What is UberBIKE? Your Guide To Understanding The Service

I don’t know if you remember this story from a few weeks ago, but in China, thousands of shareable “dockless” bikes have piled up all over the country as the concept of shared “dockless” biking has come crashing to a halt.  We hope UberBIKE doesn’t end up like this!

Dockless Bike Graveyard!  Tens of thousands of abandoned dockless bikes dumped in a large lot in Shanghai, China

A year ago, in China, dozens of bike sharing companies sprung up and quickly flooded the streets of many Chinese cities with millions of brightly colored rental bikes.  It’s like every entrepreneur in China had the same idea at the same time.

But unlike bike sharing services that already exist in many cities, like New York, London and Paris, the Chinese bike rentals had one odd characteristic in common.  They were dockless.  Which means they had no dock at which to park!

Up until now, the cities that have offered shared bike rental programs place bike racks at hundreds of locations around the city.  When you want to rent a bike, you have to go find a rack, and rent your bike from there.  When you reach your location on the other end of town, you have to find another rack and “dock” the bike in it.

The racks are fitted with a computerized control system so they know when you’ve returned your bike and you are automatically checked out and charged based on the amount of time you used the bike.

However, in the Chinese model, there were no docks or bike racks.  People were allowed to leave the bikes pretty much anywhere.

It sounds crazy, right?  How could these companies keep track of their bikes if it didn’t matter where people dropped them off?  Well, I guess in the end they couldn’t and that’s why just about all of them have gone out of business, leaving millions of abandoned bikes in their wake.

Why is Uber Getting into This Business?

Recently Uber announced it has purchased Jump, a bike share company based in San Francisco with operations there and in Washington, DC.  It will presumably create a new service from Jump that will be called UberBIKE.

TechCrunch has reported that the sale could exceed $100 million, according to the LA Times.

In a blog post, Uber Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi said, “We’re committed to bringing together multiple modes of transportation within the Uber app — so that you can choose the fastest or most affordable way to get where you’re going, whether that’s in an Uber, on a bike, on the subway, or more.”

Uber has already “launched a pilot program to integrate Jump services into the Uber app in San Francisco”, the LA Times reported.

Uber says the purpose is to “offer multiple modes of transportation within the Uber app, to give users options to fast and affordable transportation and make it easier to live without owning a car.”

UberBIKE is Really About Taking Over the World!

Ah ha!  So, that’s it!  They want to make it easier for people to live without owning a car.  And why would they be so interested in making it easier for people to live without cars?  Because in America, private automobile ownership is their greatest competition.

Forget about taxis, forget about Lyft.  It’s really private cars that Uber is up against.  For all the people who drive their cars to work, that’s millions of lost dollars to Uber – every single day.  The more of those people Uber can get out of their cars and onto the Uber platform, the bigger and more powerful Uber will become.

So, whether its cars, bikes or flying cars, they don’t care.  They are literally grabbing onto anything and everything that moves.

In central cities, biking is definitely a decent way to get around, so it makes sense if they want to really capture all of a city’s transportation needs, to add bikes to the mix.

How Will UberBIKE Work?

Good question!  We can’t say for sure, because it is all bound to change a lot in the near future.  But we can tell you how Jump Bikes works now.

Apparently though, not all the answers are real clear at this point.  For instance, if you can leave the bike anywhere when you finish your ride, how do they get charged up?  Oh, did I mention these are electric bikes?  Well, yes they are, and they’re getting rave reviews from riders for ease of pedaling and getting up and down hills.  Not to mention the speed of up to 20 mph, which is about twice as fast as most people go on flat surfaces with non-electric bikes.

But the question about how they will get charged has actually not been satisfactorily answered.  Nor, has it been satisfactorily answered, how users will be able to find bikes that are strewn all over the community.

In fact, these are two of the biggest complaints.  Riders have experienced bikes that have lost their charge and they’ve had problems at times, finding a bike.

The way this is supposed to work, is you open the bike app, which will show you all bikes located near you.  You can pick one and reserve it.  Your reservation only lasts for 15 minutes, so be ready to go when you do reserve it.

