in the last ten years bike sharing systems have quickly become an almost essential feature to cities worldwide, and it’s rare now to visit a urban center that doesn’t have some manner of communal cycling infrastructure in place. it makes sense; an increase in bicycles has proven time and again to be an overwhelming positive force on a city, its inhabitants, and its relationship to the wider world as a whole. but recently, the bike hasn’t always been so warmly received. according to a report by the guardian, cyclist numbers in china have plummeted from 63% of beijing commuters in 1980 to just 12% today. 

bike sharing systems have become an essential feature of cities worldwide
image courtesy of biketown



elsewhere however, the outlook is decidedly brighter, with bike sharing infrastructure popping up left right and center. while those ubiquitous racks of bicycles on your city’s sidewalks may seem like a modern addition, the concept of a bike sharking system goes all the way back to 1960’s amsterdam. given that the city is notorious for its high volume of cyclists, its no surprise that in 1965 a group of activists founded an initiative called the witte fietsen, or ‘white bikes’. painted white and deposited at various locations around the city, the guerrilla cycling scheme was quickly abandoned after many of the vehicles were stolen or dumped, but the core concept caught the imagination of others.

the concept dates all the way back to 1960’s amsterdam
image courtesy of biketown



it wasn’t until 1995 however that another city — this time copenhagen — attempted to replicate the project. entitled ‘bycyklen‘, the system used coin operated machines to manage its public bicycles. not without its own troubles (like theft and vandalism) the scheme nevertheless started a revolution that has today has grown into a worldwide phenomenon of green transport. 

copenhagen’s ‘bycyklen’ was originally coin operated and plagued by vandalism and theft
image courtesy of bycyklen



the benefits of an efficient, cost effective bike sharing system to a city and its people are endless. not only does it drastically reduce traffic congestion, it takes a huge chunk out of the overall air pollution, carbon footprint and noise profile of a region. it’s common knowledge regular exercise has a notably positive effect on our mental health and well being, and a recent study by portland state university suggests that cyclists are by far the happiest of commuters. it develops a city’s tourism sector by granting a quick and cheap means of transport to visitors, but more than this, it builds a sense of community between locals around a shared activity, bringing people together whose paths may never have otherwise crossed. 

bike sharing builds a sense of community through a shared activity
image courtesy of citi bike NYC



the design of these systems vary, but share the simple core concept of checking bikes in or out for allotted periods of time by means of strategically placed bike racks. since their debut however, the technology has come on in leaps and bounds. many schemes, such as citi bikes in new york or london’s santander cycles use solar powered stations, with more advanced iterations featuring automatic locking and digital tracking. london’s bikes recently debuted its ‘blaze laserlights’: green, bicycle shaped lasers that project onto the path a few feet ahead of the vehicle, making other travellers aware of approaching bicycles. 

recent technological advancements have made the systems cheaper, safer and more efficient 
image courtesy of blaze laserlight



recently, sports giant NIKE helped launch portland’s new bike sharing initiative, ‘biketown’; smart bicycles whose vibrant orange colorway helps them stand out in a crowd. unlike other systems, biketown’s technology is embedded into the bicycles themselves. rather than interact with a central station, each bike is equipped with a solar powered screen, GPS, and tracking system. these advancements technologies that support the bicycles are slowly but surely making the schemes safer, faster, more democratic and just plain easier to use. 

at present, the driving force in the field is, surprisingly, china
image courtesy of capital bikeshare, washington D.C.



at present, the driving force in the field is, surprisingly, china. with densely populated cities, soaring levels of pollution and an automotive market larger than the US, china’s cities are quickly turning to two wheeled alternatives in an attempt to solve its transport crisis. the name on everybody’s lips is ‘ofo’, a cycling startup thus named because of the word’s literal similarity to a bicycle. founded by 25 year old dai wei, the company is distinguished by its use of bright yellow cycles, and is leading the charge of china’s two-wheeled revolution. what makes them stand out however, is that users can hop on and off anywhere they like, without needing to find a nearby docking station. 

ofo distinguishes itself from other schemes in that its bikes can be left anywhere, provided it is legal and safe
image courtesy of ofo USA



users of the scheme are guided to the nearest ofo bike by means of an accompanying app. once found, the app provides them with a four digit code to unlock the bike’s back wheel. the technology takes the hassle out of regular bike-sharing schemes, which often sees cyclists travelling out of their way to find a docking station that isn’t already full. as long as the bike is parked in a legal and safe spot, it’s all good. the system has proven so popular that it’s even bringing 500 of its units to cambridge in the UK where cyclists will pay a flat fee of 50p per journey — no matter the distance. 


while its always exciting to see advancement in human carrying drones and driverless cars, it’s still heartening to see that trusty old bicycles are proving themselves favourites when it comes to getting from A to B. with the success of ofo, citibikes and others like them, it’s hard to see them putting the brakes on anytime soon.

ofo recently made the jump to cambridge in the UK and is slowly expanding to more countries worldwide
image courtesy of ofo USA

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