So far this is just an idea.  Indeed it is a dream that I had last night complemented with some dosage of reality added a few minutes as I woke up.  So the whole concept is very fresh on this Sunday morning.  I call it the Fon bikes and I call the Fon bicycles the Bikera (rhymes with Fonera).  This is inspired on Fon, the company I started in which people share WiFi at home buying a router called the Fonera and roam the world for free and at close to 3 million hotspots it is by far the larges WiFi network in the world.

The Fon Bikes would be a project to implement in small cities first.  Say the city of Lerida in Spain, or Geneva in Switzerland or the smaller cities of Japan which is Fon’s fastest growing country with over 100K new foneros getting Fon WiFi routers called Foneras every month.  In another way Fon Bikes is a project similar to Velolib in Paris but simpler and better.

The idea is that Fon would go to one of those towns and buy 1000 bicycles.  The bikes would be orange, the color of Fon, each one would have a unique identifier engraved in it and a simple lock mechanism that operates with a SIM card. Something like this bike that sells for only 99 pounds or this one which sells for the equivalent of 45 euros.  So say for only €50,000 you could place 1000 bright orange bikes around a town.  The unknown at this point is the SIM enabled lock.  Let’s assume that we get it for €20. So for another €20,000 we get say Geneva to have 1000 bikes with those locks. 1000 BIKERAS 🙂

And then the fun starts.  You tell everyone that they can use those bikes by making a payment with their smartphones of say 1 euro a ride, or they can buy a bike themselves for 70 euros and never pay again, all bikes are for free to those who donate a bike.  Moreover you tell them as we tell in Fon that if they do buy a bike for 70 euros that they can amortize it with the first 70 rentals as Fon will give them the euro it collects per rental and that after that Fon keeps half of the rental fee for building the network and system, and the person another half.  This means that you can enter the Fon Bike network, never pay again and make money with your bikera for only an initial €70 investment.

Now an obvious question is why would not just people pay €70 euros and get a bike for themselves and never be part of the system.  Many answers come to mind.  One is that by mass buying one model we can give people use of a better bike for less.  Onother one is that many times it is inconvenient to own a bike.  When you own a bike you cannot do one way trips.  If you go to work during the day you have to return at night in your bike.  If it starts raining you can’t switch to public transportation.  This system is an ideal solution for one way trips, and then there’s the speed at which you dispose of the bike anywhere.  In the Velolib system in Paris one of the biggest problems is to find one of those bike stations and if you don’t find one quickly they start charging you a lot of money for having the bike.  Here there is no disposal of the bike problem.  Lastly it is much better to be able to leave the bike in the street all the time.  Many bike owners have to make room in small apartments for their bikes, carry them up the stairs, etc.

Anyway, as I said I just woke up.  Dreamt this idea which is not a great start. And questions come to mind, like who will service the bikes or what if people just vandalize them or steal them.  But even if they steal them they would have to dispose of them somewhere, and then somebody else would “steal” them without knowing.  Because they would be public property in a way.

So instead of Fon’s “share a little wifi at home and roam the world for free” it would be “share your bike and any bike will be yours when you need it”.  I know these projects sound like anarchist cooperativism of the 1920s but what makes them less utopic is that Fon is the largest WiFi network in the world.  That Fon grows a T Mobile every month in terms of WiFi.  It makes you think if there other ways to make people fitter, healthier, alleviate pollution and reduce private cars in circulation.

Added a bit later:  two commentators have argued that if we have SIMs, we have a lock, we need electricity, why not also power a 3G to Wifi converter, charge it with a dinamo as we pedal and those bikes are also Foneras. Love this brainstormings!

Another commentator added that these bikes are also ad space, if they became say the Starbucks Bikes or something like that Starbucks may want to invest the initial money to get a city going.

And another idea that occured to me is that the homeless or unemployed could be trained on simple bike repairs and compensated for oiling the bikes, adjusting brakes, etc.  Probably they would not have gears.

Now I have to see who can make a SIM based locked managed with Smartphones or a SIM based lock Fonera 3G to WiFi.

I should add that I am a cycling fanatic ever since I was a bike messenger when studying at NYU.  And that right now…I am going biking in the Sierra outside of Madrid.

Ok, back from cycling I see somebody points a similar idea from a start up called SoBi.  I lived in NYC for 18 years and think NYC is the wrong town for something like this.  Also $500 per bike is totally out of budget.  I am thinking more like $50 bikes that nobody will want to steal because there will be so many of them that it will be worthless to steal them.  I am thinking very simple SIM based locks that could cost $20 that nobody would want to steal either.  But most of all I am thinking of places where people are educated and honest without being policed.  Places like Japan, Scandinavia, Germany, Holland, Denmark.  Interestingly in India, the country with the most poor people in the world vandalism is rare.  Vandalism is not about poverty, is about culture. The guys at SoBi, who look like a great group btw, have to spend $500 so people don’t steal a $50 bike.  I don’t want the bikeras to be locked.  I want there to be so many of them in a town that they just don’t have scarcity value.