What Could Go Wrong?

When you get to the bike you type in a code and it releases the lock.  There is a U lock on all Jump bikes and it has to be removed before the bike can be ridden.  When you get to where you’re going, you simply find a pole that you can hook the U lock around and lock the bike back up.  Once it’s locked, your trip is finished and all time charges are stopped.

Oh, and you don’t always have to reserve a bike either.  You might just stumble upon one as you walk along and if you do – you can just take it.  Do a quick swipe or two on the app, and the bike is yours!

But what’s to prevent somebody from taking the bike home, wheeling it into their back yard or garage and simply inserting the lock back into place?  As it turns out, nothing!  Well, nothing except the terms of service.  But if you choose not to honor those terms, there is nothing to physically stop you from doing this.

And that’s exactly what some people have done.  You can see why they’d be tempted to.  It means the bike will be sitting right there, ready for you to go the next morning.  You won’t have to look around for a bike or stress over whether or not one will be available.  The only downside might be people who find your bike on the app, traipsing into your back yard or poking around your garage trying to find it!

How Will UberBIKE Affect Uber Drivers?

Obviously, anything that gets people out of Uber cars and into something else, isn’t going to be good for drivers.  If UberBIKE really takes off, drivers could be put pretty much out of business in the central downtown areas of the largest cities – on nice-weather days.

That is after all where biking makes the most sense.  The distances to be travelled are relatively short, and the car traffic is terrible.  So often times you can get where you’re going faster by bike than by car.

The good news is, these short central city trips are the ones drivers detest the most.  So, maybe there will be fewer of those and more of the longer more desirable kind of trips.  But of course, fewer trips of any kind, short or long, means more drivers sitting idle, hoping for a ping.

UberBIKE is probably not going to be hitting a suburb near you anytime soon, so anywhere outside the center city will remain unchanged.

Is UberBIKE a Disaster in the Making?

UberBIKE could well end up as a disaster.  They’re really going to have to figure out the problems associated with dockless bikes.  The main problem is that while they know where their bikes are, via GPS signal, the bikes will end up all over the place.

Since the bikes don’t have to be locked into an official location, but are rather left anywhere the rider decides to leave them, it’s just a big disorganized mess.  And I would predict that that is going to cause big headaches for Uber.  It’s not a hard prediction to make since we do have some history to go on, like the experience in China.

In China, the main problem was that there was no mandatory location for the bikes to be locked up at.  People could and did leave them anywhere and everywhere.  They left them in locations where no one else would find them for years.

The companies then had to put tens of thousands of bikes on the streets just so people could find one when they needed it.  They literally had to blanket the cities with them so one could always be found.  Because there was no centralized location, people would pick one up in one place one day and an entirely different place the next day.  They never knew where or when one would be available.

It’s understandable though, in fact necessary, that these companies find a way around the centralized location / bike rack model.  Because there is no way any city is going to approve bike racks for dozens of different companies!  There’s simply not enough space to allow for that.

But the system they’ve come up with so far, really just doesn’t seem workable.  People can just throw the bike down on the ground if they wish.  And they have done it.  Not only in China, but in San Francisco and DC as well.  These companies could get and most likely will get eaten alive in “spoiled” inventory.

And with no centralized location there is no way these companies can make sure every bike is re-charged every day.  What are they going to do – send teams of “chargers” around in vehicles, looking for the bikes?

Lyft Says, ‘Me Too!  Me Too!’

Yes, of course, Lyft has gotten into the bike sharing action as well.  They are currently in talks with bike share company Motivate.  Motivate actually operates a “docked” bike sharing system.  In fact, they operate the nation’s largest bike sharing system in New York City.  So, they may end up taking a totally different tact.  If so, it’ll be interesting to see which one comes out on top!

One of Motivate’s bike racks in New York City

Over to You

What do you think of the new on-demand bike rental model? Have you used it? Do you live in a city where bikes and electric scooters are crowding the sidewalks? Let us know by dropping a comment below!