3 Aug 2010

The Tale of Two Bikes

Posted by Mike Rubbo

Yes, I know, my film on Melbourne Bike Share, has a gloomy tone to it. Most of my persuavies try for a light tone, but this time, the constant rain, the lonely bikes, it all got to me.

I did not realize just how gloomy was my reporting till the Barclays Bike news started flooding in from London, and I realized that our bike share scene suffers by comparison with all the British excitement.

We are talking about virtually the same bike by the way, here in Melbourne and in London.

They are both made in Bagotville, Quebec by a clever company called Devinci .

Sturdy Devinci built step through sit-ups are now are winning bike share contracts around the world, beating out, it seems the more fragile Paris bikes, the Velibs.

Treehugger blog describes them thus.
…they are built like two-wheeled tanks: they weigh 23 kg. (50 lb.) so that they can’t be vandalized easily.

Unlike the new Barclay’s bikes, Montreal’s version, again the same bike, carries no advertising.

These Bixis were cleverly named through a local competition. The name, Bixi, is mix of bicyclette and taxi, stressing that this this not a fun hire bike primarily, but a bit of public transport.

I think Melbourne Bike Share as a name, is a dull mouthful for the bikes I rode last week, and I’m hoping that something more playful and fun, like Mixi, might catch on.

Barclays Bicycles has certain a ring to it, but some Londoners apparently resent Barclays buying naming rights for $25 million.

Already, instead of Barclays Bikes, they are being dubbed Boris Bikes, which sounds like it might stick, given the color which London mayor, Boris Johnson, brings to them.

Some peace protesters don’t like the bank’s connections with military spending and have plastered some bikes with stickers.

I must agree with the anger towards any institution funding depleted uranium, a nightmare substance whose impact on Iraq is not well known.
The doc. Blowin in the Wind, is a good way to find out more.

In any case, excitement is literally spilling out of London, along with some friendly mockery, as Londoners hop on Boris Bikes in really impressive numbers.

1000 were rented in the first hour, 6000 in the first day.

Oh, we wish it was like that here!. Melbourne Bike Share (MBS) would be struggling to claim 6000 riders for the whole two months that they’ve been open.

But to be fair, London has 5000 bikes on the street, and Melbourne, just 400.

As for the teasing the new Boris Bikes, Zoe Williams, writing for The Guardian echoes Treehugger.

“The bikes are roughly the weight of a small shed…You look like a keen young employee of Barclays bank who’s been given an apprentice’s bike and is proud to be seen with it, all over town..

It’s a Miss Marple-ish steed, with a comfy saddle and no crossbar, a sit-up- and-beg classic.”

Another Guardian writer, Helen Pidd, admits to being immediately won over by the new bikes, saying says she felt like a celebrity as people watched her pass on her first ride, and shouted encouragingly,

“You’re on one of Boris Bikes!”

Builders on sites called out; “What’s it like to ride?”

Helen dubbed the bike, “smooth riding,” and said she felt “invincible,” a very interesting comment since our bikes, the Mixis, are suffering from the general aura of weakness and fear we’ve managed to create around all city cycling in Australia.

On ours, we’re vincible, I guess.

Here’s Helen, clearly already a convert to the step through way to ride.

Whilst here it’s been pretty quiet, London Twitter and the blogsphere have erupted with comment.

A pretty good “trundle” one blogger wrote. “Heavy, but very smooth,” someone else twitted, noting that these bikes are built to stand, “Careless cyclists and late night drunk who’ve missed the Tube.” Worrying thought, that.

Mayor Boris is front and centre, cleverly mocking himself if not the bikes. He describes himself on the Barclays as looking, “a bit like an elderly french onion seller.”

Not true of course. With his mighty mop, Boris has got style, flair and humor to spare.

He ended a launch speech about the place these bikes will have in London lives, like this:

“In 1904, 20% of journeys were made on bikes. I want to see those kinds of figures again. If you can’t turn back the clock to 1904, ladies and gentlemen, what’s the point of being a conservative?”

What Boris brings is what is so lacking here, a sense of the fun in cycling as well as its importance as a sensible way of getting around.

