Mobikes in Manchester

Dear Diary,

Back in July, I had a couple of days free so decided I was going to make the most of it. Usually, I catch up on emails, watch some films, some programmes and do some “paperwork”. My definition of “paperwork” is wide reaching but amongst other things, it includes reading articles, writing them and getting the admin of my life in order.  I might go to the gym or go for a bicycle ride and next thing I know it’s time to go back to the grind.

I got the train up to Manchester. I opted to stay for the evening because by the time I left, the few hours travelling up there would have meant it would have soon been time to return.   At the time of this visit, I’d been to the city once before so spent this time re-tracing my steps and making new ones.

I used the opportunity to be alone. I enjoy, I mean, I love other people’s company, for sure. But I do sometimes enjoy being on my own. I define myself as an “introverted extrovert” as in I am predominately the latter but the former is what the latter’s foundations rest upon. The ability to do what I wanted when I wanted was very good and to make decisions alone was refreshing.  Meeting up with someone else instantly brings in other variables that I cannot control.  For this visit, if I said jump, I told myself how high.  But on my own, after not very much time at all I’ll only hop a bit here and overstretch my jump there.  Cheques and balances are needed.

I went to the cinema and then I went to explore Canal Street in the evening.  A few years ago I watched Queer As Folk, a pivotal television series about three gay men living around Manchester’s Gay village; so physically walking along the street makes the memories of watching the programme for the first time come flooding back.  My memory doesn’t usually work this way.  It feels different.  So the next day as I awoke, I remained a little tired, owing to the drink the night before.  Nevertheless, I wanted to explore as much as I could of the city. I left the hotel and began walking around. It was slow and as I looked at my watch, I realised I couldn’t really go very far, as I needed to make sure I caught my train back. As I was walking past the Cathedral, I saw a bicycle on the path. If you imagine a magical or biblical moment where there’s a faint glow around the item of desire, that isn’t that far from reality.

With its distinct orange wheels, I instantly recalled reading about this a few days before. The Mobike is a new concept in the bicycle hire market. It is a frequent sight (and so it should be) to see Santander bicycles (or Boris bikes as they are sometimes known) around the capital city. They are now ubiquitous with their docking stations located all over the place. These Mobikes however do not require the bicycle to be docked whatsoever. When finished, it is simply left where ever you want to be left. The guidance is that the bicycle remains in a convenient and public location for someone else to use.

As I stood beside this bicycle in awe, I reached into my pocket, pulled out my phone and downloaded the Mobike app. I linked the app to my mobile and to my debit card and then I was ready. I opened the scanner and placed it in front of the barcode / QR code which was located on the top of the stem. Within about 1 minute and after a few beeps from the bicycle, it was unlocked. I didn’t realise I had to pull open the lock just above the back wheel and therefore repeated the above process.  But then I swung it open, hopped on and got cycling. It was so easy. So quick. So convenient.

I am a fan of exploring somewhere new by bicycle.  The ability to travel far quickly means you can get a good macro view of this new place and then hone in on areas of interest. As I left the hotel earlier on, I wanted to see a lot and because of this bicycle I was doing just that.

I paused for a few moments at areas of interest. I waited in Piccadilly Gardens. As I stood there, a person was looking at me and asked “excuse me, can you tell me about those?”

I told him.

“What a great idea,” he said. “I sometimes finish work early and that will be a great way to get home”.

I thought to myself how great this concept could be. This man had a few extra pounds. Imagine if this short bit of exercise, every day, could change his life.  Imagine the Mobike concept all rolled out across the country.  We are facing an obesity crisis which is due to have enormous costs on the NHS.  If bicycles are plentiful, and with little effort, you can hop on one, cycle around and leave it whenever you require, imagine the possibilities.  Think alone the lines of the Minecraft God mode argument.  Without limits, imagine the creativity and possibility.  It baffles me how people consider themselves stuck to the house if they do not have a personal car.  I do not own a car and I get around the country without a problem.  I want to go to London?  I cycle to the station and get the train.  I want to go up to Manchester?  I do the same.  I want to go to the next nearest town?  I walk to the bus stop.  I want to go 2 miles down the road.  I cycle it.  The opportunities which have been missed because people have said “I can’t because I have no way of getting there” is crazy.  What is this.

I do think this concept could give such an uplift to cycling. Without the hassle of thinking about locking your bicycle up, and therefore not worrying about it being stolen, or without thinking about where the nearest docking station is, the concept changes attitudes.  You can leave it wherever and lock the back wheel. I just imagine waking up, logging on to the app, checking the map, walking to the nearest pin point, cycling to town and doing my shopping. Simple. It encourages and allows cycling to become an extension of walking. Anyone can do it.

You ask, “how would I get home if my bicycle has been taken out by someone else?”  Well, I’d log in to the app, look on the map where a nearest Mobike was and then walk to that.  Or I’d walk, get a taxi or take the bus home. The idea of these bicycles is that they are free flowing and down to the people that use them to decide on their dissemination.

I paid 50p per half an hour. Plus, I paid a one off deposit of £29. Yes, calm down, it is that, a deposit, so it can be requested back if you are not going to use the hire bicycles ever again. But I couldn’t press submit quick enough and I won’t be requesting it back. I just hoped it is rolled out to more places over the country.   I can only wish that one day it comes to Wellingborough!

In an article I published about KitKats, I pointed to the huge cultural differences between the United Kingdom and some countries in the far east. Of course, I recognise that there will be vast variations but the KitKat post goes to illustrate, as I will now point out with Mobikes, how one product can have such a different meaning.  These Mobikes originate in Singapore and over there, they have really taken off.  A lot of people use them and have come to love them.  It is quite quaint at the response over here.  On a lower level, people, especially youngsters have been vandalising these bikes.  The company claim they are “vandalism-proof” with the chain being hidden and the tyres lacking air.  The launch of Mobikes in Manchester was certainly a challenge as numerous attempts were documented of damage and stealing.  Maybe this is why we can’t have nice things.

On a wider level, a competitor of Mobike, the Obike, has been at the scowling end of Wandsworth Borough Council.  A tweet was posted:

The response to these bicycles by the council was horrible as my reply showed:

 

This is innovation. This method of bicycle hiring could revolutionise the simplicity of just hopping on a bicycle. It removes this idea of a possession and encourages you to just hop on any bike and go. Some people may have left the bicycles in inconsiderate locations blocking the pavement but let’s stop for a moment to think about the horrendous number of people who either park fully or partially on the pavement therefore blocking it. A bicycle can be moved if it is in the way. The couple of tonnes of metal cannot.   Sort it out Wandsworth Council. Reach out to the company and organise something. Maybe provide areas to leave the bicycles at places where a lot of them are likely to congregate such as at tube or train stations.

I think the above shows that people do have difficulty understanding what these mean. I may be completing blowing up the potential in my mind and perhaps, within only a couple of years the concept will be forgotten.

Luckily, Manchester City Council have officially adopted Mobikes. They stand a chance!   More councils need to do the same.  In other news there was the announcement of Chris Boardman as the city’s cycling and walking czar, so there is hope yet!

Speak soon,

 

Samuel

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