It was like Christmas morning. Manchester went to sleep as normal, but woke up to find itself with a shiny new bike under the tree. Okay, 1,000 shiny new bikes. One minute there were no Mos, now we are surrounded by them. How Mobike managed to roll this cycle-sharing scheme out so quietly, widely, and efficiently is something only Santa himself could understand.
You’ve probably seen them dotted about by now. The bikes themselves are bright orange, so they’re quite hard to miss. Mobikers usually have a giddy grin on their face, which will stick around until the novelty wears off. They are also usually travelling slower than other cyclists, or, if they are managing to keep up, the rider’s legs will be a blur of frantic pedalling (one very low fixed gear).
It’s astonishing how quickly Mancunians have adopted the scheme. We’ve had a few interesting public transport projects in the last year – water taxis, the second city crossing, and open-top buses, for example – and they’ve all been happily accepted into the fold, but nothing on this scale. Nothing that has made people quite this excited.
On a walk through town last Friday evening, people were using them to get around (don’t drink and ride, kids). We spoke to a few of these Mobikers – “I was going to be late but now I’m on time!” “This is so much cheaper than an Uber!” “Weeeeeeeeee!” – and the response was overwhelmingly positive.
It’s not like cycle-sharing is a new concept. Mobike is already well-established in China and Singapore. Most capital cities have some sort of scheme. We are aware that Boris bikes are a thing in London (are they still called Boris bikes or are we supposed to call them Sadiq cycles now?) but these are BETTER.
You can find your nearest bike on the app and reserve it for 15 minutes while you dash down to get it – you just unlock the bike using the app. The bikes themselves make such a happy, eager chirp when you unlock them, practically screaming “YES! RIDE ME!” They’re much lighter and nippier than the capital’s wheels. You don’t have to hunt out a docking station, which, thanks to sod’s law, are full when you need to drop a bike off and empty when you need to hire one.
You’re supposed to leave the bikes in a Mobike Preferred Location (MPL), but with each one fitted with its own smart lock, Mobike are actually quite happy for you to lock your bike anywhere. Within reason. If you leave it in a daft place – in the middle of a bus lane or behind the secure gates of your apartment block, for example – the Mobike police will dock a few credits from your account. Lose all your credits and you’re not allowed a bike any more. So just don’t be an ass.
Although they are billed as being ‘indestructible’, with puncture-proof tyres and no chain, we did find a small gaggle of pre-teens (we suppose you would label them ‘youths’) in Salford giving a Mobike a thorough kicking. The engineers were perhaps not prepared for the determination of young vandals, whose tiny feet had managed to break the brakes. We gave them a stern talking-to (“THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS”). Apparently only two have ended up in the canal so far. We’ve seen more people than that fall into those murky waters between the hours of 3am and 4am.
Still, we really hope this is the catalyst to encourage Manchester to become more cycle-friendly. The scheme has cost our council nothing at all so far, but should help them to determine where in the city is receiving the most two-wheeled traffic and see to installing proper cycle lanes. A ride down potholed Deansgate is enough to jiggle a well-executed up-do into a dishevelled bird’s nest, not to mention the impact it has on your nether regions.
We hope the Mobikes are here to stay. We’ve already gone to Rapha and bought helmets. It will almost certainly clear up some of the inner-city short-journey congestion, and, more importantly, it’s making Mancunians fall back in love with their city.
Win tickets to a Japanese-inspired supper club
Join Japonisme and The Urban Kitchen for an evening delicious food and talks
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Including breakfast, afternoon tea and cocktails
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To celebrate the release of The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society, in cinemas tomorrow