In general I don’t see this system as a good one for USA.  People are too far apart from each other to cycle, NYC is an exception not a rule.  I also don’t see it for my native Argentina because of a general lack of civic culture, and not for my Spain where I live either except maybe in smaller cities like Zaragoza for the same reasons.

I like the idea of the commentator who says that bikes can save themselves all the electronics, that it’s the users who have the electronics.  So if the bike simply has a lock with a combination and it has a unique identifier the person emails/sms bike identifier and gets combination.  The locks can be changed around occasionally.

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Juan Miguel Venturello on November 21, 2010  · 

Who maintains the bikes? If no public subsidy and I don’t expect the Fon cut to be enough. Unlike Fon where this is easily done by user or their telco.

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Juan Miguel Venturello on November 21, 2010  · 

Ps, my excuse, just read your previous to last paragraph where you mention theft. And, you know of course of systems like Bicing, very successful, but also take substantial effort to keep properly running.

Anyway, as always, visionary ideas! Enjoy the Sunday!

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Martin Varsavsky on November 21, 2010  · 

That is true in Spain. Unfortunately people are less civic minded in Spain.

xabi on November 21, 2010  · 

hi martin, I’ve never been a fan of bikes, never used them, but if your project takes off I would invest on ‘bikeras’ 😉

anyway, I wanted to share another project that might give you some ideas: this is more like renting cars in a new way, but for sure that it will give you ideas on how do develop the ‘bikeras’ project.

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Martin Varsavsky on November 21, 2010  · 

Interested Xabi, that would turn you into a Bikera SuperBill as we call the people in Fon who invest in Foneras to make money off them (Bill from Bill Gates as you know)

David on November 21, 2010  · 

Please, Lerida -> Lleida

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Corcuman on November 21, 2010  · 

What about add wifi to the bikera? I mean a Mifi or something like that with a rechargeable battery. Imagine a battery that could be charged by the electric power generated by a dynamo

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Martin Varsavsky on November 21, 2010  · 

Great idea Corcuman, if the bikes are all over and if they have a router inside their tubes that can be charged when you pedal there would be wifi everywhere and you would kill to birds with one stone. But now we have two engineering challenges, one is to come up with a SIM enabled lock and the other to come up with a fonera that is charged via a dinamo. Still they maybe related because if you need a SIM you have the beginning of 3G to WiFi conversion and if you have an electric powered lock you need electricity.

Szymon Niemczura on November 21, 2010  · 


The Fonera/Bikera business/social model is very resource-wise and has a lot of potential in solving difficult problems. As I am not sure if this models works with bikes, cars, airplanes etc, I would run an experiment. Maybe partnering up with a city mayor will be a good idea to start and share costs and risk of the project.

Good luck and thanks for sharing ideas worth spreading! 🙂

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Martin Varsavsky on November 21, 2010  · 

Yes, if we ever did this we should try it out in a small city in cooperation with the town authorities.

Jaime de Aquino on November 21, 2010  · 

Hola Martin,

En Sevilla, tenemos un sistema que se llama Sevici, es muy parecido al de París, y también existe en Dublín que es donde resido actualmente, todas ellas las son de JCDecaux, y no sé en las demás ciudades, pero en Sevilla han tenido que aumentar la cuota anual, debido a la gran cantidad de dinero que invierten en las bicicletas diariamente, ya sea por vandalismo, pinchazos, etc.

Existen hasta aplicaciones para iPhone, para saber dónde la estación más cercana, cuantas bicicletas tiene o cuantos huecos para soltar la tuya.

El problema es, que todas las manianas puedes ver operarios reparando bicicletas, aunque no recuerdo bien cuanto costaba a Sevilla cada bicicleta, creo recordar que rondaban los 1,000€.

La idea es buena, pero el punto débil que le veo es el tema del mantenimiento.

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Martin Varsavsky on November 21, 2010  · 

El problema es Sevilla no el mantenimiento. Y los que me conocen saben que soy un enamorado de Sevilla. Pero te aseguro que pones este sistema en un pueblo de Dinamarca o de Alemania y el problema no sería el vandalismo. Por algo tenemos muchísimo más Fon afuera de España que en España y somos una empresa española. El 98% de las foneras, creadas en España que hay por el mundo están afuera de España.

