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.

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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