The Bikera is my idea for a better bicycle sharing scheme than those that exist nowadays in many cities. It is inspired on Fon the company I founded and run and now the largest WiFi network in the world. A WiFi network offered by the people.

Here’s the plan:

You start in a town that has a bicycle culture and a low crime rate. You “seed” the town with $100 bicycles.  These bicycles, as opposed to all the other bike sharing schemes, have no electronics and no stations, they stand on their own.  They are called bikeras.  The electronics on the bikeras will come from people’s smartphones which in a year will be as all phones are now.   Bikera will also be an app.

You seed the town  with one bicycle per every 200 inhabitants.  When you start you do a blog/FB/twitter PR campaign.  Seeding means that on day one you leave all bikes standing for anyone to take.  One per block.  More where you expect more people. A town of 100,000 people would have 5000 bicycles and cost half a million to get started.  5000 bicycles is a LOT of bicycles, they would be seen everywhere.

You get a corporate sponsor and brand the bikes with this corporation’s colors and logos to help cover the start up costs. Barclays did this in London for example.

All bikes come with a simple combination lock and an engraved license plate or number. All the electronics for the bikera scheme are in smartphones that people take with them.  Not on the bike.  THIS IS CRUCIAL and very different to all bicycle sharing schemes.

Two kinds of people use the system:  bikeros or aliens.  Bikeros are the ones who have contributed $100 to the system and bought a bike to add to the system.  Aliens are anyone else.  Aliens pay $2 per bike ride.  Bikeros ride for free. The incentive to contribute a bike are to be nice but also to save $2 per ride.

In order to ride a bikera you need to open your app in your smartphone and this app will GPS your location to the bikera system.  You wil then enter the engraved number you see on the bike and immediately receive a combination back.  Then you will leave your app on as you move around with the bikera.  The app will track your movements like say Endomondo does when you work out, or Runkeeper. When you are done you will leave the bike, sign off and the system will know where the bike is.  Everyone else who opens the app will find it.

Why is this system better than Velolib in Paris or Deusche Bahn in Germany?

-rides are free for as long as you want, not for half an hour and then pay a fortune.

-you don’t need to find a parking spot for your bike which is the biggest inconvenience for Velolib that forces you to ride from station to station.

-bikes are much cheaper, they don’t have electronics as the Deuscthe Bahn system for example and don’t have costly stations with electronics as in Velolib.

-bikes are so cheap that people will not steal them, what for, there is always another one, still there are now bikes in the market for $100.  Bikera could find suppliers of decent bikes for that amount.

-you can pay students to repair bikes when reported broken by users.  They can find them with the same iPhone, Android, Symbian, Windows, Blackberry app.

-you don’t need a license to start a system like this, or if you do it should be very simple.

-because people buy the bikes you don’t need much capital.

-because towns can self organize and start their own systems, it is self franchising.

-the bikera company’s only income would be the $2 per bike ride from the Aliens or non Bikera contributors.

Follow Martin Varsavsky on Twitter: twitter.com/martinvars

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Nicolas Dumazet on December 13, 2010  · 

Well. As I understand it, the combination is static and does not change for a given bike? What would prevent people from giving the lock combination to someone who hasn’t paid?

It seems to mean as well that I can pay $2 and keep a bike at home for a year, possibly adding my lock on top of the builtin lock to prevent others from taking it :)

Jean-Marc Liotier on December 13, 2010  · 

I like it, but I doubt that it can be deployed with no coordination with the town council : that many bicycles flooding the streets will require a major upgrade in bicycle parking, or they’ll end up getting impounded by the dozen – with bicycle use growing, municipalities are getting intolerant about parking outside of designated emplacements.

Also, don’t underestimate theft and vandalism : stolen Velibs have been spotted as far away as North Africa, more than a third of the fleet has been vandalized and 10% of the whole fleet is repaired every day… Maintainance costs have been a nasty surprise for the Velib operator.

Ralph Angenendt on December 13, 2010  · 

That looks like one of the good points for that system: Get city councils to care for more bicycle parking spaces. I see that here in Munich where they try to get more people to use the bike – but if you are in the pub or shopping areas which are *not* directly in the city center, you find yourself out of bicycle parking spaces rather fast. So anything which makes the city councils react and not only pay lip service to “being bike friendly” is great.

On the other hand: Even mass produced a $100 bike is not something you will find bikeros for, I guess. If you want to get people to put money into a system, you want to get people who ride a lot (otherwise they wouldn’t pay that, *except* if you have that system in many cities). And I don’t know if these people want to ride $100 bikes every day.

Plus: Even if not vandalized, cheap bikes tend to break a lot, especially around the drive train. So either get bikes with no gearshift – which doesn’t work in many cities. Or get bikes with a robust internal gear hub – which makes them more expensive than $100.