Our continual harping on danger with; Helmet, Helmet, Helmet. is so corrosive.

Don’t those who chant this mantra realize the pall it casts over cycling one which is far more dangerous than any safety they may wish upon us individually?

On that great London blog, Real Cycling, I find amongst the pics of the first days of the London roll-out, not a single helmeted rider.

(Real Cycle photo)

And yet Rob who writes the blog, has nothing against people wearing helmets if they so choose, and I’m sure has not selected his photos to make the point.

(Real Cycle photo)

There have been glitches in London. But people seem to be having a good time at docking stations, teaching each other how it works.

Actually, I had no trouble with the new Mixi bikes in Melbourne when I staked out a docking station last week (see previous post)

They slid out of the docking stations smoothly once my key was inserted , and rode with the sort of stately stability that people in London have also discovered.

From London twitter, I’ve learned that on some of their bikes, the brakes are too tight, so that you might get one whose back wheel hardly turns at all.

The instant experts suggest that you should always lift the back wheel and make sure it rotates smoothly , and then if turning well, pull out the bike by the saddle with the wheel still in the air. Easier to free that way apparently. No such problems with the bikes I tried.

A London blogger warns that if you don’t return the bike solidly to the notch, if it does not click in loudly and the green light come on, then the bike may seem to be back home, but may still be yours, eating up your credit card as you walk off.

This did happen to me which I discovered when I tried to take another bike later in the day, and found my key would not work. I’d not properly notched my previous rental

Having guessed what had happened, I phoned MBS from the docking station and spoke to someone who could see the problem on a screen. He told me which bike to re notch, and then gave me a refund of an hour.

In London that happen so often on the first day, that general refunds in the thousands of pounds have been promised to inexperienced notchers.

One woman reported the computer had recorded her as riding for 11 hours 11 minutes and eleven seconds.

So, hear the click and see the green before you go.

I suspect that bike notching will become such a part of city life, that we’ll wonder how it was ever difficult, just as we now wonder how mobiles once had us fooled.

There have been grumbles here and there about the lack of locks on the bike itself, though students of the system point out that this is intentional.

It ensures rapid turnover of the bikes. They don’t want you lingering, shopping or stopping for a coffee, but want you putting the bike back for someone else.

Strange that, since they make no money till you go over the free half hour.

But I did notice that our Melbourne bikes, unlike those in London, have a loop of strong wire behind the seat which almost looks like it might work with a lock if you happened to bring one with you.

But then, there’s no explanation on our Mixies for this curious loop which slides up and out, and so maybe, they haven’t quite decided on its role yet.

The basket is generally dubbed too small by most, though one disturbing blog suggests that you could stuff a passenger into it. This might be an explanation as to why they’ve kept it that size.

They’ve had to devise these bikes to withstand all sorts of strange abuse which might be in store, as this video of free riding Velibs in Paris shows. No wonder so many Velibs are soon unserviceable.

Both our bikes and the London ones, have a red breakdown button you can push on the docking console, alerting roving teams of maintenance people who then swoop and fix, I’m told.

The first day in London reported no bikes stolen. None have been stolen here either that I’ve heard. This may be because they are undesirable, or, rumor has it, that they have a tracking device in board.

The London clientele has quickly worked out some tricks. For instance, if you want to stay within the free half hour, it’ll help to have a stop watch with you and map of the docking stations.

If you want to re-borrow the bike for a longer ride, that is a second free half hour, you’ll need to notch in, and then wait five minutes between returning the bike and being able to release another.

This will no doubt lead to a new sort of time -based conversation etiquette, as Boris bikers wait together at docking stations for release.

It could become like those generally satisfying conversations at the end of flights. Those you know it’s safe to start because there’s only five minutes to go before landing.

Of great interest to me, having stood guard over the lonely Melbourne Mixies of two days, is that the London chatter has not brought up the topic which obsesses us, and which keeps our bike unused, our helmet law.

Maybe some people are wearing helmets on Boris Bikes, or would like them supplied, but it’s not mentioned.

