What does it take to design an urban bike sharing system for a city like Copenhagen, where the bikes outnumber the inner-city residents? That's the question TreeHugger asked Michael Koucky, who along with LOTS and Green idea Factory of Berlin designed OPENbike, one of the two winning entries in Copenhagen's recent competition to come up with a bike share to be put in place by 2013. In Copenhagen's case, Koucky said, the bike system needs to take full advantage of existing technology such as GPS and RFID, the bikes themselves must be strong and eye-pleasing, and as important, they must offer residents and visitors alike something they might not yet have: cargo capability. Read on for more winning entries and Koucky's take on bike sharing's future.
To give Copenhagen citizens a reason to use what has traditionally been a tourist-oriented bike share system, OPENbike has cargo options. Photo via OPENbike.
"The jury is pleased to express its enthusiasm for the user friendliness of OPENbike...a floating bike share system wherein the bicycle is virtually a system unto itself and the technology is integrated in the bicycle." - Jury report
TreeHugger: Were you surprised to share first prize, beating out 126 other bike share designs? What do you think helped OPENbike come out on top?
Michael Koucky: Very surprised. As late as last Sunday we didn't know anything. I did think we had a strong design and we'd make it to the top 20 percent. I think our strong point is that we designed it specifically to work for the city of Copenhagen. We also wanted to make it as unobtrusive as possible, to make the bikes as "normal" as possible so when you are using it, you are really just another cyclist in the city. It's also quite distinctive in that OPENbike is self-powered via a a hub dynamo, and that's another way each one is a freestanding floating unit without the need to be recharged at a certain place.
Thomas Coulbeaut's myloop bikeshare with its strong visual identity shared first prize with OPENbike. Photo Copenhagen Bike Share Competition.
TreeHugger: What do you think makes OPENbike so "normal"?
Koucky: Well, while there's a lot of new thinking in this system, the technology is proven. We were really pleased when a manufacturer at the awards show confirmed that this is a bike that can actually be produced, and at a reasonable cost. It is feasible. Similar to the way the iPhone is not necessarily better, it's just more fun. This was our goal: to make it fun, easy and a no-brainer to use, and to add a little touch of magic if we could. The instructions for use are on the front rack in graphic language. If you get drunk and walk away, the OPENbike will lock itself. If you can't find your bike in a group of others, just SMS [short message system] the bike and it will flash its lights at you.
COBI bike share, designed by Kaspar Grundahl and Morten Engel, is a more conventional bike share that the jury liked for its "interaction with the existing urban landscape." Photo via Copenhagen Bike Share Competition.
TreeHugger: And the floating aspect. Talk about that.
Koucky: We actually gave that a lot of thought. It's part of our idea that it should be as easy as possible to use the bike. If you are forced to get the bike only at a certain place [a station] that's restricting your movement. Other bike sharing systems use the floating concept. With our system you can easily locate any available bike. The systems knows where the bikes are, though we don't trace them while they are in use.
"The jury finds the entry exciting for several reasons: [it]is not dependent on geographically-fixed locations in the city...it does, however, contain possibilities for establishing outlets where they may be needed - outside of train stations, for example. - Jury report
The COBIS system, from Jacob Kristensen and Malte Agerskov, gained third prize in the Copenhagen Bike Share Competition.
TreeHugger: Will the floating aspect make the system less expensive?
Koucky: I'm not sure it makes it more or less expensive. You can cut down on a lot of hardware [for stations]. I'm not saying it's cheaper - it is far more flexible and less intrusive. Because of the GPS, the system can learn, and lets you see where bikes are accumulating. Where bikes are, where's demand, how do we optimize. Instead of constantly adding new, specialized stations, we'd rather the system track bikes, in order to help expand and improve bike parking in the city in general - that's better for all cyclists.
Cylink, designed by Jung Geun Tak and Shingyun Kang, got a special prize for using a linked shopping-cart design to store the bikes.
TreeHugger: With each OPENbike having electronics embedded in it, doesn't this make the bike more vulnerable to thieves?
Koucky: You can't avoid that people will want to steal things - but the electronics wouldn't be good for any other application. We want the system to work within the context of the city's overall mobility. It should be like the Oyster card, with its contactless card reader, in London. And then there's the GSM, and the battery pack, all integrated. Yeah, it's not cheap electronics, but on the other hand I don't think there will be any second-hand market for this stuff.
We also designed the system to have a second life, so that if the city wants to remove the electronics and use it as a normal bike, that is possible. In fact, the cargo aspects of the bike are designed with second-life markets like Africa in mind. We worried that this might seem a bit patronizing but we worked with the people at BEN and the message was, "Hey, Africa just needs the bikes."
So, all the bikes are built with cargo in mind. With many bike sharing systems - think Paris, Barcelona - the point is to get people out and be seen biking, to be visible. In Copenhagen, it's a completely different situation. Instead, with a bike sharing system, if you want it to be used by people living here, it has to have an extra service. How can the system be useful even for locals? That's the question. The answer is - cargo. Everybody already owns a bike, but what about when you want to move five crates of beer for the next party? We hope to minimize the reasons to have a car in the city at all.
Read more about bike sharing at TreeHugger:
5 Fab Bike Solutions Seen at COP-15
New York Considers Bike Share Program - From the Danes
Short Film on Velib, World's Biggest Bike Share Program