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  • Robert Merkel

    I live in inner-suburban Melbourne and gave O-bikes a try.

    I don’t think the clutter argument is that serious. Not too many footpath-blockers where I live (unlike the guys who park their much-wider motorcycles on the footpath).

    The helmets are getting nicked on a regular basis, which renders the bikes kinda useless most of the time (and I WILL scream loud enough to be heard over the internets if anybody mentions mandatory helmet laws – you may like ’em, you may hate ’em, but they’ve got Buckleys of being changed any time soon).

    The O-bikes beat walking – just – on flat ground, but you wouldn’t want to ride them up even the mildest hill. And why the hell do they fit treaded tyres rather than slicks?

    If you’re taller than about 170 cm (ie most men and taller-than-average women) you’ll probably find the maximum seat height too low.

    As far as the data privacy argument goes, yes, O-bike knows where you ride their bikes. But, hey, most of us don’t seem to mind Google/Facebook etc. etc. etc. knowing everywhere we go, and we were collectively perfectly happy to let the Australian government keep a database of every cell tower our phones have connected to for the past couple of years.

    Still, if you’re in an area where they’re available, they’re worth a try for a ride to the shops – at least while they haven’t started charging per-trip. I’m not sure I’ll be bothering when they start charging a couple of bucks a throw.

    • jules

      the clutter argument makes me laugh a bit. there’s a lot of clutter around that isn’t O-bikes. at the end of the day, the clutter is being caused by people who are not riding them and who think it’s a good idea to throw them around. no mention of cracking down on them? Australians have a binary relationship with bicycles – if you ride one you love them, if you don’t you see no benefit and therefore want anything and everything bikes banned. there are some reasonable people in the middle ground there who are tolerant of cyclists.

      i’m sick of seeing smashed beer bottles on the ground, but no one is driving CUB out of town, or Holden for Commodores parked illegally.

      I’d look at using them for short trips too.

      • Daniel

        Yeah I could see a bike being clutter if it was in the middle of a forest. But between cars, signs, letterboxes, bus stops, seats, traffic lights, bins, road furniture, etc, the clutter argument seems more like anti-bike nonsense.

    • Mark Blackwell

      The helmet thing is a massive complication for these schemes in Oz, particularly given the implied use case is quick trips around the city. The first time I used one I just assumed they’d received some special dispensation from govt for riders not to wear helmets… pity they haven’t, but certainly not going to start that argument :)

      • Curiously the Mandatory Helmet Law of Seattle has been something that they make you agree to complying with in the app for bike shares, but no one actually uses them. The main difference between what I saw in Australia vs. what I see in Seattle is the cops here will turn a blind eye to many, many violations, including MHL violations, which is a $40 health code ticket.

        The effect is the same: unofficial special dispensation from the government for riders to not wear helmets. Based on the lack of helmet usage, an enormous proportion of the bike share riders (I’d estimate between 95% and 98%) are people who just want to grab a bike on the go and quickly get places without having to resort to carrying around a helmet all the time. If they were to actually enforce this, I think it’d probably cause the programs to fail.

  • jules

    another point is that O-bikes are symptomatic of technology developments that are supporting business models changing away from parties owning and operating assets (buying a bike or car and driving/riding it), to one where assets are owned by an entity (O-bike, Uber-licensed driver/car) and offered as a service to customers.

    the technology development is largely the capability to remotely track an asset, meaning you don’t need to keep it in your sight or locked up at home.

    an implication is that a lack of regulation of using public spaces to store private assets is being shown to be a problem now. in the past, if you left it outside, it disappeared quickly. not anymore, with GPS tracking etc. in this way – govt/the public are not capturing the value of public land. it will get worse.

  • Jaison in the article used to with Alta Bike Share and headed up the Melb Bicycle Share scheme when it started here. Interesting omission in the disclosures.

    Re data tracking – that’s exactly what strava does, and has spun off it’s strava metro arm for data-viz / analysis, which it sells to cities and councils. Everyone here is on strava…

    I like O-bikes, have ridden them twice (once for fun I rode one home, 30 mins+, wouldn’t recommend it) and again in a situation when I would otherwise have taken the tram, up the hill in royal park.

