oBike, Where Art Thou

What does the oBike say about us?

Our city and inner suburb streets seem awash with oBikes. The concept sounds very progressive and timely, being the acceptance of the shared economy and concepts like active travel. Even the inclusion of a helmet with the bikes seems very thoughtful and convenient, learning the lessons that hamstrung the Melbourne Bike Share and our helmet laws.

To take advantage of the “idle capacity” of a bike when you need to get from point a to point b and not have to worry about taking it back to a station or having any duty of care for the bike sounds very convenient.

Too convenient it seems. One in every dozen or so I see seem to have already suffered vandalism (a completely unscientific estimation to which I will gladly correct if someone has data!). The vandalism ranges from the minor annoyance of busting off the mud guards, to twisting seats the wrong way, right through to full bending of the wheels and tossing into rivers.


But what is the consequence of the user damaging the oBike? How would the company or any concerned party (council, police, oBike service rep) be able to prove who did said damage? Doubtful the last person to ride the bike would dispose of it in the Yarra, for fear of losing their $69 deposit.

One wonders if these were designed for a market in which such behaviour is less prevalent? Our vandals may be purely opportunistic, drunk, otherwise undesirable characters that would just as soon trash a wheelie bin but now have a fully portable, unaccountable, unloved item to throw about.

If there is nobody there to secure it, nobody that seems to value it- why should people care about the conditions to which they are left?

Even those that have signed up to the scheme, the deposit is a modest amount for a user compared to buying a bike and all of its accessories- buy yet a valuable amount in aggregate for the company. As covered in this ABC article (, the oBike scheme could be a wonderful loss-leader in disguise but a valuable market data harvest and interest capture venture.

So the signed-up oBike rider gets their infrequent use of the bike, doubtless in an ever degrading condition across fleet of bikes, that which you would not want to ride very fast I would suggest (just in case!).

The company gets a range of highly disposable looking bikes out into the market to collect some customer data to sell to advertisers and a lump of cash to run away with when they decide that the cost of sustaining the maintenance and retrieval of bikes becomes too labour intensive.

I hope I am wrong, but the sight of these trashed and carelessly thrown about bikes around town is a sad reminder of how little people value things, that an object of freedom is now a care-free disposable item.

The price of a ride is $1.99 for 30 minutes. The time taken for someone in China or Taiwan to make the bike, the environmental cost of that material being made, discarded into the Yarra, pulled out, taken back to base to rebuild or recycle… probable makes the venture look really flippant and short sighted. But only if you factor in the whole of life cycle cost of the product, to which we generally don’t- to the future distain of our descendents.

The fact that when you are done you really can leave it anywhere you like, be that around a blind corner on the street, an alley way, in bike parking that owner-riders use, means that they are inviting people to disrespect them. The app/service encourages you to do the right thing… But really?? Where unregulated, many people just don’t.

The oBike feels like a good idea, with a society just not ready for it, or a system unable to deal with the concept. It is “someone else’s problem” that the bikes are broken, discarded, rusting in our lakes and rivers… an attitude that needs to change.


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