What is this?
Rotherhithe has been invaded by a plague of “dump-a-bikes” from Mobike and ofo – encouraged by the Labour administration at Southwark Council who despite their pledge in the LE2014 campaign to introduce the Santander/Boris Bike scheme have failed to do so
We believe this is a fundamental mistake. Many of us are very happy with the Santander scheme. I have an annual Santander membership and don’t want to have to make further payments for other schemes (as well as juggle with their idiosyncrasies and apps) when we already have a well run and integrated Santander scheme across the rest of London which just needs to be rolled out.
However, on the grounds that these new schemes might provide a solution I decided to take a closer look
Mobike road test
The app showed me the location of a bike convenient to Canada Water tube and unlocking worked well. Note that this was the last bike at that location – not great provision for a transport hub
On a 15min ride I noted the following:
- My immediate impression was that it seemed small and insubstantial. The highest seat setting is far too low for an adult of medium height. It felt like a child’s bike.
- Poor/dangerous brakes. In an emergency (car door, child running in front of me) I would not have been able to stop as quickly as I would have liked.
- Poor/dangerous lights. Mixing with traffic at night really does need decent lights for safety, and these were not at all impressive
- No stand so liable to be left lying around. [I noted another example which did have a stand, so I don’t know whether my first example had lost its stand or never had one]
- It has no gears!!! Low geared so legs spinning fast and hard work to get nowhere slowly. How can that be? – It has a shaft drive instead of a chain, which is less efficient? I had to get off and push on a very gentle slope. This bike feels very heavy and slow. Very tiring – I certainly wouldn’t go any distance on this
- On a second test, my observations were similar except that when I finished with the bike and locked it, the end of ride did not register. My app showed I was still using the bike. Not only was I concerned about a possible surcharge, but I had no way of hiring a further bike
Cheap and nasty. Awful to ride. Public nuisance. No substitute for a Boris bike.
ofo bike road test
The first problem was that there were none at CW tube. It is a fundamental requirement of bike schemes that they are available at transport hubs.
However two were showing on the app, each about 5 minutes away in different directions
I walked to the nearest until my location on the app was right next to the bike location, near Hawker House. I spent several minutes walking around but there was definitely no bike.
5 more minutes walk to the other location at Poolmans Street. Again no bike. How can a bike be shown on their app and not be there? – a fundamental failure of their system.
Set off to walk home. Found 2 ofo bikes on way, at Silver Walk. Aha! at last! Scanned both – and both were declared as broken
Update 1 April 18:
Attempt 5: Hunted down an ofo at Downtown Road: Tried to unlock – declared as broken
Attempt 6: Found another at Salter Road. Unlocked successfully but impossible to ride due to defects so gave up immediately
ofo Bike summary
6 attempts and 6 failures. A complete waste of my time. Note also that I have paid to use something which isn’t available to use.
Several days after I reported the broken bikes at Silver Walk to ofo they remain abandoned. Taking this with the other problems it appears that ofo are not providing an adequate support service.
As a known supporter of Boris bikes, I have been careful to give an honest and objective account of my experience with these bikes. I am surprised that these two tried and tested schemes have resulted in such a poor experience.
I found maintenance and safety issues even when the bikes are new. What will they be like in a few months time?
Without docking stations, distribution will be an issue. It is much easier to go to a known docking station, especially if you need more than one bike as a couple/group. The uncertainty of wandering around for 10 minutes finding a bike (or not in my case) undermines the whole point of a “jump on and ride” bike scheme for short journeys.
Dumping bikes at the destination can at best be unsightly and an inconvenience, and at worst may cause a hazard. I have seen them left inconsiderately on the pavement and blocking entrances where they could cause inconveniance or injury, especially at night or to the visually impaired.
Leaving these bikes at the official bike racks (eg at Canada Water station) reduces provision for safe parking and locking of private cycles; it cannot be right that private cyclists are disadvantaged by hire schemes – so where will they go?
The predictable need to use a phone to unlock the bike raises the risk of phone snatch
For comparison, here is my experience over several years using Santander/Boris bikes
- I have never had the experience of phantom bikes I had with the ofo system
- The app is excellent, showing available bikes and available spaces at the docking stations – the latter being useful for planning ahead
- Docking stations are never far away within the scheme area and are generally well placed for transport hubs
- The bikes are a quality build and robust, giving a good feeling of security
- Although appearing heavy, they are well geared and zip along quickly with moderate effort
- There is good seat adjustment and they are perfectly comfortable to ride
- The lighting is superb, with the latest projecting a green bike image on the path – a good safety feature
- As a member of the scheme I have a key – very easy to use and avoids fiddling with a mobile phone/ risk of phone snatch
Message for Southwark Council
We think this hasn’t been properly thought through; we would be interested to hear whether there was a proper analysis of the impact, safety and risks inherent in this scheme and if not, why not?
We can understand the temptation for a quick and cheap fix, especially with the local elections coming up, but this is not an adequate solution.
In our opinion this is a cheap stunt which is no substitute for Boris Bikes.
Please take these ridiculous toys off our streets and follow Brixton’s lead with the official Santander scheme.
Note to readers
We have asked Southwark Council for a response which we will publish here if received