Both companies use a “dockless” model which is new in our area—but has rapidly become popular in other countries, most notably in China.
Hubway, which has been a familiar presence in and around Boston for over five years, uses a dock-based system where bikes must be picked up and dropped off at designated stations, but these new systems work a little differently.
As the dockless name suggests, they do not have to be picked up or dropped off at a station. Riders can find one using a smartphone app, or sometimes just by looking around to see if they can spot one of the distinctive green or yellow bikes parked on the street. Once located, an electronic lock around the rear wheel is opened by scanning the bike’s unique QR code and it’s ready to ride.
Pricing for the Malden pilot program has been set at one dollar per half hour and may be used for as long as needed. Ride one to wherever you need to go—to school, work, the grocery store, or your your own home. When you get there, flip out the kickstand, activate the lock and just leave it there for the next rider to find. It doesn’t even have to be in Malden—park it in Medford if you want to.
In fact, that’s exactly what someone did because we found a couple of Ofo’s and a Limebike parked in front of the Residences at River’s Edge last Saturday and took them for a test ride. Here are some of our first impressions.
The apps from both companies are very similar and easy to use. The home screens feature a map that shows the location of all the bikes available in the area and indicates the distance and time it will take to walk to the one you want to ride. Once you reach it you simply tap the begin ride button, your camera is enabled and you scan the QR code on the bike to unlock it.
When you finish your ride and relock the bike the apps save information about your route, time, carbon offset and calories burned.
We do have some questions about the accuracy of some of the data. Note the discrepancy on our two rides. The time and distance were about the same, but somehow the Limebike was more than twice as virtuous in saving the planet with its carbon offset, and we burned a lot more calories too!
The Ofo app did not save our route on the map, but we think it was supposed to.
Both the Limebike and Ofo models are solidly built with a step-through frame design that is quite nimble, responsive and easy to maneuver. They are considerably lighter than Hubways and feel sporty in comparison.
One significant drawback of their geometry is that they are not designed for tall people. The seat height is adjustable, but people over six feet tall will find the riding position very uncomfortable for riding any kind of distance.
The front baskets are of similar size and large enough to hold a bag of groceries. Beefy kickstands with large feet offer good support which is important for bikes that are not intended to be docked or locked to racks.
Each bike features solid tires which are easy for the providers to maintain and insure that riders will not get a flat.
One difference we noted was the fenders. The Limebikes’ are plastic, but the Ofos have metal ones which make a loud pinging sound when riding through gravel.
The day we did our testing was in the 60s, but we wonder how the tires will grip the road on a cold day. And how about the plastic components? Will they get brittle and break?
The Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC)—the regional planning organization for the Boston area—is currently working on a request for proposal to provide bike share service to 15 cities and towns outside of Boston, including Medford. Through this process we expect that shared bikes will be available from one or more vendors by the time warm weather returns in 2018.
For the program to be a success we should take time over the winter to think through a few things:
- How can we use this new transit option to get people to visit Medford businesses?
- What changes can we make on our roads to make them safer and easier to navigate?
- Will appropriate and adequate parking be available around the city and on private properties like apartment buildings, office complexes and shopping centers?
- How do we make sure people riding bikes and driving cars get the knowledge and skills they need to operate safely together on our roads?