Compared with us, who don’t dare ride a meter without a lid, it seems as if everyone else must have some sort of heavenly protection to feel so safe on such bikes in London traffic.

One person notes that on the flat bit between the handlebars, there is a message sticker on the Barclays bikes to remind you to look out for vehicles turning left, a very sensible warning.

On our bikes, the space is also occupied by a sticker, ours to warn you that you are breaking the law if you are wearing no helmet.

And so our bikes stay in the racks since who walks round with a helmet? Will we ever look as carefree as London’s looking these days?

Fooled you! That’s a Melbourne couple, doing some under cover cycling as it were.

I’ve just discovered this delightful film on Melbourne as it should be, the city with flair. Seeing this it’s hard to imagine they can’t liberate their share bikes as they’ve liberated their laneways.

A great watch, folks, from Streetfilms

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18 Responses to “The Tale of Two Bikes”

  1. “It could become like those generally satisfying conversations at the end of flights. Those you know it’s safe to start because there’s only five minutes to go before landing.”

    Love that comment!

    Seriously. Excellent film, Mike. This Scheme needs three big things (in this order) to be implemented for it to work properly:
    - remove mandatory helmet legislation (bring one if you feel safer, leave the rest of us alone)
    - quality infrastructure, not just painted lanes
    - more bikes & docking stations

    Clearly riding this style of bike is safer:
    “Drivers were polite and stayed out of my way unlike when I am on my bike.”

    I find this to be true on my situp-cycle when riding helmet-less.

    Paul Martin
    Brisbane, Australia


    Dr Paul Martin

  2. It isn’t that there aren’t strident advocates for MHLs in the UK (see this reaction the the Boris Bikes). In the end, I think it is quite unlikely that helmet promoters will get up enough steam to bring in an all ages MHL in the UK. There aren’t enough votes in it to justify the fight they’d have the the CTC, LCC, etc.

    I do wonder why the various state cycling organisations don’t get involved in the issue, or The Australia Greens for that matter. Surely, anyone with an appreciation of what is happening in the world outside Australia, who has any desire to see mass cycling in Australia would come out against compulsion? But The Greens’ Sustainable Planning and Transport policy barely mentions cycling, let alone removing MHLs.

    Hopefully when the Melbourne Bicycle Share is dismantled, the bikes and docking stations can be sold to a more accomodating nations.



  3. @Tali

    Yes, I was having a thorough comb through Greens policy and the cycling appears to be mentioned in one sentence…. and it is a long way down the list of ‘goals’.


    Dr Paul Martin

  4. The cynical side of me has often wondered over the last several years how many politician’s wives or children purchased shares in bike helmet related companies in the months before the laws were passed.

    Keep up the good work Mike – lots of industry pros and wanna be riders are behind you.

    Just out of interest, has anyone actually sent a proposal to the relevant gov officials or law makers about the people’s wants and desires? Whatever happened to gov of the people by the people, FOR the people. It is my right to ride a bike without a helmet if I choose.

    I would love to see Clover Moore’s response to a ‘Syxi’ (Sydney bike taxi) scheme. Why does that sound like a New Zealander trying to say ‘Sexy’? ;-)



  5. Hi Tali, Nick Low, who you see in my film at the end with a link, is working on the Greens. Mike


    Mike Rubbo

  6. Anyone we can talk to in Sydney/NSW about any of these issues? Greens / Clover M / bike sponsors / bicycle NSW / Attorney General? Has this already been done by someone locally? If so, do you think more hits to the same sources is productive or counter productive?



  7. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by GalwayCycling.org, Jools. Jools said: Interesting blog post from Australia on the Cycle-Hire Scheme on situp-cycle.com: http://tinyurl.com/32j5292 [...]

  8. [...] Read Mike’s full post over at situp-cycle.com [...]

  9. Hi Mike,

    Great film and we’d certainly be interested in joining you next time. I mentioned the protest ride to several people but most people were more interested in bringing along their own bikes rather than using the Mixis.As it tuerned out we were too busy anyway but I’m certainly interested in the next one. I love an upright bike myself, after living in Amsterdam for several years I rarely use my others anymore. I’ll certainly be tweeting and blogging!



