LimeBike: Next-generation Bicycle Sharing

The bright new "smart" bikes rolling out in U.S. cities adopt a Chinese sharing model.
3 August, 2017
Global cities have turned to bicycles to help reduce carbon emissions for decades, with wildly different adoption rates, particularly in the "car culture" of the United States.
Many large and mid-sized American cities have bike-sharing programs, but they've always been tied to a kiosk and fixed geographical points. It works for some people, but it creates too much of a barrier for others to choose a cleaner commute.

The LimeBike startup hopes to change the game with an app-driven bike sharing program that's getting a tryout from the tech-industry coastal city of Seattle to the modest Midwestern college town of South Bend. Basically, the app creates a "free range" approach to first-come, first-served shared bicycles. Check the app for an available one nearest you, pay by linked credit card, unlock it for your trip and leave it wherever you go when you're done – because all of the logistics are as mobile as the bicycle.
LimeBikes are made by Chinese partner firm Battle-FSD in California, where the successful-so-far company builds them to be climate-friendly in the first place. They feature light but durable all-aluminium frames and wheels, with a front safety light powered by the pedal pusher. The smart lock activated by user app is solar-powered, while the system relies on GPS to keep track of bike locations. The company says they have run-flat tires, and are built to last for three years before replacement.

"We focus particularly on the last mile, connecting mass transit users with their final destinations," explains LimeBike CEO Toby Sun. The technology creates the flexibility that allows users from all walks of life – making their trips on a range of routes – to get the bike they need, where and when they need it.
Image: Techvibes
Cities who work with LimeBike to bring in the vibrant, cheerfully colored bikes get data reports to understand how, where and when the bikes are being used, and better target how they're deployed. If too many bikes are flung too far afield, they're tracked by GPS and returned to the denser urban spaces. There's also a local connection to collect any LimeBikes that need to be out of service and repair them.

The rides are priced to be an affordable option compared with taxis or other fill-in-the-gap options. When a LimeBike ride is over, users just press the back wheel lock and the digital meter stops running. One advantage of the program is its high visibility. It appeals to the experienced bike commuter who's no longer locked in to bike availability that's geographically fixed, at the same time that it's attractive as a "fun ride" for hitting the park or a museum on a date.
The all-aluminium bikes are durable but not mechanically intricate, so there's no intimidating barrier for adults who've never made the switch – or even retired folks looking for an uncomplicated new exercise challenge. That can make a big difference to people who've been curious about stepping away from their car-culture life but were afraid to try. The bicycles all have adjustable seats, but they are designed for adults and not sized to be kid-friendly.

LimeBike has borrowed heavily from Chinese models. There are about a half-million shared bikes on the road in Beijing, where cutting down on vehicle emissions is critical and bike rides are sometimes faster than the crush of traffic anyway. Mobike, Ofo and Bluegogo are just a few of the providers competing within the new business model that moves bike-sharing mainstream and away from kiosk-dependent use.
Banner image: Venturebeat