A curious army of orange and silver bikes have landed in the centre of Manchester over the last few days, presumably dropped there by shady secret ops men in black vans or something. We have entered the age of the Mobike. I’ve been using GPS to watch them as they percolate out from the centre and end up in far flung and inhospitable places, such as Didsbury or Chorlton. Such brave little soldiers.
I signed up yesterday partly because it’s cheap for the month of July, partly because I thought I could be an early adopter, for once, but mostly just because I really like the orange wheels and the little basket on the front which is exactly the right size to put my handbag in. I signed up just over 24 hours ago and I’ve already gone full Mobike-wanker.
After I downloaded the app and paid my deposit, I reserved a bike near my building and went to have a look at it. I wasn’t going to ride the thing, goodness no. I just wanted to check that the saddle could be adjusted low enough for my freakishly short legs to cope with. It could. Just. There was a little blue light on the back which indicated that it had been reserved. You’re my bike now, my little orange-wheeled chum. I felt a bit self-conscious though, standing around staring at a bike that wasn’t mine so I quickly cancelled my reservation and went back to work. I was still a bit unsure and I couldn’t help feeling that riding around on a Mobike might mark me out as some kind of dickhead.
Now, we all know that there’s only one foolproof way of losing that self-conscious dickhead feeling and that’s to drink some alcohol. I went out with friends last night, it was very civilised and we had some nice food. On the bus on the way home I started explaining Mobikes to my friend Dr S. I opened up the app to show her how it worked and we stared in wonder at the number of bikes that had made their way out into the wilds of South Manchester. Then we started spotting them. “There’s one!” said Dr S, “outside Sainsburys!” before declaring that it was like Pokémon Go, only better. And then, lovely reader, I realised that I didn’t need to be on this bus any longer, I could simply jump off, unlock a Mobike and cycle home using my very own legs. The bikes have little lights on the front and back, which I guess work on a combination of dynamo and black magic, so the fact that it was the middle of the night1 was no hindrance. Egged on by Dr S (not exactly egged on, she was concerned about my unprotected head, should I end up in a ditch) I leapt off the bus with an enthusiastic wave.
The first bike I came to wouldn’t unlock for me. I picked the bike up and gave it a shake, just like the app told me to but it still wasn’t working. I hurried away before anyone could call the police. The next bike though, was more cooperative and unlocked with a loud beep, alerting most of Withington to my presence. I adjusted the seat and put my bag in the basket. Then, I pushed it round the back of a shop and into an empty carpark to find my cycling legs. The Mobikes are, necessarily, built like tanks and have a single gear but are surprisingly easy to ride. A little practise, avoiding the pot holes and I was off, hurtling2 down Wilmslow Road, the wind in my hair, liberated, travelling under my own steam and oh my god, why am I sweating so much? The app told me that my journey was 3.7km and burned 170 calories which definitely cancels out one of the beers I drank.
My second Mobike experience, this time in the cold light of day, was this morning after dropping the boy at nursery. It seemed silly not to really and I was so pleased with the whole experience that I cycled all the way to Greggs and bought a sausage sandwich. Then I used one again at lunchtime to cycle to the central library and take back my overdue library books. The trip cost 50p which was substantially less than my library fine. On my library trip, I got my first heckle, when a man shouted “get your own bike” which I thought was quite good considering he’s only had a week to come up with it.
There are some problems of course. The unlockable bike last night, the bike I found today with a broken rear light… also the fixed gear means that Mobikers are going to be more Miss Hubbard and less Bradley Wiggins and despite my little legs going like the clappers, I was overtaken by several streaks of fluorescent lycra on my way into town today. But tootling along a cycle lane seems to work for the Dutch so I’m sure we’ll get over it.
There’s also a feature of the app which means that you can grass up other users who have parked illegally. This is good for you, as it earns more credits for your user rating but very bad for the previous user who will lose credits and have to pay more for each trip. I’m a bit uncomfortable with this although I’m not sure why because clearly I’m more than happy to ride around on a bike which has an integral GPS tracking device…
On my last trip today I started to get that nauseating bum pain which comes from riding a bike for the first time in a while. I know there’s only one way round it and that’s to be strong and power on through. So that’s what I’ll do, tootling along the cycle lanes with my library books in the basket smiling at the curious onlookers who are admiring my orange wheels. I don’t know if the Mobikes will still be around by Christmas. I wonder how many will survive fresher’s week in October? How many will have to be retrieved from trees and how many will be uncovered next time they dredge the ship canal? I like to think that somewhere, a shady secret ops dude is sitting in front of a screen watching a GPS map of all 1,000 bikes and as some scumbag lobs a bike into the Irwell and the signal goes offline, a team swoop in, possibly in a black helicopter to catch the perp. That’s probably not true though.
So anyway, I’m a fan. And the best thing of all, is that I managed to write this whole thing without mentioning Boris Bikes once.
- It was about 9.40, I think. It was well past my bedtime anyway.
- This could be subjective.