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Friday, March 13, 2015

Spinlister Smart Bikes Could Be a Great Alternative to Bikeshares

Posted By on Fri, Mar 13, 2015 at 4:44 PM

click to enlarge spokesman.jpg

“What we're doing is going to revolutionize and disrupt the entire bike share industry/model.” That’s Andrew Batey of Spinlister writing to me and who knows how many other bloggers in an email. Usually, that kind of hyperbole doesn’t really get my attention, but I like Spinlister, I’ve used it, and written about it before, and I was curious to see what they had in the works. Turns out the Airbnb-style bike rental company is hoping to go pedal-to-pedal with city-run bike share programs like Bay Area Bike Share using new smart bikes via a partnership with VanMoof. 

What’s the big problem with bike share systems, particularly the one in the Bay Area? Not enough stations. What if you want to bike to the Richmond? or the Sunset? Or, God forbid, anywhere other than downtown and Mountain View? No such luck. That will change, but right now the bike share system is only useful for a very small part of the population. Spinlister views this "spoke and hub" model, where there are bike renting/parking stations, as "broken and cost-intensive." 

In the past, Spinlister couldn’t offer the kind of grab-and-go convenience that a fully realized bike share program, with extensive station coverage. With Spinlister you have to reserve a bike with the owner, get a response, arrange a pickup, etc. It involves planning. Now Spinlister is borrowing a page from the bikeshare handbook and making it easier for you to rent a bike without pesky inconveniences such as talking to people or planning ahead. The company has partnered VanMoof, a maker of silly-looking bikes, with extraneous tube protrusions, to roll out a fleet of smart bikes with Bluetooth enabled locks.

The new deal with Spinlister will let you search in your area for a bike, reserve it, go pick it up, and then lock it up anywhere you want. The next person can do the same. This reminds me of Car2Go. It’s just smart system that wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago when bikeshare systems were becoming mainstream.

click to enlarge 06_-_computer_unit_from_top.jpg

So will this new VanMoof/Spinlister thing really revolutionize and disrupt the whole bike share industry model? The company has to put a lot of bikes out there, and to do that it has to sell a lot of bikes to people who want to participate in the program. The bikes aren’t owned by the company – they’re owned by users.

The company said in a press release:
“While the users own the bicycles, Spinlister has plans to subsidize and finance the bicycles to allow users to pay the bicycles back through rental revenue over time. This eliminates risk for the listers (bike owners) while creating a profitable revenue stream for them."

It’s not entirely clear what “subsidize and finance” means, but I’m willing to bet there will be a long line for these “revenue streams” when the sign-up link goes live. That FYI, is: 

The first bikes will be stationed in Portland, presumably with plans to expand down here. 

With the financing and subsidy option it’s clear that the Airbnb of bikes is following Uber’s playbook to boost user base and get more bikes on the rental site. Uber, if you didn't know, offers free iPhones and vehicle financing, to get more drivers on the road.

Spinlister - The Global Bike Share: Challenges Traditional and Broken Bike Share Model Through Advanced Technology from Spinlister on Vimeo.

While that might help get more rentable bikes on Spinlister, it doesn't solve all the problems that this system might experience. For example, the “spoke and hub” model of bikeshare, which Spinlister derides, has people working to "rebalance" stations by moving bikes to where there is higher demand. They also employ professional mechanics maintaining and repairing bikes. There's also something handy about being able to go to a station where you know there will be a bike, or you can drop off a bike. These are all disadvantages that the decentralized Spinlister model will have to overcome.

It might be able to. If I can search on the Spinlister app, and find a bike a block or two away, that I can rent by the hour, and park essentially anywhere? I’d love to do that. That could replace many other transportation options – including other bike share systems, longer term bike rental, car services like Uber and Lyft for most trips, and even public transportation.

So bring it on Spinlister – I’m ready for the revolution. 
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About The Author

Leif Haven

Leif Haven

Leif Haven is a writer and cyclist living in the Bay Area. He can be spotted dragging himself up a hill — literally and metaphorically.


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