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Pedaling Forward – Technology and Innovation for Bike Share Sustainability

article by Talia Winokur Elizov

Smart technologies for a smarter bike share

The bike share revolution is in full swing: bike share programs are gaining momentum worldwide, marking a real change in urban mobility and paving the way for cities that are safer, cleaner and healthier. Still, daily operational challenges are threatening the sustainability of bike share schemes. At SoftWheel, we’re collaborating with private operators and municipalities around the world to keep cycling programs and the “cycling culture” going strong through innovation and technology.

Operators and cities are all too familiar with the major challenges facing bike share programs today: extremely high operating costs, non-existent or poor cycling infrastructure, riding safety, low numbers of users, bike theft, and a failure to attract occasional or less-experienced riders in addition to regular ones.

The good news is that innovative technology is helping to keep bike share wheels turning – literally. In Europe, where bike sharing has seen a tremendous rise and bike fleets are set to more than double in size by 2025, operators and municipalities can turn to several game-changing solutions to ensure the long-term viability of their bike share schemes:

Stronger (and smarter) wheels

One major obstacle that bike share operators must contend with is the exceptionally high maintenance costs of bike fleets. In a recent market study conducted by SoftWheel, we found that across major capital cities every bike in their scheme undergoes repairs at least twice a month. Couple that with the personnel, transportation and material costs, and an average bike replacement cost of over 1000€ per bike and you realize the hefty sums operators are shelling out to keep their bike share schemes rolling!

Per the ITDP Bike Share Planning Guide, annual maintenance for the Paris Vélib scheme is about $1000 per bike yearly, adding up to $18 Million per year. Depending on the bike share scheme, wheel-related maintenance can range between 50%-90% of the overall maintenance.

Unfortunately, many a bike share program has had to be discontinued due to these costs. A recent example is Seattle’s Pronto! bike share program. Pronto! suffered from insufficient funds as a result of substantial maintenance costs and low ridership due to poor planning. After failing to secure a corporate sponsorship or other funding, the city decided earlier this year to pull the plug on the program.

What if there was a way to protect bikes, wheels and tires over time so that maintenance costs would be lower?

At SoftWheel, we realized that an important component of protecting bikes (and riders) is reducing the amount of shocks and vibrations during the ride and providing the most durable rims on the market. These measures, combined with equipping bicycles with airless tires, dramatically reduce the need for repairs.

How does this work? Since the base of any bike – its wheels – impact its entire frame, we developed a supreme, 360-degree shock absorption system located inside the bike wheel. The wheel remains rigid and stable on flat terrain and its internal suspension kicks in once encountering a bumpy obstacle on the road (cobblestones, curbs, pot holes etc.). Through this technological innovation, we are able to protect both wheels and frames on any terrain.

Adaptive suspension

Wheels equipped with smart adaptive suspension can also alleviate another challenge plaguing bike share programs: low ridership. Contributing to this problem is an often-uncomfortable riding experience resulting from bumpy or uneven surfaces in some cities and their surrounding areas.

One blogger talking about the failure of Seattle’s bike share program writes,

“No one’s going to pay for an all-day bike pass if your bikes don’t go everywhere they’re trying to go.” Generally speaking, bike share programs have done little in the way of adapting bicycles to different topographies and infrastructures, making these bikes a less attractive option for non-savvy riders who need to bike over rough or unpredictable terrain.

What if bike share operators could improve the riding experience so that more people would want to use their bikes? SoftWheel’s adaptive suspension system was designed to do just that, maximizing riding comfort and safety across a range of surfaces. As mentioned above, our suspension system automatically switches between maintaining rigidity and providing cushioning across even the bumpiest of terrain. This ensures a smoother, more stable riding experience that is enjoyable for all levels of cyclists.

E-bikes

Electric bikes have been on the market for quite some time, but only recently have bike share programs begun to offer them. The benefits are numerous. E-bikes can boost ridership by enabling people to get to their destinations faster in extreme weather conditions or rough topographies. E-bikes also serve as an attractive option for less-experienced riders who want to bike but are concerned about the effort required. In terms of bike share infrastructure, e-bikes make it easier for riders to reach more distant docking stations (requiring less docking stations overall). For e-bike operators, SoftWheel offers the added advantage of protecting bike motors, in addition to all other components.

E-bikes also help minimize theft, another major concern of bike share operators. Advanced tracking systems exist today which can be integrated into e-bikes to automatically lock their motors when the bikes are stolen or taken out of a specific zone of operation (geo-fencing). Once the motors are disabled the e-bikes become unusable, making them less attractive to thieves.

As far as theft is concerned, SoftWheel also offers an advantage for manual bike fleets. One anti-theft measure that can be taken to safeguard fleets is to integrate specialized parts or technologies into the bikes, such as advanced lights, touchscreen displays, or SoftWheel’s own 3-suspension-arms wheels. These parts are very hard to separate from bikes and are difficult to sell as they cannot be easily installed on other bikes.

Final note: A tech revolution for a transportation revolution

Cities are constantly craving new, innovative ways to improve urban transportation. If we really want to advance biking and bike share programs as a viable, long-term transportation method inside cities and as part of a wider public transportation grid, we must adopt new technologies to tackle existing challenges – and SoftWheel is excited to lead the way with a technology that is, quite literally, reinventing the wheel.

 

*this article was reprinted with the permission of the European Cyclists Federation as part of its Smart Cycling Series.

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