It’s a rapidly spreading contagion affecting millions around the globe. There’s no name yet, but it’s centered around ceding personal ownership of property in favor of digitally leasing. Symptoms range from streaming music and TV shows on subscription services to renting digital real estate in the cloud, to paying per minute for private transportation services, and its latest viral mutation has arrived in the shape of dockless bike-sharing.
Bike sharing isn’t altogether novel however. For an exhaustive historical overview, we recommend checking out City Lab’s “The Bike Share Boom” which documents the bumpy road to prominence that bike-sharing has undertaken in the 20th and 21st centuries. Unsurprisingly, hippies in Amsterdam were the original progenitors of the first bike sharing program (and the first to fail miserably) which was dubbed de Witte Fietsen (the White Bikes) in 1965. Freshly anointed in white paint, the bicycles debuted to the bohemian rallying cry: “the asphalt terror of the motorized bourgeoisie has lasted long enough!” The program resulted in a slew of stolen or vandalized bikes, but that wouldn’t dampen the spirits of other countries intent on trying their hand at similar programs throughout the late nineties and early 2000’s. Europe valiantly lead the charge, and it wasn’t until 2008 that the rubber met the road in the U.S. and China, where each launched their flagship programs in Washington D.C. and Hangzhou. 2015 marked the year we surpassed 1 million shared bicycles worldwide and in 2018, we could potentially see that number reach into the tens and twenties.
However, the bike-sharing movement isn’t as simple as the spread of a viral pathogen. Cities everywhere face unique challenges in integrating a workable format of bike-sharing that will fit their particular ecosystem. Take Dallas, for instance, where only 0.2 percent of the population commutes by bike, but where 5 dock-less bike sharing companies have flooded the city with more than 20,000 bicycles. Mayor Mike Rawlings has advocated for a Wild West, Hunger Games approach, taking to morning radio to repeat the mantra: “If you can overwhelm a market, you can own it and force the other bike companies out.” Perhaps that’s why excess bikes are being used as neighborhood ornaments and sub aquatic exploration vehicles. Check out the Instagram page dallasbikemess to see some of the more creative uses Dallas residents have found for their bicycles.
Or in Xiamen, China, where thieves, artists and aspiring Steve Zissou’s can’t steal or destroy bikes fast enough, leading to the city gathering thousands of bicycles into colorful, desiccated boneyards as they simultaneously ban the entry of new bicycles and programs into the market.
Paris is an example of compatible city infrastructure done right. Bike sharing came and went multiple times until Mayor Bertrand Delanoë introduced over 261km of bike lanes from 2001 to 2007 to usher in the debut of Vélib, the eminent and currently flourishing bike sharing program of the City of Light.
In Scottsdale, the city government has absorbed bike sharing into the fabric of daily life through a more laissez faire style injection. “The bike share companies own the bikes…They’re responsible for the bikes,” says city Transportation Director Paul Basha. As opposed to Phoenix, which has used grants and tax payer funds to pay for their Grid Bike share program, Scottsdale has taken a hands-off approach, opting to let the bike share companies duke it out on their own terms, provided they clean up after themselves. “It’s a private business, and they are required to relocate the bikes that are not in safe or legal parking spaces. We don’t want to use taxpayer revenue unwisely. We have a very high principle regarding using taxpayer monies.”
In the name of investigative journalism, an unnamed Bigfish operative took a hiatus from the office to give the two biggest bike companies in Scottsdale a fair and equitable review.
To start, this is the logo from Limewire. So LimeBike, did you just steal the logo from the original kings of stealing intellectual property? This bike looks like Sprite-sponsored gentrification on wheels. Using the app to unlock the bike feels cool. It makes you feel like you would if James Bond were a mid-level employee going on his lunch break. I would have killed for this feature in college where the only way to lock and unlock my bike lock was to shake it like it owed me money. Ride is smooth. Brakes work fine. The basket and phone holder are neat features if you’re planning an itinerant day out in Old Town. Overall, not bad.
BFCG Score: 4/5
I like how the ofo logo kind of looks like a little stick figure riding a bicycle. I also dig the color scheme more than LimeBike, so in terms of branding ofo wins. However, I find the bike to feel lighter and cheaper in a less safe kind of way. Plus, there’s no little start-up jingle when you unlock it. Bike sharing only entered my life roughly one week ago, but I’ll be damned if I don’t already expect a start-up jingle for every bike-share bicycle I unlock. The basket is also slightly smaller than LimeBike. Overall, the differences are infinitesimal but I think I prefer LimeBike over ofo. Sorry China.
BFCG Score: 3.5/5