    2.2km at 13.3km/hr in a car-free area means I don’t feel the need to wear a helmet, like every other country in the world (I count NZ as Aussie’s eastern-most state ;P ). If it gets too hairy on the road, jump on the footpath. Just be considerate when you (rarely these days) encounter a pedestrian. This is harder in the CBD obviously but I haven’t seen many bikes around the grid. Wonder if that’s deliberate?

    The bikes are indeed way too small at the moment, but they could replace the seat posts with longer versions without having to change the whole bike which would help.

    They have great potential to take the pressure off trams and to get people moving more often.

    If Robert Doyle wants to talk about clutter, he might want to take a walk through the CBD / inner city at most times of the day and watch drivers block intersections, stop over ped X’ings, speed past open tram doors and .. and .. and… Not to mention that most cars spend 95% of their day taking up space sitting stationary on the side of the road.

    • Fair call re: Jaison and MBS. That’s my fault. I’ve put that in now.

    • Avuncular

      I’m bemused by this sudden notion of clutter when on most streets in the inner burbs public space has long been appropriated by tables, chairs etc from restaurants and cafes taking over the footpath.

      On topic my son lives in China and uses the scheme. I asked him for his thoughts…. “The shared bicycle system has really taken off. This time last year very few people were cycling. I cannot believe how many people are riding now. School kids, young professionals and older people. There are a number of shared bike companies competing for market share. Ofo and Mobike are the two biggest. I ride Mobike. The dockless system is extremely convenient.

      The pros:
      It’s cheap, 1yuan per half hour. (There is a $50 deposit required before you can hire)
      You don’t have to worry about your bike being stolen. Nor even buy a bike it’s so cheap to hire.
      Bikes are easy to find, especially around major roads and subway/metro stations.
      Easy to use, a phone app allows you to scan a barcode on the bikes that automatically unlocks the back wheel. When you have finished riding you can lock the bike and leave the bike anywhere (safe and visible).
      What I like the best is being able to pick up a bike anywhere anytime and just ride. It’s amazing.

      The cons:
      People (possibly competition) are vandalising the barcode system.
      Bikes are being hidden in compounds and apartment complexes.
      Some people are even taking them home.
      Pins and tacks are being placed in the seats (not sure why, I haven’t seen this personally)
      Bikes are left all over the footpath but so are cars in China.

      • jules

        they should use RFID instead of barcodes

        • Barcodes are cheaper to produce and can be integrated with all phones easily. In other locations of the world they use a QR code as it’s more resilient to damage.

  • Ulrich

    Here in Germany we’ve had a dockless bike rental system for almost 20 years now: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Call_a_Bike
    It started dockless and still is dockless in cities like Munich. In some cities, like Berlin, it now uses docks.

    • jules

      are Germans more mature than Australians about how they have responded to dockless bikes being located in their streets?

      • Ulrich

        I don’t remember there being any discussion about it. I’m sure there was a fair amount of vandalism, but this was factored in the (not very cheap) costs. The bikes just blend in between the other bikes that are there anyway. In fact, there is discussion about there being too many abandoned (non-rental) bikes and that they should be removed more often.

        In some places they moved from a dockless system to a system with stations a few years ago. I’d guess that the dockless system requires a fair bit of maintenance (like collecting bikes from all over the place for repairs) and that using docks is cheaper. The scheme here in Germany is run by a big company (the railway service), so maybe they’re just good at picking up vandalised bikes quickly.

        • Seattle just opened up about their dockless system and added some insight recently (opened ~1-2 weeks ago). For example, being a more hilly place, they have a team of people moving Lime bikes around from the bottom of hills to the top of hills (somewhat humorously, I almost always end up riding in the opposite direction!). Here we have still had cracked rims, taco’d wheels and the occasional bike tossed into the water or off a bridge, almost certainly from vandals. Even accepting that it could have happened from a rider carelessly hitting the curb at high speed on a solid tyre, there’s just too much damage for it to be accidental. The nice thing is that there’s a community of riders who really want to see this succeed so they’re quick to report issues.

