Biking is a great way to commute. You can save some money on gas and you get a chance to exercise without going to the gym. I sometimes ride my bike to go to my office in Nashville. It’s a 26-km ride in the morning. I need to travel that distance to go back home.
My work responsibilities sometimes takes me to other cities and countries. It’s difficult to keep to routines and habits while traveling. As much as I want to ride my bike in different cities, I can’t bring my bike with me all the time.
That’s where bike-sharing comes in. Several startups have already started competing in this space. There’s B-Cycle in Nashville, Citi-bikes in New York, Bixi in Canada, and oBike from Singapore among others. My wife has tried the B-Cycle in Nashville sometime back and she liked it.
I found myself in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on a business trip last August. I saw a lot of bikes on the city streets under the train stations, near hotels, near malls, on the sidewalks, and near all the touristy areas. The day before I left, I tried riding one of them just to get a feel for how to use it, move around the city in a bike, (and well, so I could write about it on this blog.)
What is oBike
oBike started in Singapore in February 2017 and has since expanded to other countries: Australia, Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand, Germany, South Korea, Austria, the Netherlands, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and Belgium.
oBike is a dockless bicycle sharing system, meaning there is no docking station for its bikes. You don’t need to unlock it an a docking station nor would you need to place it on one after using it.
If you have the app and your data connection and location services open, you can unlock a bike at a designated parking area, use it to move around, and then leave it at another designated parking area. No hassle.
How does it work?
You need to download the App from Google Playstore or Apple’s Appstore. Or head over to https://www.o.bike/ to choose your country and download the app.
Pay a deposit of $49 to use it.
When I signed up for the app in Kuala Lumpur, I had to pay a deposit of $49 to be able to use the app and their bikes. This is probably an insurance that you will be a good user–you won’t steal or damage the bikes in the system.
If you don’t want to use it anymore, you can request for a refund of your deposit. It takes up to 30 days for the refund to be credited to you.
Unlock a bike through the oBike app, then use it.
To properly unlock a bike, make sure that your smartphone’s Bluetooth and GPS location services are both turned on. You should also have an internet or data connection for this to work.
My phone is from the US and I signed up for a fixed price international data plan, which made it easier to use data in Kuala Lumpur.
Each bike has a QR code that you the app will scan to unlock. Once the bike’s electronics has paired with your phone, it will automatically unlock.
Ride it and go!
How much does it cost?
It’s not very expensive! It doesn’t charge you for the distance you travel, but by the time you spend using a bike. The system will charge you MYR1.00 for every 15 minutes. For an hour’s worth of riding a bike, it costs MYR 4.00 or roughly 1 US Dollar! That’s not too bad at all!
What I liked about oBike
The system is easy to use. I didn’t have to worry about placing it at a docking station. I just needed to find a designated parking area near the malls, train stations, and sidewalks. As a tourist in the city, I only needed it for short distances anyway.
The price of using the bikes is really low and would be a great way to travel from a hotel to a nearby train station.
The bikes are also equipped with a hand bell on the right handlebar, which you can warn pedestrians when you’re cruising, or barely pedaling, on the sidewalks.
What I didn’t like
The bikes only come with a single gear. If you cruise on flat roads or downhill, that’s just alright. But you will definitely huff and puff when you decide to go up a hill. And in Kuala Lumpur, they have a lot of hills!
We stayed at Bukit Bintang. Did you know that Bukit is the Malayan word for ‘hill’? So if you intend to use oBike in Kuala Lumpur, particularly in Bukit Bintang, expect hills!
This is not about oBike per se, but about the state of roads and infrastructure in Kuala Lumpur. They don’t have designated bike lanes. So I ended up biking on the sidewalk with the pedestrians. That’s okay because I couldn’t speed up anyway, but it could be an issue if you intend to use oBike to ride along city roads to visit different touristy places.
The locking could be hit or miss. I used an oBike twice. On both occasions, I had to go back to make sure that the bike was locked. So ending a trip is not as straightforward as it should be. Maybe this startup needs to work on some kind of improvement on the ending of a trip.
I liked oBike. It is an inexpensive, easy way to move around Kuala Lumpur. If you have fitness goals related to biking, it could also help you out when you are visiting a country with a similar bike-sharing program. I wish I had used it more.
But prepare to sweat like crazy, though, and not just because of exertion. Malaysia is a tropical country, located near the equator. So it is very humid and hot.
Too bad they don’t have a service in the United States just yet. So I ended up asking for a refund of my deposit.