A Dockless Bike Stable

I’ve been seeing a few Limebike and Ofo bicycles parked around my neighborhood lately. For those who are not familiar with these brightly colored rides, Limebike and Ofo are the two most prevalent dockless bicycle-sharing systems.

The two systems work similarly: you download an app to your smartphone, insert the information for a credit or debit card you wish to use for payment, use the GPS facility of the app to locate a bike near you, go find the bike and use your phone camera to scan the unique QR code on a label on the bike. The curved bar of a locking mechanism on the seatstays then slides out of the way of the spokes and you’re ready to ride. You are charged for the time you keep the bike unlocked: $1.00 USD for every 30 minutes on a Limebike, $1.00 USD per hour on an Ofo. When you’re finished riding, you use a little lever to slide the locking bar back into place between the spokes and the meter stops.

Locked (left) and Unlocked (right)

I was intrigued by the idea of using one of these dockless systems as a backup ride. I have my own emergency commuter, but I know several people who do not have room for one in their apartment. And what if your ride is stolen from where you parked and locked it? You are really stuck if you don’t have a friendly coworker or neighbor available to rescue you, so a dockless bike share would certainly come in handy in that situation.

Although I have seen a few dockless bikes around my part of east Phoenix, Arizona, I knew that Scottsdale and Tempe, just to the east of me, was where these programs were based and would provide better photo opportunities. I hopped in the car and headed towards an area where I had seen clusters of the bikes around bus stops and public parking lots.

Just down the block from an establishment I frequent frequently, I spotted a cluster of Limebikes around an unused bus stop. I parked my car in the lot of the aforementioned establishment, spoke with a young man, Jerel, inside the business to confirm it was okay to park there, grabbed my sling bag out of the car and headed over to the bus stop.

I had already downloaded the Limebike app, so I focused my phone camera on the QR code on one of the bikes and pressed the shutter button. The bike emitted a series of “smartphoney-like” tones, the locking bar slid out of the way and I was ready to go.

Both Ofo and Limebike rides follow a similar design. They have aluminum step-through frames, airless (foam filled) tires, wheels which appear to be in the 700c size range, drum brakes, fenders, a front basket and a chain guard. They are single speed and have a seat which can be adjusted to work for all but the very tallest riders. The ride position is very upright and cruiser-like.

My Inaugural Ride

Once I got used to the heavy front wheel (remember: I usually ride a recumbent with a 20″ front wheel), I felt pretty comfortable and confident. I rode the bike around for about 17 minutes, returning it to the starting point to take more pictures and look it over more closely. Limebikes have a headlight and a taillight, but I’m not sure of the lumens rating; in the bottom of the basket is a solar panel which charges the batteries to power the lights and 3G GPS unit.

Jerel had mentioned he had used a Limebike on several occasions, so when I returned to his shop I asked him about his experience. He said he hadn’t used it for commuting to work, but as a quick method to get to several restaurants at lunch time. The eateries are too far from his business to walk on a lunch hour, but the Limebike allows him to get there much quicker, and he doesn’t have to waste gas firing up his car and spend time finding a parking spot in the crowded lot. Since the only dent I have ever gotten in my Subaru was in a parking lot, at lunch time, I thought that was a brilliantly clever use for a bike-share program, and it got me wishing Phoenix would start encouraging the programs in the area of my office.

I don’t think I’d be able to use it for my commute, no matter how ubiquitous the bikes become.  My ride is eight miles each way, with a few ups and downs and one, quarter mile decent uphill grade in the morning. The single speed would just not cut it. However, I understand that over in California they have introduced an electric Lime E+ bike and an electric scooter; one of those might just work.

Limebike also offers a discount fare program for businesses who want to encourage bike commuting and another program for low-income folks.

The only apparent downside to dockless bike-share programs is inconsiderate bike parking. Some cities have been receiving complaints about the bikes being parked on private property or in the middle of the sidewalk when the rider is done. Hopefully, as these programs grow, we’ll see the providers field more bike retrieval teams to mitigate that problem. Maybe I could get them to tow away my neighbor’s eyesore of an automobile from across the street!

BluesCat is a senior citizen still living and working in Phoenix, Arizona. He would like to see all politicians be required to ride bikes to work.

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