Words and photos by Craig Willis
Last year, I wrote an article about a new bike hire scheme that arrived in Oxford – Ofo bikes. (Read here) And just like my article, the scheme received both praise and backlash in equal measure. I wrote about my disastrous day using the bike and asked, who are these bike really for?
It seems the biggest complaint was that the bikes could just be left anywhere. I had a few issues with the whole concept and even more after I’d used one.
Well, one year later, I’m back in Oxford for a second round. OFO are still here and are now joined by a vast amount of other companies doing the same thing.
So have ofo ironed out their issues and are they here to stay? Lets find out.
I parked up at the Botley Park and Ride, just on the outskirts of Oxford city centre – just as last year.
Here is an area for bike parking. As you can see, there are no OFO bikes. The main reason for this – just as last year – is that the park and ride is outside of the authorized area, or “geofence” as it is called.
At this point I will say, if you park up a ofo bike outside the geofence you will get fined £10. Which is very clear on the app and is about the only thing that has improved on the whole system.
So I went for a stroll to find the closest one to get into town.
I found this one just outside, just left here. (one of the biggest public issues with the scheme).
Scanned the bar code, click, unlocked. As I started to push off I noticed that the bolt connecting the front fender and basket to the bike had been removed. Probably why it was just left where it was.
So I started walking towards the city centre to find the next one. I spot another after about 10 minutes. Unlock. I notice the issues a bit quicker this time. Front brake cable had been removed and the stand had been snapped off.
By the time I find another OFO bike it’s been 20 minutes and I’m already at the train station. (That bike was also broken, by the way). At this point, I’m done. But weirdly, I don’t see another OFO bike in town.
Lots of other companies are also running rent-a-bike services in town. Pony and Mobike have tons of availability. I still don’t like the whole idea of them, but at least they are there if I wanted to use one – and according to Pony, their “geo-fence” does include the Botley park and ride.
I can see some benefits in these bikes, but I still believe that if you enjoy cycling, you would be better off putting your money towards your own bicycle.
So after a year, it still remains to be seen if these rent-a-bike are here to stay. But if they are anything like OFO then the future doesn’t seem bright.