          Regarding maintenance, they drive a van around that collects bikes and takes it away for servicing. What I’d really like is for a bike share to reward people for moving bikes to a specific location, like a geofenced beacon where if you park the bike there instead you get a free ride + 10% credit. There’s several locations near the top of hills and active bus routes that people take that could easily put the bike on a bus, take it up the hill and drop it off at the top, which would create a self sustaining upward movement that would reduce the need for ongoing maintenance.

          We previously had Pronto Bicycle, which used a docking system. The docking system failed due to the bureaucratic nature of having to deal with paperwork with placing docks, specifically in one of the high tech centers that currently has around 10% of the 1000’ish bikes currently available in Seattle on a regular basis during the work day and in lower socioeconomic areas. It also meant that the rides had to be structured around the docks, instead of around actual destinations, which typically disadvantaged those who didn’t live directly in the downtown area. The upside was that vandalism was far less prominent, although still present, and it was way cheaper to implement: $85 per year ($7.08 per month) would get you unlimited rides, whereas LimeBike’s $29.95 per month for 100 rides per month (so not even unlimited rides) is a substantial jump in that price. Still, at $1 per ride for the occasional 30 minute juant through the city, it’s pretty well priced for those on the go.

          FWIW Seattle also has mandatory helmet laws with a $40 fine, but since the cops aren’t running around prosecuting every unhelmeted rider they see it’s doing pretty well. However even in a city with MHL the helmeted riders a very, very heavily outnumbered by the unhelmeted bike share riders; if I had to estimate, it’s 40-50 to 1.

    • David9482

      Oh neat, I just checked out the link. Of course the Germans can make a system like this work. Are they the only disciplined country in the world? For things like this, it seems so! They will also make solar/wind power work on a large enough scale to be financially viable.

      The rest of us can only watch in awe as we sit in car traffic on our daily commutes!

  • Rob

    An important point is that its unlikely that the actual serious users of the bikes are the ones throwing them in trees and waterway- that’s a common vandal-type problem. I think that after some time, the novelty would wear off and it would be only the odd bike damaged/abandoned. They would be seen as a normal part of the streetscape.

    • jules

      users pay a bond so it doesn’t make sense to vandalise them, even if it would be difficult for O-bike to prove who the culprit was. I agree, it’s almost certainly non-users who are doing the vandalising/misplacing them.

  • Tony Abbott

    these are awesome in Beijing. Made getting around so much easier. The clutter issue will sort itself out as people get used to it, just like people got used to driving in the 1920s. Bike share won’t suit every city, but in places like Melbourne and Sydney it’s here to stay. It’s an exciting time to be alive.

    Ps. In Beijing these share bikes have been an amazing way to get Jon cyclists riding again – which is always a good thing

  • craigcorrigan

    Oddly predictable that bicycles ‘cluttering’ the streets would be reported several times already in various forms of media.
    There are hundreds of thousands of empty motor vehicles clogging our streets every day right across Greater Melbourne, but nobody ever mentions them.
    As for the fact they’re being vandalised regularly, well I’d suggest that’s typically Australian behaviour. We have absolutely no self-respect, let alone respect for public property.

  • BrosEmpire

    Having tried the oBike thing 3 times now I can say this. To get from the top of Swanston St to Flinders St Station it beat walking, but only just. For attempting the easy 14km commute home (very flat terrain) it was a fail. After about 5-6km I gave in. Weekend rides of 60km on a road bike aren’t an issue, but apparently 6km is. The single gear thing is a joke. The power hub that powers the light and probably charges an on board battery for the GPS device etc. must create a LOT of resistance. It was like being on an ergo at 275w. The tyres are too fat, knobby and horrible. The seat post kept slipping even after adjusting 4 times. Coasting isn’t an option, you just about stop dead as if the brakes are on (they weren’t, I checked). The other issue is finding one with a helmet, which I would say is 1/15, having had to walk several blocks of the city to find one with a helmet on the 3 rides I’ve been on. The helmets that are there don’t meet Aus standards, are so small that they may as well be only for children and the ones they do provide seem to have faulty/twisted straps (looked to be made like that, not from wear or abuse). The rear lights, it turns out, are removable, which I only realised after a driver let me know i was riding without one in a not very kind way! I was so optimistic that this could be a great way to add an extra commute home here and there when the opportunity arose, without having to plan to get my bike to work, but alas tonight will be my last ride. I wanted to love this idea, I wanted it to work. But a great idea is only great if the execution matches the brilliant idea. OBike falls short. For a short ride inner city it should be good, but time wasted looking for a usable bike outweighs the time normally saved riding over walking or tram. Unfortunately this isn’t the solution I hoped for.

