Spinlister, which has been running a peer-to-peer bikeshare network with privately owned conventional bikes, has teamed up with Dutch bike company VANMOOF, to create a whole new model of bike sharing based on the company's “smart bike” design, which does away with the need for docking stations.

One of the problems with bike share systems is they can be really expensive and time-consuming to set up. Those docking stations take up a lot of room and are often controversial, particularly when they replace a few parking spaces. It's hard to predict demand and supply precisely, so you can arrive somewhere and find there's nowhere to put your bike. It’s a model based on the Paris Velib bike share system, developed almost a decade ago.

So much has changed since then. Most people now have computers in their pockets, GPS chipsets have dropped in price, you can buy a full Raspberry Pi computer for $39. There’s no need to put all the smarts into docking station control with credit card readers and cellular links; It can now be built into every bike and controlled by the smartphone in everybody’s pocket.

Spinlister plans to “usher in the world’s first sustainable bike share model owned by the people, for the people, requiring little to no investment or involvement from private entities or government.” They are expecting people to buy their bikes, which come complete with an integrated bike lock that can talk to your phone via Bluetooth, an onboard computer and GPS tracking, and throw them into the Spinlister rental pool.

cupholder on Spinlister

A place for your coffee and your iPhone (Photo:Spinlister)

It’s a nice ride. James at Bicycle Design describes it as having an aluminum frame, an integrated dashboard in the top tube, dynamo lights and two speeds. There's even a cupholder and a smartphone slot with a USB charger. 

This new decentralized bike-share model will take the traditional system of a central hub or station, and turn it on its head. From a renter’s perspective, they can simply use the Spinlister app to locate a bike, book it, unlock it and ride away. From an owner’s perspective, they’re able to conveniently make money, help people, and participate in the worlds first sustainable bike share model.
There's a lot to love about this idea. With all the electronics in the bike and in the phone, you don’t need those expensive and complex bike docking stations — you just lock up the bike to anything and the next user can find it. It really makes so much sense, is a whole lot cheaper and will take up a whole lot less space. Frankly it makes the whole Citibike/Velib/Bixi type systems instantly obsolete.  
However, I don't believe that having individual owners buy the bikes and rent them out will ever work. There's a lot of behind-the-scenes moving of bikes where they pile up in one location at certain times and are in short supply where they are needed at other times, and staff have to move the bikes around to meet demand. Bikes are going to end up all over the place without the hubs, and somebody is going to have to rescue a lot of them. Maintenance costs are high. That’s why bike share systems need public and sponsor support; they are expensive to run. And if bike shares are going to be considered part of the urban transportation system, they have to be managed as a whole rather than according to the whims of a lot of individual owners. 

But the smart bike on a managed network connecting to a smartphone is the bikeshare model of the immediate future. It's what Car2Go does with its Smart Cars. The cars can be left just about anywhere. It’s even easier with smart bikes. The bike share as we know it is barely getting started in some cities, but I believe that the Smart Bike just killed it. 

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Lloyd Alter ( @lloydalter ) writes about smart (and dumb) tech with a side of design and a dash of boomer angst.