As I lurk around the backstreets of Manchester, I begin to think that this may be taking my daily commute a bit far. Unsuspecting passers-by probably think I’m either geocaching, hunting Pokémon or am just slightly weird. Whilst it could be any if these, today I’m a “MoBiker” a brave new city cyclist, staring intently at the map on my phone seeking out any nearby GPS-equipped MoBikes.
So what exactly is a MoBike? They’re Manchester’s answer to the Boris Bike – an easy way of hiring a bike to get you easily around the city. After downloading the app, paying a refundable deposit and loading up your account with some credit, you’re ready to go bike-hunting. Simply take a look at the map, spot your closest MoBike, find it, scan the barcode and it’s yours for 50p for every 30 minutes that you use it. The bikes are certainly easy to spot with their Trump-esque orange wheels and their ability to be right in your face when you’re not looking for one.
A sight you may never see when you really need a MoBike
The scheme sounds perfect, but in practice it can be a different story. Whilst MoBike encourage you to park them in sensible locations, the reality is you can leave them anywhere. Whilst this can be very convenient, it can also be very frustrating. Yesterday, as I glided into Manchester Piccadilly on the train I immediately started scouring the app to find my closest bike. None at the station entrance, which isn’t a great start, but just a couple of hundred metres away there’s one by Canal Street so I reserve it and head over. As I arrive there is no reassuring bike gleaming back at me. Nothing. Looking closer at the app, it actually looks like it’s IN the canal. I glance at the water and imagine the GPS tracker silently blinking in the murky depths. I resume my search….
On another occasion I head over to an area bordering Moss Side and the bike location appears to be inside a rather suspicious looking car garage. Looking as tough as possible I strut past and glance inside but there’s no MoBike to be seen. This is either an elaborate ploy to snare an unsuspecting MoBiker, or the bike is long gone and sold for scrap. It’s not all bad though, as a few times I’ve emerged from Piccadilly, scanned a bike right outside and am quickly on my way. As the students and workers south of Manchester embrace the cycling culture – it almost a pleasure to pootle along Oxford Road’s segregated cycle lanes – it’s not as much fun in the heart of the city as you play a game of pedestrian / traffic dodging. Knowing they’re not for pavement riding but feeling quite vulnerable on the city streets, a more cycle friendly city centre would be amazing.
The MoBike is a brilliant idea as it’s simple, affordable transport at everyone’s fingertips. However, they’re open for abuse and many have been vandalised, or just been left in awkward, difficult to spot, places (like the bottom of a canal). Having tried to use them to regularly commute from Piccadilly to Oxford Road it’s been a mixed experience, but the potential lack of immediate availability when you need one, and the missing bikes, makes it a pretty unreliable form of transport for the regular commuter. I need to know that the vast majority of the time I’ll be able to pick one up from our major train station, but that just isn’t the case – unfortunately it’s quite often been NoBike rather than MoBike.