Patrick CollinsonSat 14 Apr 2018 07.00 BST
With Ofo and Mobike expanding rapidly across the UK, how do they compare with the more established Santander Cycles
City dwellers will soon be unable to ignore the flood of dockless hire bikes hitting Britain’s streets, courtesy of two Chinese companies, Ofo and Mobike. Leeds is next in line, with Ofo placing 1,000 bikes in the city next month, Mobike is expanding around Manchester, while in London more and more boroughs are greeting the arrival of the yellow and red cycles.
The concept is simple: you need a smartphone and a credit card. Download the app, load your credit card details, hire a bike for a low fee (usually 50p, but more of that later), then locate it on a map on your phone. Once at the bike, scan the QR code to unlock it and you’re off. At your destination find somewhere sensible to leave it, then lock it – that’s it.
The reality, of course, is a little different – damaged and stolen cycles have littered canals, bins and back gardens, with residents complaining about clogged pathways and commuters angry about pile-ups at stations.
The firms insist that after early setbacks, behaviour is improving and fewer bikes are being lost to vandalism. However, Mobike said last week that it is raising its fee from 50p to 69p for half an hour to encourage people to “treat the bikes respectfully” and park them better.
So are they a cheap and cheerful alternative to cars, buses and taxis? Or an uncomfortable ride? We tested three services and found that Ofo easily beat Mobike for usability, while Santander Cycles is the only option, for now, for riders 1.83m (6ft) or above in height.