Smart bikes make for better bikeshare

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Bike fleets are wandering flocks. Any frustrated fleet manager knows this.

In Silicon Valley—where tech employees often use pedal power to move across vast campuses—wayward company bikes are commonplace. Google’s colorful bikes, for instance, have been spotted a state away at Burning Man, the annual arts event in Nevada.

But these little “bike vacations” may soon be a thing of the past thanks to new locking and location technologies that promise to make managing a company bike program much easier.

Smart bike systems include bikes with built-in GPS locking technology, as well as stand-alone devices with GPS or GPS plus locking that turn any bike into a fleet-friendly bike.

With smart bikes, fleet managers can:

  • prevent theft
  • allow employees to automatically check bikes in and out using their smart phones
  • use data to make better planning decisions

LinkedIn is currently testing GPS technology on 50 of its company bikes. Knowing the location of each bike helps LinkedIn’s team corral the fleet at the end of the work day.

“From a security point of view, it’s been fantastic,” says Michael Alba, LinkedIn’s Global Transportation Manager. “The other cool part is the metrics you get on how the smart bikes are being used. It’s fascinating to see how many trips people take, how many miles they travel, when and where they use them—the data’s rich.”

Alba says he was surprised to see so many LinkedIn smart bikes traveling between the Mountain View and Sunnyview campuses—a 4.5 mile one-way trip. He also sees bikes being used on the marsh trails nearby.

In the future, LinkedIn’s bike data may factor into their wellness program and serve as an indicator of employee health.

Recently, Alba determined the total cost of the bike program (which included the bikes themselves, the GPS units, parts, and staff time) and compared it the productivity gained by having a quick way for employees to get around.

“The amount of money saved through efficiency has more or less paid for the bike fleet already,” he says. “These are a net gain for us.”

Four systems to fit your smart bikes fleet needs

  • The whole bike: For organizations that don’t let their bikes roam free, checking bikes in and out to employees tends to mean more manual labor or those bulky docking stations, typical of most city bike shares. But city bike share systems are expensive at more than $5K per bike. Even the most profitable companies want a more affordable solution. The next best thing is bikeshare with GPS locking technology built into the bike and not expensive stations. Social Bicycles, known as SoBi, has proven its capabilities as a more affordable and flexible version of bike share. At approximately $2.5K per bike, it’s not cheap. But it is slick. The bike is purpose-built and rugged enough for high volume fleet use. The GPS and locking technologies are built-in to the bike itself, so users can locate a bike and lock or unlock it anywhere and operators can manage the fleet from a well-designed dashboard. SoBi has a few years under its belt, with proven success in a number of cities, including Phoenix, Orlando and Tampa.
  • Stand alone GPS and locking hardware: So, you like the idea of smart locking technology that uses GPS and smartphones, but you already have a fleet of bikes or want to choose your own bikes? How about a stand-alone device from Berlin-based LOCK8, that turns any bike into a fleet bike?  The hardware is a slick triangular-shaped device that fits securely onto the frame. It’s tamper resistant and, if messed with, will send off an audible alarm as well as notify the user and system operator.  Users can find, reserve, lock/unlock a bike using their phone. And the system operator can manage the fleet with an easy-to-use dashboard. After winning Tech Crunch’s Disrupt Europe competition in 2013, LOCK8 is well on their way with pilots at a few well-known university and corporate campuses in Germany and the U.S. Pricing is not yet published, but at less than $500, it makes high-tech bikeshare even more affordable.
  • Just the lock: Skylock and Bitlock are smart U-locks that can be used on any bike and are activated via smartphone. They rely on the GPS from the user’s phone. The upside: the battery lasts a long time. The downside: when the bike’s not in use, you can’t track it. For corporate fleets, where metrics and the business case are important, this matters. These are very cool locks, but since they’re not permanently attached to the bike, their utility for fleet use is yet-to-be proven. At approximately $150 each, it could be worth the trial.
  • Just the GPS: Wi+MM (BIKE+) is best for bikes that don’t need to be locked, like Facebook’s or LinkedIn’s free-roaming fleets. Sensors on this stand-alone system track everything a bike does—from its position and route to elevation, distance, and speed. It even calculates the amount of CO2 saved from entering the atmosphere when riders opt to bike instead of drive. Helpful for fleet managers who want to get the entire picture and make data-driven decisions about their bikes.

We’ve been designing and deploying private bikeshare systems for years — and each comes with its own headaches. We’re very excited to see this new breed of technology that makes bikeshare more affordable, flexible and possible.

Bikes Make Life Better is currently testing these systems with companies in the Bay Area. Each program is tailored to the type of bike share our partners use — whether they need to keep their bikes from running off; create a bike check-out system that’s completely automated; collect data to determine how best to deploy bikes, or all of the above!

If this interests you, please let us know.


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