I like the idea. But I don’t see how to cut it with bikes for that price.

Pac on December 13, 2010  · 

@Nicolas Dumazet In order to make the combination dynamic you can make the user to change the combination when he leave the bikera. Only one user can have one bike assigned so when he tries to get another bike he can’t until he change the combinaton code and set the old one to the system.

@martin Great idea! I would love to see it in action.

Oleksiy on December 13, 2010  · 

Tiny detail: it’s called “Vélib” in Paris.

Pac on December 13, 2010  · 

Another idea. It could be a global system , since you can get a bike in Paris, return it to the system in Brussels or Amsterdam! :) So if you see a bike lost in somewhere you can return it to the system

manu on December 13, 2010  · 

I’m in with 10 bikes if you start it in Madrid and turn this city into a bike city. No hills, amazing weather, what is the Council waiting for?

antoin O Lachtnain on December 13, 2010  · 

I like the idea of using the smartphone to carry all the electronic intelligence. The other thing you could do is use the camera at the end of the journey as a verification of where the bike was left and the condition the bike was in.

This could work well at a train station in a medium sized town, where you have to bring the bike back to the starting point at the end of the day. You then wouldn’t need to record details of the journey, just worry about sending out the combinations. You could also have a much-simplified system of bikestands, so it would be much cheaper to run than the velib style schemes.

And of course, you would have an incentive to buy a bike of your own if you found you were using the scheme regularly.

I think the regular users would need to contribute enough to replace a bike quite frequently. The problem is that the bikes will depreciate quite quickly if they get much use (a regular bike is designed to be ridden for an hour or two a day for a couple of years before needing major maintenance or repair; if you ride it 5 or 10 hours a day it will only last for a fifth of the time, i.e., less than a year.)

We have not have had much maintenance/theft at all with the Dublin scheme, even though it is traditionally a city where there is a bit of a history of public vandalism.

maximo on December 13, 2010  · 

Martin, the city must be relatively flat not only because of the gears issue, if not -without any distribution logistics of the bikes- they will all end up in the “lowest” parts of the city. In Barcelona I see vans of the Bicing service taking bikes from the lowest neighbourhood to the high ones constantly. People use the bikes downhill to get to work but take the bus to go up or viceversa.
Congrats for the idea and hope it helps!

Jose on December 13, 2010  · 

Martin, I love the idea. I’ve been a couple of times in places looking at these city bikes trying to figure out how to rent one and start using it, and in most occasions I ended up frustrated because the system was very complicated to use and ended up walking instead. So I am looking forward to a “standard” system that works all over the world. And I also like the business model behind, contributing with your own to the community and renting for free (like FON, hehe). Of course, like every idea, some details still need to be worked out further.
Here comes my contribution, for what it may be worth:
Lock-codes and bikes should be detached to facilitate “legal” use while preventing “illegal” use. An idea is to use a smart lock that randoms combinations and somehow connects to the database during the lock/unlock process through the phone.
$100 bikes may seem cheap for an individual, but when bought in large numbers and sponsored I believe you can get decent quality for that money. I’m riding on a bike of less than EUR 200 second-hand for already 9 years in the Netherlands, and I know students riding even cheaper bikes. I believe that keeping maintenance costs low is a key element for the bikera. I’ve spent about EUR 100 during this period and the bike rides smoothly. As a side thought, consider donating your own bike to the system (many people here have two bikes) instead of buying a new one, and focus on the locks.

I will be following your thoughts on it and will be happy to contribute. Feel free to contact me if you found any of my thoughts interesting. Success!! :-)

Violi Lesson on December 16, 2010  · 

This is a nice post. keep it up! hope to read from you guys soon…

Thanks,
violin lesson

t031 on December 22, 2010  · 

ha ha ha, another FON product which will be released unfinished!
Martin, we are quite sick of your products, The fonera 2.0n was a flop, the Simple seems to be simply as bad as the 2.0n.
Please do us all a favor and concentrate your energy on the finishing of the products you’ve sold to us already, promising a lot – delivering little!
Just take a look at the last post on the fonosfera blog, which is dated in October, you may read words like “soon” etc. I’d call it rather eternity.

You are compromising your own idea!

Hadi Kabalan on December 22, 2010  · 

Martin I like idea, but I keep coming back to the theft problem…

How about having the lock be somehow integrated into the gears, so that if someone tries to break the lock, the bike is unusable?

luis-fon on December 23, 2010  · 

@t031 The Fonera SIMPL is a simple but robust router. The inputs regarding its stability and design are great; no wonder so many have been sold/distributed and installed in Asia.
I’m sorry to read your comments above and if you are experiencing difficulties, we would love to help. You can drop me an email at http://scr.im/hdez

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