Cycling in Sydney Australia
Hot on the heels of ReddyGo and Obike (click here for my in-depth review of those two schemes) three more bikeshare companies have arrived in Sydney. And, of course, your intrepid correspondent has tried out all of them for your enjoyment and education.
First up, Earthbike. These black and orange bikes have been appearing a lot around Olympic Park, although I have’t seen many of them elsewhere. So I downloaded the app and tried one out. Or rather, I tried to. You see, the app is completely non-functional. It’s horribly translated from Chinese (with occasional Chinese prompts and messages flashing up, and a weird thing where it refers to bikes as ‘cars’) and riddled with bugs (e.g. you end up having to use your phone number as your password, because of the way the sign-up form is designed). The map does not show any bikes on it, despite the fact I was standing next to three of them.
And ultimately doesn’t allow you to actually unlock a bike, as when you activate the camera to scan the code it gives an error – and there’s no way to type in the bike number either, as the scan screen closes after the error. It’s completely hopeless. And I’m not the only one with problems; it has universally one-star reviews on Google Play, with everyone complaining that it just doesn’t work at all. I did see someone riding one of these bikes the other day, so evidently it is possible – perhaps the iOS app is somewhat more functional. But I’m sorry, dear readers, I was unable to even try this scheme out – which puts it firmly at the bottom of the list in terms of quality. How on earthbike these people are going to make any money I can’t imagine.
In better news, both Ofo and Mobike are much more polished, and work pretty much as you’d expect. Ofo was the easier to sign up to – much like ReddyGo you can initially scan and use a bike without needing to enter payment details and so on, which is great when you start. Mobike you need to immediately enter a credit card, which is a little bit painful (no PayPal?), but isn’t a showstopper. Overall the two apps are OK, but both had problems in showing me my rides – Ofo gave me a ‘data parsing error’ (which later cleared up), whilst none of my rides actually appeared on the Mobike app – possibly a side-effect of the free rides promotion they are running in December, but a bit of a shame as it’s nice to see where you went afterwards. Overall, I’d still give ReddyGo the title for the best app, but Ofo is pretty close.
One thing the Ofo app has which the others don’t seem to is the concept of ‘operational zones’. There’s actually nothing in the app that explains this, but on their website they explain that you should only leave the bike inside the ‘operational zone’ to avoid having points deducted. This could really do with a clearer explanation, I think. I didn’t try riding outside of the zone, so I don’t know if the app warns you or not – I’ll have to try this another time. The operational zone is pretty tight to the centre of Sydney, so it would be easy to go outside of it.
But what about the bikes? Well, the most striking of the two is Mobike. These bikes just look cool, with their monofork wheels and crankshaft drive system. The Mobike drivetrain sort of hums as you ride, which is somewhere between cool and annoying. There are no gears, so you just get one low-ish gear to manage with.
Ofo is a much more conventional design, with a three-speed nexus hub, normal mudguards and a chain drive. The Ofo has roller brakes, but they work fine (so much better than the woeful oBike ones). I have to say though, the Mobike brakes are awesome. It has a disc brake on the back, and some sort of fancy roller brake on the front, and they work really well – smooth, powerful and without grabbing or locking-up.
Both companies seem to have heeded my complaints about how hard it it to adjust the seats on the ReddyGo and oBike, as they have a spring-loaded seatpost that pops up to its highest point when you release the cam, and can be easily pushed down and adjusted. Both worked really well; the cam was easy to turn and held the seat firmly.
Yes yes yes, but what are they like to ride?
Well, the Mobile is horrible. I really really wanted to like it, as the design is so cool, but it’s just a terrible bike. For one thing it’s tiny – feeling even smaller than the oBike. And the most weird thing is the length of the cranks. They are really, really short. I didn’t have a tape measure on me, but they are only one mobile phone long – or about two-thirds of the length of the ones on my regular bike. This means it feels like riding a kids toy – your feet seem to twiddle round, and you can’t get any leverage. Even with the low-ish gearing, this makes riding the Mobile extremely tiring. Just riding along on the flat is hard work. Such a shame, as the design is really eye-catching – I got some admiring(?) looks as I rode along on it.
The Ofo, by comparison, is terrific. The seat gets a bit higher, and it just feels like a normal bike. The airless tyres are less harsh than on the ReddyGo, and it’s also surprisingly lightweight, which makes it easy to pedal. The gears allow you to both tackle the hills and speed along on the flat. It’s the most comfortable bikeshare bike by some margin – and so dethrones the ReddyGo as the best one to ride.
So which one should you sign up for? Well, Ofo has the best bikes, but check the operational zone thing carefully. I live outside the zone, for example, so it’s no good for me to jump on one to ride home from the pub. ReddyGo has reasonable bikes and the best app, so is also definitely a contender. oBike seems to have the most bikes out there – they are the ones you see everywhere, so if you’re looking for convenience, then it’s a good choice although the bikes are hard work. And if you’re a hipster who cares more about how you look than how easy it is to ride, go for Mobike with their trendy design.
Or, like me, sign up for all of them. That way, you can get the best one for the occasion and enjoy maximum flexibility. Now I just need someone to create an aggregation app, which shows the location of all the different types on one map…