'Dockless' refers to the fact that the bikes are not locked to dedicated physical stands (unlike the London and Paris bike sharing schemes) but rather dotted around the city. One scheme has pre-set drop-off points, the others allow users to deposit bikes almost anywhere, within certain guidelines.
To use a bike, download the appropriate app (usually there is a prominent QR code on the bike that you can scan), register, and choose 'unlock'. The app will tell you to point your phone's camera at the QR code on the bike, and it will communicate with the wireless lock to release it. Once you've finished using the bike, return it to a drop-off point, or park it in a sensible place, and choose 'lock' in the app.
All of the apps include a map which shows you the bikes near you, so you can find and strike out for a bicycle with reasonable certainty of it being available for your onward journey when you get to it!
The schemes are largely similar in their offerings - bikes of varying but familiar designs in generally large numbers around the city. You may find that some brands of bikes are more often in the locations you use, but it's probably best to start with a reasonably open mind and install the apps readily. Most of the schemes also offer introductory free rides, so you can get a feel for the bikes and their locations.
The bikes are regularly collected from the more far-flung areas and returned to more central (or at least, more frequently used) locations. You will notice them at the top of Cornmarket, for example.
All of the schemes have a code of conduct (including abiding by the highway code, and parking in the correct places) and a system of points - credits for using bikes, parking bikes in popular locations; debits for damaging bikes, parking bikes in an obstructive manner or losing bikes. Get enough credits and you get free things (rides, mostly), get enough debits and you lose the ability to use the scheme without paying a hefty charge (£100 in most cases).
- Donkey Republic is a scheme operating in Europe and America, originating in Copenhagen - in Oxford they partner with Bainton Bikes. The bikes are black Dutch Gazelles with 7 speed hub gears. They feature weather-proof drum brakes, integrated LED lighting and a rear basket. They are the only hire bikes permitted to use the railway station bike racks, and are also available from local hotels. They launched in June 2016 - the first in the UK.
- £6 per 2 hours, or £12 per day.
- The bike is top-quality and very easy to ride. The wide range of gears means it handles all the terrain of Oxford with ease - even the canal tow-path!
- Mobike is a scheme operating in 8 countries wordwide, originating in Bejing. They launched in Oxford in October, 2017. Their bikes are bright metalic silver with unusual orange wheels. They feature 'puncture-proof' (solid) tyres and a single-speed shaft-drive in place of the traditional chain.
- £1 returnable deposit, then 50p per 30 minutes of riding.
- The bike is smooth to ride, though the riding position with very straight handlebars may take a little getting used to. A new model (the 'Mobike Lite') in on the way which reverts to a more traditional handlebar setup, and replaces the shaft-drive with a chain.
- Obike is a scheme operating in 11 countries worldwide, originating in Singapore. They launced in Oxford in October, 2017. Their bikes are grey with yellow wheels, with a single speed (gear). They have front baskets and LED lights.
- It costs £49 returnable deposit, then 50p per 30 minutes riding.
- The bikes are very sturdy and feel very stable to ride, with an upright riding position that is good for cruising, as well as slow-speed maneuvering.
- A three-speed model is on the way and will be a welcome addition to the range.
- Ofobike is a scheme operating in 20 countries wordwide, originating in Peking. They launched in Oxford in August, 2017. Their bikes are bright yellow with both a single speed (gear) and three speed model available. They have front baskets and LED lights.
- 50p per 30 minutes of riding, with a daily cap (maximum cost) of £5.
- The bikes are a little rattly, but the three-speed model is one the fastest of all the dockless bikes, in our initial testing.
- Pony Bikes operate in two cities - Oxford and Angers, France! Originating right here, in Oxford. Their bikes are bright turquoise, with a single speed (gear) and 'puncture-proof' solid tyres and mobile phone holder. Most of the bikes have LED lights (indicated in the app).
- 50p per 30 minutes of riding.
- The bikes are lightweight and nippy - rivaling, though not quite beating, the three-speed ofoBike. The riding position is comfortable, though the bike felt a little small to our (5'10") test rider.
- The lack of front LED lights on half of the fleet restricts their usage to 4pm (the bikes won't unlock until sunrise) which is worth bearing in mind, if you are planning to use a bike in the evening.
One thing is clear - dockless bike hire schemes are here to stay! And from a very general overview, it would seem that people are learning to use them more effectively, bikes are being parked more sensibly, and the operators are responding to the challenges presented by this very new form of public/private transport.