Pedro Custodio on November 21, 2010  · 

Its a great idea, and if the idea catchs up one could even think about creating a moving mesh network together with all the foneras spread around. Bikes + Foneras = mesh 🙂

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Jaime de Aquino on November 21, 2010  · 

Martin, conozco muy bien mi ciudad, y se a lo que te refieres, por supuesto, pero de todas formas, una bicicleta que se usa todos los días por varias personas, pinchará cada dos semanas, se le saldrá la cadena otras tantas, las luces dejarán de funcionar en algunas ocasiones, me sigue preocupando el tema del mantenimiento, por supuesto.

En Dublín, que es donde vivo ahora, no ofrecen servicio nocturno, a partir de una hora, creo que de las 23, ya no puedes alquilar tu bici.

Aunque antes de venir aquí pensaba que las gente era mas civilizada que en Espania, en Dublín existe el vandalismo, y me atrevería a decir que hay más que en Sevilla, que ya es difícil.

Martin, es una pena, como todo o casi todo lo que se hace en Espania, luego no se valora allí, no se que porcentaje de trabajadores en IT, formados en Espania, trabajamos en otros países y por supuesto, somos mucho más valorados y mucho mejor pagados que allí.

Volviendo al tema del mantenimiento, si existen puntos donde llevar la bici y arreglarla, si el que descubre la bici rota tiene que pagar, mucha gente buscaría cualquier bici en buen estado y pasarían el problema para el siguiente usuario. Se podría hacer una especie de tarifa plana mensual de “arreglos menores” en centros concertados…

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manolo on November 21, 2010  · 

I encourage you Martin to first approach Mr Gallardón and turn Madrid into a real bike city. To start a really eco-friendly movement Madrid, why not? Why not an educ-ar for ecology in Spain?

It is unbelievable the overcapacity for cars, huge scalextrics, highways, bridges and massive infrastructures to estimulate car use when with this amazing weather we could be bicycling everywhere!!

After that I am ready to talk about any fon-minded initiatives.

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Nico on November 21, 2010  · 

Deberiamos subirse al proyecto una compania de medicina privada o de consumo masivo (pero que promueva el buen vivir en sentido amplio, vg:Coca Cola) Estando full-time en via publica 1000 unidades serian un atractivo espacio de publicidad. Y si a cambio de la exposicion se hacen cargo del mantenimiento? Yo diria que mas de una petrolera con problemas de imagen estaria interesada en participar. Keep pushing!!!

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Ignasi on November 21, 2010  · 

Hi Martin,

In some German cities they have the “Call a bike” hire system, run by Deutsche Bahn. You find a locked bike in the street and call the service to identify yourself and get the code to unlock the bike. Then you type the code onto a bike’s touchsecreen. To return the bike, you lock it and call again to give the streetnames of the crossroad where you leave the bike. They charge you by usage and get a bill at the end of the month.

Call a bike

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Axel on November 21, 2010  · 

If you’re looking for a mobile phone based system, the German “Deutsche Bahn” has a bike rental system based on unlock codes send by SMS/smartphone apps ( It’s one of the oldest bike rental systems created about 10 years ago by a startup in Munich.

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Christoph on November 21, 2010  · 

Hi Martin!

I really like your Idea, as i am a big fan of bikes myself. I would add the following to the concept.

To avoid people locking up their bikes somewhere, so that no one exept themselves could use them, each “bill” would get 50% of the price, the person who is using any bike after them, pays.

So everyone who has donated a bike, and becomes a bill, will always be interested in placing the bike propperly, not ruining it, so that “their” (the bike they just used) is very likly to be picked up soon.

Greetings from vienna,


PS: If this works…. why not scaling it up to eco friendly (maybe electric) cars?

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Pensamientos Neoliberales on November 21, 2010  · 

A very good idea Martin. Apart from the “maintenance” issue, another thing to sort out: one of the things I used to see with “Velolib” when I was living in Paris, is that the bikes tend to accumulate in the same places. In Paris there is the need to redistribute the bikes again from the “attractive” points to the other Velolib points.
Maybe not an issue in a small town (like Lérida), but a problem for bigger cities like Madrid.

It would be great to see this idea become a reality…


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Javier Arias González on November 21, 2010  · 

I love the idea, still I think the challenge would be the cost of the maintenance of the bikes.

For the SIM enabled lock have a look at this site

A cuidarse
Javier Arias González

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Sebastian Delmont on November 21, 2010  · 

Martin… has oido de SoBi?

Estan implementando el hardware para hacer mas o menos lo que tu describes con cualquier tipo de bicicleta, y dicen estar a punto de ponerlo a funcionar en NYC.

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Martin Varsavsky on November 21, 2010  · 

No, will check it out.

