a cargo bike for so long has inured me to big, heavy bikes. Indeed, I reckon the Melbourne bikes are lighter than the Radish, especially as I always seem to be carrying a whole load of locks, chains and straps in the panniers. Indeed, I thought they are very comfortable – the saddle height is easy to adjust, the ride position good and the handlebars are great.

They have three gears, and they are not super-low (another thing I have read about bike share bikes). Sure, first gear is a real crawler, but up in third you can get a bit of speed up and bowl along. Upon doing this, however, I did discover that the brakes are not especially good. I’m not sure if the bike I chose was somewhat defective, or whether that’s just par for the course for roller brakes, but it was hard to effect much more than ‘gentle slowing’ without hauling on the levers for dear life.

Overall, though I was very impressed. The whole thing just works really well. In my twenty-minute tootle around the block I went past two other bike stations, so there seems to be plenty of them around, at least in that part of the CBD.

Plenty of bikes, but not plenty of riders. I didn’t see a single other bike share bike in use the whole time I was in Melbourne, and I’m pretty sure I was the only person who took a bike from that docking station that whole afternoon – I checked when I came down after my meeting, and the pattern of bikes and empty slots was exactly as it had been. This gels with the data – almost no-one is using this scheme. Yet the scheme is easy to use, the bikes are great, and there seems to be plenty of stations. In other cities around the world with comparable schemes – such as Dublin, or Toronto – they are extremely successful. So what is different in Melbourne?law

The answer stares you in the face as soon as you get onto one of these bikes. ‘It is the law in the state of Victoria that you must wear a helmet while riding a bicycle‘ states the bald notice on the handlebars.

The docking station has a long list of shops you can buy a (subsidised) $5 helmet from, and indeed there are also a few free helmets on some of the bikes (there was one on the bike I hired). But the reality of this is that having to faff around with helmets, whether carrying one, buying one or using some skanky one left on the bike – is a major turn-off. Studies have shown that over two-thirds of people when questioned said that having to wear a helmet was the primary reason they did not use the bike share scheme. It’s just so sad, and so short-sighted. The safety record of these schemes is incredibly good – far better, in fact, than for regular bicycle riders. Yet the Victorian government (like most in Australia) cannot see beyond the dogma and refuse to budge on the issue, despite increasing numbers of voices (including those in local government) calling for a helmet exemption for bike share. It’s just so sad to see these fantastic bikes go unused for no good reason. Hopefully sense will prevail – because at the moment, the fine for not wearing a helmet in Victoria is the largest in Australia, at around $150.

Did I wear a helmet for my ride? Of course not. But given the size of the fine and the legendary zealousness of the Victorian police on this issue, there were few others following my stance. Still, riding around the city on an upright bike wearing my suit I hope sent out some kind of message – this is the way it is supposed to be!

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