Considering bike sharing for quick and easy commutes and leisure trips?
Bike sharing is a cheap and healthy way to navigate Australia’s big cities, and many bike sharing companies are setting up to serve the growing demand. Sydney alone has six options including oBike, Airbike, Ofo, EarthBike, Reddy Go and the latest entrant, Mobike. With many bike sharing services now operating, you can choose between docked and dockless services and have a choice of pay-per-use or subscription-based models. We’ve scouted out your options. Read on to see which bike sharing service suits you best.
Bike sharing is an easy way to access a bicycle as and when you need it without having to own and maintain your own bike. It is a particularly good option if you need it for regular trips, like your commute to work. Tourists also find bike sharing services a top choice for discovering new cities.
Some services operate using docks and kiosks, while dockless services work by ordering and unlocking a bike using your phone via an Android or iOS app. You also have the choice of paying by the hour or day or subscribing to the service for a week or longer, with trips of over 30 minutes carrying a surcharge. Other services simply bill you for the period of time you are using the bike.
In Australia, we’re seeing a rapid rise in bike sharing services, with most major cities now offering at least one service and Sydney offering six competing providers. It’s a mix of docked and dockless services, with not every city offering both models. Some services include free access to helmets to help users comply with cycling laws.
The difference between docked and dockless bike sharing
- Docked services. The first bike sharing services made use of docks, and many continue to do so. In a docked system, the bike sharing service keeps their bikes docked at designated docking locations. If you want to use the service you have to pick the bicycle up from a dock and return it to a dock near your destination once your trip has finished. Often, docks have nearby kiosks where you can activate your ride. When using a docked service, it's important to check that the docks close to your destination have available slots.
- Dockless services. Many new services operate without docks. Instead, you use the service's app to find a bike and you unlock it using your phone. You ride to your destination with the bicycle and then simply leave it somewhere suitable, locking it when you’re done. Dockless services do not require you to return the bike to a dock, which helps avoid the dock availability issue.
- Say no to bike ownership. Owning a bicycle can be a hassle when you lead a busy life. Like cars, bikes require maintenance and theft is a concern. Storage is also an issue, whether it’s at home or at work. Handing these ownership issues over to somebody else in exchange for a fee can be a winning choice.
- The last mile. Many commuters only need a bike for the last mile of their commute, making a personal bike unpractical. With bike sharing you can easily use a bike for the distance you require it for, and no more.
- On demand. Visiting a new city? Looking to enjoy the sunshine? Bike sharing can be great for filling in the gaps, providing a bike when you need it most.
- Save money. Using a bike sharing service can work out cheaper than using public transport, and significantly cheaper than driving a car. Occasional cyclists may also find that bike sharing is cheaper than owning a bike.
- The healthy option. Cycling instead of taking public transport or driving is clearly the healthier option, as long as you abide by safe cycling practices. In fact, many cities are actively encouraging cycling because of its health and environmental benefits.
- Speed up. Skip the traffic and avoid public transport when you commute on a bike.
- Great with friends. Cycling with friends and family is a great way to socialise. Hosting visitors from out of town, but you don't have enough bikes for all of them? Bike sharing services will instantly sort you out.
- An alternative. Sometimes public transport and road networks simply seize up. We’ve all had a bad experience commuting. If the traffic report bodes ill, consider getting on a bike to work.
- Availability. With both dockless and docked services, finding a bike when you need it can be a hassle if you're on the wrong side of the demand curve. Docked services occasionally present another problem: finding a free docking spot at your destination can be a challenge.
- Helmets. In Australia, cycling without a helmet is illegal. Plus, doing so is unsafe. Not every service provides a helmet with the bike, so you will need to keep one with you. If you happen to be without a helmet, you won’t be able to ride.
- Bulky bikes. You won’t get a cutting-edge bike when you use a sharing service. This may be of little consequence on short trips, but some shared bikes can be less comfortable on longer trips.
- The weather. Cycling in the rain is not fun, which can make relying on bicycles for part of your commute a hassle.
Bike sharing services are leaving Australia
Many dockless bike sharing companies are starting to pull their services out of Australian cities or withdrawing from Australia entirely, including oBike, Reddy Go and ofo. Strict helmet laws may be partly to blame for the low popularity of bike sharing services in Aussie cities compared to other countries around the world.
- Should I subscribe to a monthly or annual service?
If you are only going to use a bike sharing service occasionally, it may not be worth paying for a weekly, monthly or annual pass. Consider the daily rate and the frequency at which you will need the service, and decide whether a subscription is worthwhile.
- No subscription model. Some bike sharing services do not offer a subscription and deposit model, and will simply charge you for the time you are using the bike.
- Regular use. If you regularly use a service for commuting, a weekly or annual pass will provide better value as these usually include free rides.
While there is an easy convenience to bike sharing, you should always be aware of the safety concerns surrounding cycling. Wearing a helmet is key to a safe ride and cyclists should be aware of their environment and the laws of the road at all times.
- Keep your phone alive and kicking
Dockless bike sharing services operate via an iOS or Android app. A dead phone can be problematic, so consider carrying a portable battery pack with you in case you experience an emergency.
Owning your own bicycle means that you know that it's available to you at any time and that it's kept in a good condition. Shared services can pose a problem, with some bicycles kept in a poor condition and some services not available when you need them.
- Sign up to competitor services.
If you live in a city with multiple bike sharing services, consider getting familiar with a competing service to work around availability issues.