Alexander Ainslie (@AAinslie) on November 21, 2010  · 

It is worth thinking about carbon credits as part of the revenue model. Bikera could qualify as a carbon offset project. The credits could be sold of to a major cement company for example (1 ton of carbon is produced to manufacture 1 ton of cement). The company buying the credits could also advertise on the bikes (as is done in the UK w/ Barclay City Bikes). BTW, happy to hook you up with CEMEX’s Zambrano family whenever you are ready.

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Martin Varsavsky on November 21, 2010  · 

Interesting, carbon credits, had not tought about them in this context. Thanks Alexander. This whole thing is a blog based brainstorm on an idea I had this morning but it is amazing all the angles that there can be to it. I guess there are more bike enterprises than what I thought but none so far with the concept of Fon, that is that people by the bikes and build the network.

Friedrich on November 21, 2010  · 

Mr. Varsavsky,

if you ever think about doing this in Berlin, I´d love to join the team. Seriously, great idea.

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Javier (i) on November 21, 2010  · 

I am not living in Barcelona, but I know that in Barcelona you can have bike-sharing for almost free. I don’t know how it works, but you can see some lockers in the streets. I think it works like supermarket trolleys. You put one euro in and you can get it back when you lock the bycicle again.

Somebody told me that they have to carry the bycicles every night to the higher zones of the city, because riders use them to go down, and come back by public transport. So you should implement the Bikera in flat cities.

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Daniel Garcia-Losada (@ikoof) on November 21, 2010  · 

Mixing what commentators have said and my own ideas – you get this:
Maintenance: decathlon flat rate. The will have interns doing the job so even the rate is flat and reduced they are making money and training bike technicians they could even hire in the near future. Plan b: Also volunteers will repair for credit to use bikes. they repair so they don´t pay.
Sim based lock: forget about it, just have users receive an sms with the combination for that specific bike´s lock (cheap, regular lock btw) as a reply after the user sends payment over sms.
Payment over sms: consists of an sms containing the bike´s serial number or license plate sent to a premium number.
Alternative names: wificleta (es), wifibike (en), bikera
Power Supply: sun, pedal
Social: a)Point of interest (POI) developed for gps devices (like fon does)
b) iphone, backberry, android app
3G to wifi: definitely a must! Be careful though that an alien will be disconnected as the mifi runs out of power. I would rent a bike and head to a beach, or public plaza where aliens could rent wifi. Meaning that some people with no transportation needs could rent bikeras to make money just like people owning fon-mifies could do.
Advertising ideas:
We could rent space on the bikes like rolling billboards
What if the bikes had baskets for free newspapers?
Since they have foneras, and foneras can tweet- what dont they tweet their location or even signup on fousquare?

Afterall is not about the bikes but the fon-mifi. Foncars, and the walking fonspots are the next step imho.

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Alex Bryszkowski on November 22, 2010  · 

La idea de esta bien,

pero creo que el elemento sim+gps+lock deberia de estar integrado con la mecanica de la bicicleta.

El gps solucionaría parte del vandalismo, al poder saber en cada momento donde se encuentra la bici.

Solamente se debería de poder desbloquear la bici, si previamente se ha autentificado el bikero.

Ademas, se podria aplicar nuevas funcionalidades de caracter social con este sistema, posibilidades hacer check-in , conexión con facebook, historial de recorridos, etc..

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antoin O Lachtnain on November 24, 2010  · 

There is a lot of theoretical and practical research done on this stuff. You do need to position the bikes strategically and move them strategically. Maintenance is also an issue, because the bikes get used so much. Quality of the bikes is an issue too, which is why you end up needing quite expensive bikes.

I see where you are coming at with a pretty informal scheme compared to the current schemes you see in operation. Would work best in a fairly spread out city without a single strong centre.

Here’s what I propose. A really great 99$ bike. Bikes are grossly overpriced for what they are. You can get a Nissan Micra off the assembly line for around 5000 dollars. This is an incredible piece of technology, utilising the latest materials with thousands of moving parts and loads of electronics.

Yet a bike using modern materials, with around 20 or 30 moving parts and simple construction costs around $1000 and up.

A really great 99$ bike would make a big difference.

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steven on November 27, 2010  · 

Greenpoint, Started in 1992 in Netherlands as well:
mobile telephony didn’t exist yet as we have now…

at certain points there would be a sticker (like the fonsticker) where people could use their “grashopper” phone to connect (like a dect phone) to be called/call…
in the end even a sort of semaphone system existed that would text you that someone wanted to call you… so you had to go to the nearest grashopper hotspot to make your call…

just like FON had in 2005 to create public wifi hotspots… most people still tell us that thesame history repeated itself and people now have mobile internet everywhere due to 3G…

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