  10. Tremendous post and video Mike.

    There is so much useful, thought provoking information here I hope others come and read it, particularly those responsible for the legislation and consider all aspects of the debate.

    As Brisbane is rolling out a similar system this needs to be considered before launch here or the uptake will miss out on the novelty effect that we will only get one chance at using for our community benefit to help make City Cycle a success.



  11. [...] the last post Mike Robbo commented with some interesting points  about the Melbourne Bike Share programme and the London Barclays Bike. Rather than repeat them here I encourage you to go read his excellent, long and informative post [...]

  12. In Canberra (the cycling capital of Australia) there is a bike hire business (www.mrspokes.com.au/) for the great bike rides around Lake Burley Griffin. Included in the bike hire are helmets, for all ages. As this is one shop in one location which rents bike and helmets rather than a distributed network of bicycles around the city , it is much easier I guess in that respect. Don’t know how they sterilize their helmets doesn’t seem to be an issue for them. Interesting that the Bike Cars ( four wheeled bikes ) don’t require a helmet


    Martin Miller

  13. Can the Australian government learn from overseas experience?

    History is not on its side.

    20 years ago, it was a ‘world first’ in introducing a mandatory helmet law with no evidence that it would work. Who cares if it works, at least we’re pretending to be doing something…

    The helmet law experiment is an embarassing failure, with almost no country stupid enough to follow our leap of faith.

    Still, the zealots in power keep regurgitating the same BS; “Helmet saves lives”, hoping Australians will never notice that helmets are not designed to protect against serious injury.

    Cycling is a lot safer in Europe than in Australia, but still, these bigots insist that they are ‘right’. Why can’t the rest of the world get it? We are leading the world here, breaking new ground in stupidity. Come and join us! The helmet manufacterers marketing machine have all the manipulative tricks to convince your government of the infinite wisdom of the helmet law.



  14. Yet another take on the scheme: http://wellingtoncycleways.wordpress.com/2010/08/10/the-imminent-failure-of-the-melbourne-bike-share-scheme-it-aint-just-dumb-helmet-laws/

    Mike, do you hold out more hope for the Brisbane scheme?



  15. Hi Mike

    Great film! I have spent a lot of time in Montreal over the years. My last visit was carless, because of the Bixi.

    Aside from all the great infrastructure, the Bixi has had an unbelievably calming affect on the motorists. I was astonished at how courteous they were to cyclists.

    As you know, there isn’t a mandatory helmet law in Quebec so anyone can choose the Bixi wheter or not they have a helmet with them.

    If the Melbourne system does succeed, I think it will greatly help the cycling culture there. Toronto’s Bixi will hopefully begin next spring and I hope it is as successful as Montreal. Thankfully there isn’t a MHL in Toronto either.

    I’m off to Dublin next month and can’t wait to try Dublin Bikes

    Keep up the great work.



  16. Re. the stickers on the Boris bikes – just recently there has been another spate of stickering, with some rather crude ‘F*** Barclays stickers appearing on the London bikes. Personally I prefer my ‘Barclays bonus shaker’ sticker, which appeared in the London Evening Standard paper yesterday:


    PK Munroe

  17. Thanks for sharing these valuable informations. Love to ride my bike a lot. Great to tour around the city and enjoy the wonderful scenery with your bike.



  18. Note the cave-in by the Melbourne Scheme sponsors,Oct.’10 – provision of helmets by machine, at 2 locations (one close to a bike shop at Melbourne Uni, so John will not be pleased at $5 helmets being sold round the back of the Union) and at several downtown 7-Eleven shops. The scheme remains a classic case of bad transport planning and an embarrassment to Melburnians. Just look at Tim Pallas, Transport Minister, trying to avoid looking stupid. http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/helmets-for-hire-in-bike-share-scheme-20101013-16ike.html .

    Meanwhile, we have just learned that VicRoads have designs to build loads more suburban freeways and ring-roads, rather than suburban public transport. That’s the real story down here.



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