The Dockless Bike Craze Hits San Diego

If you have spotted a slew of abandoned bicycles scattered throughout San Diego, you can rest easy.  This isn’t the Attack of the Ped People or bicyclists spontaneously combusting as they ride to work.    No, this is the new craze in ride share;  it’s called dockless bike sharing.  Companies like LimeBike and Ofo have begun to distribute hundreds of bikes throughout San Diego.   Unlike DecoBike, which has docked bicycles scattered through San Diego, these two dockless companies don’t require docking because GPS-enabled receivers built into the frame of the bike and the rear wheels lock in place when consumers are done using them.  Sadly, the business model is pretty sketchy, so we don’t expect dockless bikes to be a long-term service.

The dockless bike concept is a Chinese import.  It originated in Beijing as a Peking University student project just three years ago.  It has been only moderately successful there and a glut of unused Chinese bikes have been shipped to the U.S.  Ofo is a China-based company and Limebike is a Silicon Valley startup.  So far, only Limebike is offering an electric power-assist bike which boosts pedal strokes but it is likely that Ofo will match Limebike in the near future.   In fact, some start-ups are targeting on-demand scooter-share services;  Bird rents electric scooters that reach speeds of 15 mph.   Limebike is likely to introduce scooters to compete with Bird. In short, there’s going to be an explosion of two-wheeled on-demand mobility services throughout the San Diego region in the coming months/years.

How to Use:  In order to use these mobility vehicles,  all you need is a smartphone and a credit care.  First, you download the app from one (or all) of the rental services.  With the app, you can locate the nearest bike on a map.  You enter your credit card information onto the app and then you can unlock the bike using that app.  When you’ve completed your ride,  simply push down the rear wheel to lock the bike and the app releases your bike from charging you any further.

Pricing:   Currently, rentals cost between $1-2 dollars per hour, but pricing is going to be variable and special deals will be constantly available to customers, just as they are with car ride-share services like Uber and Lyft.   Currently, LimeBike offers 100 rides for about $30  (30 cents per use).   Ofo charges $1 per hour.  Anyway you cut it, the price is right compared to a rideshare or careshare.  Bird scooter will cost you $1 to unlock and 15 cents every 10 minutes.   But they are scooters that go between 15-20 mph, so you’ll get to your destinations faster than with a bike (with a whole lot less effort).

Safety:  Don’t forget to use a bike helmet whenever you ride.  If you don’t own a helmet, you should resist the urge to bike-share.  While it isn’t legally required, you’d qualify for special ed if you don’t take this obvious precaution.  Before you rent, it is also worth reviewing bicycle-riding protocols for San Diego.   It’s worth the five minutes to take the City of San Diego’s bike-riding exam before you ride.  But in case you aren’t a test-taking junkie, check out these basic rules of bicycle etiquette:

  • The safest place for a cyclist is to ride in the bicycle lane when one is available.  If a bike lane is not present, ride as far to the right as is possible.
  • You must use hand signals before stopping, turning or changing lanes.
  • Establish eye contact with motorists as you deliver clear hand signals.
  • You need to ride with the flow of traffic, not against it.
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