    • it sounds like it was more dangerous to have that helmet on, than just stow it in the basket

      • BrosEmpire

        And cop a $400+ fine?

  • David9482

    Not going to lie, having to share a helmet with someone would be the main reason i’d never use an O-bike!

    Plus, for the company O-Bike, the expense of having to replace helmets on a very regular basis (weekly/daily/etc.) would potentially eat away at all profits from the bike rental program. Either way, all of the minor difficulties of o-bike add-up and I very much doubt that the company will make enough money to keep this project going.

  • Cruz er

    Has anyone checked into the tremendous clutter, pollution and damage all these four wheeled vehicles are causing? 1700kg of steel to transport 1 person?! It’s insane. People will literally travel 5 km in their 1700kg car- in heavy traffic and be no faster, and often much slower than a bicycle- at much greater cost.

    They clutter all the streets and leave them EVERYWHERE. Has anyone seen the vast junkyards of old vehicles? Mind numbing. They litter the landscape, rusting out and leaking oil and gas into the earth.

    Imagine the city centers cleaned up with no cars blocking literally every street. Imagine how many more people could easily move about without them in the way… the mind reels…

    • misterhorsey

      Good point.

      Reminds me of when Former Treasurer Joe Hockey complaining about Wind Farms outside of Canberra being an eyesore. Those wind farms he used to spot on the freakin’ freeway/eyesore he drove on while driving to Canberra.

  • Observer

    Of course the Councils main concern is that it happened so quickly, they haven’t worked out how to charge them yet. So jump on the clutter bandwagon while they work out how to charge and regulate.

  • Nick Liau

    I’ve been using these a bit lately. The bikes are heavy and slow, but even at a leisurely pace, it’s still much faster than walking! I think their downfall might be the helmets getting stolen from the bikes. I usually use an oBike in a situation where I don’t want to carry my own helmet at the end of the journey, otherwise I would just ride my own bike. But if there’s not a reasonable chance of finding one with a helmet, then this isn’t an an advantage.

  • Pete

    Really annoys me at the level of vandalism/theft, or just plain pricks, in Melbourne. Many European cities have beautiful flower boxes and other nice public spaces that are well respected by the public. Japan has vending machines in all sorts of weird but convenient places that would be smashed and stolen from here. Nice things for the betterment of the public never works here – everything ends up looking like bolted down children’s toys because they all need to be vandal and theft proof. O-bike should have accounted for the Melbourne-asshole factor and realised that they will need to provide vandal and theft proof helmets that are cable-tethered to the bikes that are extremely uncomfortable but we all have zero choice because of the shit culture here.

  • Stuttgart5

    This is the city where Rohan Denis said he encountered more hostility in one day of riding than the rest of the year combined in Europe. Lot of prejudiced people there. The result would be the same in California. It’s a mirror on the cities.

    • winkybiker

      Australian hostility towards cyclists is world-leading. I grew up in NSW but moved overseas over 13 years ago. Naked aggression from motorists and a state government that has basically fined cyclists off the road combine to mean that I’ll never come back.

    • Steve

      yep Australia is hands-down one of the worst in the world! Having lived here and raced the bike and trained on the roads for more than 15 years , it hasn’t changed! As for the O-bikes the system is amazing but the execution is crap! If council started to charge them for being on the footpath that may affect how they are placed and how they ( the O-bike company) look at implementing them. But the helmets laws will always ruin the bike share system in Australia

  • Andy B

    In Singapore at the moment, these things are dumped everywhere

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