A World Without Bike Locks: Inevitable or Impossible?

Carrying a lock is an annoyance. For most commuters and utility cyclists, there is very little way around it. If you ride from home to work and back everyday, you can leave your lock in your bicycle parking area at work (if you don't need it at home), but if you want to stop for groceries or grab dinner after a day at the office, you'll probably be needing that lock. Packing a lock in a messenger bag, in a pannier or on a lock bracket is something that transportation cyclists have come to accept. But does it have to be?

There is more than one team of entrepreneurs working to find a solution to the bike lock/theft dilemma. Sanitov Bicycles, for example, has designed a cargo bike with a built-in GPS tracking system that will help the bike's owner to locate the bike should it go missing. This sounds like a brilliant idea, and combined with the bike's ability to track mileage and caloric expenditure, the Sanitov S+ GPS tracking system is a nice product feature. However, you still need a lock. Unless you plan on hanging a friendly sign explaining the fact that you will be able to track your bicycle should a thief decide to take it for a ride, you still risk walking out of your office and having to spend time and energy finding your stolen bike.

Photo: weBike

At the University of Maryland, a group of college kids came up with a different idea to make bicycles more accessible on campus. The weBike "station-less bike fleet" is an alternative bike share program that can be implemented at a much lower cost and lower volume than the larger bike share stations that exist in metropolitan areas such as Washington, DC, Paris and Chicago.

weBike uses text messaging to communicate lock combination codes to users, and users then text a reply to the same number upon returning the bike. This concept could be a very useful way to allow students to access bikes from a college dorm or apartment complex, but the riders will still need to take the lock with them and without the proper incentives to return the bikes within a reasonable period of time to a reasonable location, this system could turn into a logistical nightmare.   Unfortunately, the one active program on weBike's website appears to have thirteen bikes under maintenance, one bike that has been checked out every time that I have visited the site, and one bike that is currently available.

Photo: SoBi

Perhaps the Social Bicycles endeavor will be the answer. SoBi allows cyclists to use their mobile phones to locate SoBi bicycles and unlock them by entering their accountant information in exchange for a lock code. In an attempt to address the aforementioned redistribution issue, SoBi will allow operators to create zones and to charge the rider a fee for leaving a bike outside of the designated zones. According to Ryan Rzepecki, SoBi's founder, the SoBi bicycles will be not only more convenient but also less expensive than traditional bike share systems that utilize docking stations.

SoBi Social Bicycle
Photo: SoBi

It would be lovely if, from all of these different ideas, someone could develop the technology to limit or eliminate the need for bike locks. Is there a way to create a mobile device application that, in combination with a locking system similar to that of the SoBi bikes, would allow cyclists to lock and unlock their bikes without carrying a U-lock? Would anyone go for this technology or would the contraption that lives on the back of the SoBi bike cancel out the weight-savings and convenience of not carrying a lock?   It is encouraging to see these cycling enthusiasts working to push the envelope to make bicycles more accessible, but whether any of these ideas can be put into practice for a sustained period of time remains to be seen.

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