Bicycle sharing has come a long way since the early days and the arrival of London’s Boris Bikes. Today, in cities up and down the country, dockless bikes are cropping up. In such a competitive market, how do you know where to begin? Here’s a rundown of the best bike-sharing apps and schemes in the UK right now.
TfL Santander Cycles
We’ll start in London and with perhaps the most famous bike-sharing scheme in the country. The Santander Cycles (formerly Barclays Cycle Hire) are run by Transport for London (TfL). One of the reasons for the success of the TfL bikes is that they are docked. There are more than 11,500 bikes at over 750 docking stations across London and the bikes, therefore, cannot be dumped on the streets.
You can hire a bike from the Santander Cycles app, by signing up for a Membership Key or simply by turning up and using the terminals at the docking stations to pay for your ride. Prices start at just £2 for the first 24 hours and you can ride as many 30 minute journeys as you like. If you ride for more than 30 minutes at a time, however, you will be charged an additional £2 for every subsequent half and hour period. A fee of £300 is charged if you damage the bike or don't return it.
The downside of the TfL Santander Cycles is that they are quite heavy at 23kg. If you live outside the capital, there are other options available.
Despite the similar yellow and black branding, YoBike is not Ofo - the Chinese bike-sharing scheme that at its peak had 6,000 bikes in UK cities, but has been forced to pull the lot. It is, however, another dockless bike sharing initiative which allows cyclists to use its iOS and Android app to rent bicycles and leave them anywhere they like.
The motto is pretty simple “Get Around for Just £1”. The price of a quid is based on a 30-minute journey. You can also get a Day Pass for a fiver or an annual commuter pass for £39, which works out at just 5p a ride if you use the bikes to ride an hour to and from work every day for a year.
YoBike is only available in Southampton and Bristol at the moment but don’t be surprised if you see the yellow bikes cropping up in more student towns soon.
Perhaps one of the more famous bicycle sharing schemes in the UK, and not always for the right reasons, is Mobike. The silver and orange bikes certainly stand out from the crowd in terms of looks. The miniimlaist design is not just for style, however, its to help the company reduce maintenance and the number of pickups it has to make.
Mobike has launched and withdrawn in some UK cities, such as Manchester, but the bikes can still be found in London. In September 2018, the Chinese company announced it was reducing the size of its operating areas in the capital to “ensure Mobikers can easily find a bike when they need one”. Those who park Mobikes outside of this operating zone will be charged £20.
Mobike uses a pricing system based on how long your ride is. Rides are charged in intervals of 20 minutes and you automatically jump into the next the minute you go over a certain threshold. Ride for 35 minutes, for example, and you will be charged for 40. There is also a £15 deposit required before you can use a Mobike.
Irish company Urbo is achieving some success in the UK where others have struggled. Urbo also does e-scooters, but its the bike-sharing we’re talking about today. The system is familiar. Download the app, register for the service (which costs £1), scan the QR code on the lock and away you go. Rides start at a very reasonable 50p per 30 minutes.
One of the reasons I have higher hope for Urbo compared to previous startups like Ofo, which has already pulled out of the UK and made all of its staff redundant, is that Urbo’s bikes come with a cable lock. That means you can lock them to u-bends and parking stations for extra security, just like you would your own bicycle. Ofo bikes, which only lock the wheels, could be (and were!) picked up and thrown in Britain’s waterways.
Singapore’s first dockless bike-sharing app, oBike, has now landed in the UK. The bikes themselves are reminiscent of Mobike’s design, but with bigger wheels. Simplicity is the key here. Prices are attractive too, at just 50p per 30 minutes of ride time. The only catch is that oBike is only available in Oxford at the time of writing. The company did say that it has plans to expand to more UK cities soon, though.
The San Francisco-based mobility startup, Lime, has made headlines for the row over its e-scooters on both sides of the Atlantic, but its electric-assist bikes are alive and well in the UK. After initially launching in Milton Keynes, the green and yellow bikes have now landed in London too, in the boroughs of Brent and Ealing. Riders can locate the nearest Lime-E in-app and scan the QR code when they’re ready to unlock the bike.
Prices are very attractive, especially when you consider that these are electric assist bikes and not purely powered by human sweat. A Lime electric-assist bike costs £1 to unlock and 15p per minute to ride. There aren’t that many of them about yet, but the early signs are promising for Lime in the UK.