What’s small, cute, black and yellow, and can be found in KL using your smartphone? Yeah… No. Not Pikachu…
We’ve been seeing a lot of those newfangled bike sharing services around in Malaysia… with names like oBike, Mobike, and Ofo. Sometimes people just leave them lying around in groups of one or two lonely bikes, far far away from their original home. But do you know of their true potential?
*Super saiyan sound*
Yep, you read the title right. One of these bikes actually helped someone finish a triathlon.
In an unexpected chain of events, Lachie Kerin—a 22-year-old triathlete from Australia, saw the benefits of bike-sharing services when his professional racing bike suddenly went kaput during the 90km cycling portion of the Challenge Iskandar Puteri Triathlon in Johor.
Just as he was entering the 60th km mark, the handlebars and fork (that whole steering and front wheel bit) of his bike snapped apart like a piece of papadom. But instead of quitting like many athletes would at that point, he recognised some yellow oBikes on the side of the road and decided to hop on. He finally managed to finish the race at 108th place overall.
*cue thug music and sunglasses*
Lachie said that the bike-sharing service “saved his day”. He had recognised them because they were the same as the ones in Australia, where bike-sharing had been a thing since 2010. An unexpected ending to an unexpected situation, but props to the way he handled it!
The first ever bike-sharing system in Malaysia began in Penang
Penang, being an ex-British colony, have been putting bicycles in use for over a century. The British manufactured and exported bicycles, under names which may still be recognisable today such as Raleigh. Bicycle racing was first introduced by British soldiers in Malaya around 1938, which lead to the first bike racing clubs in Selangor.
Now in modern day Penang, motor cars have mostly replaced bicycles on the road. In 2015, there were a total of 2,556,735 registered vehicles in the state. Penang only has an area of about 1,048 sq. km., which makes that about 2,439 vehicles for each square kilometre of land!
Combined with the fact that many roads in Penang are narrow, commuting by car has become a hellish experience for many Penangite drivers:
“You don’t even get to drive, you just sit in traffic half the time.” – Natashya, Cilisos intern and Penangite
“Driving in Penang scared me.” – Anonymous 34-year-old American national in an interview with The Sun Daily
One of the proposed solutions for this problem was to implement a bike-share system similar to the ones in use in international cities like Taipei, Melbourne, New York, and London. The Penang State Gov first backed its interest with RM9.2 million in cold-hard cash, and after multiple delays the system was finally implemented in December 2016. This bike-share system, the first in Malaysia, was called Linkbike.
Since then, three more bike sharing services have entered Malaysia, starting with oBike in the Klang Valley, and then their Chinese competitors ofo and Mobike in Malacca and Shah Alam respectively. In the meantime, Linkbike is bolstering their position in Penang by issuing a new payment card for its 8,583 riders, while oBike is claiming they have more than 20,000 riders in their community.
Bike-sharing does a whole lot more than reduce traffic congestion!
One of the best benefits of bike-sharing is: you don’t have to kill for parking. However (and we can’t stress this enough) you still need to find a proper place to park the bike. Even so, it’s still miles better than driving around looking for a myvi-sized slot. Maybe double-parking can be reduced too?
You also save money since the bike is the only thing you pay for— no roadtax, no parking, and no petrol. We even found this cool online calculator where you can calculate the money you save from owning a bike rather than a car. Bikes also saves buckets of space on roads and highways, just look at this illustration:
Overall, there a lot of benefits to bike-sharing that are backed by studies. There’s even a study that shows bike-sharing as a safer alternative to owning a bike, due to bike-share bicycles being more brightly colored (easier to see at night), heavier (cause users to ride at slower speeds), and having a sturdier construction.
Since many Malaysians are at risk of diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension, cycling could be a great way to make us sweat and keep us healthy. It could even reduce all that stress from getting into traffic jams and yelling at Malaysian drivers…
Bike-sharing systems can be good—but people aren’t always responsible
But with all these new bike share companies, there are also new problems. The saying “bad apples spoil the lot” may be especially true when it comes to bike-sharing. In Singapore, there has been reports of users leaving bikes in strange places, like in front of escalators or in the middle of the road. Some have even been found dumped in rivers!
Theft and vandalism are still some of the largest problems facing bike-share systems. One Chinese company went bankrupt after losing 90% of their bikes after only six-and-a-half-months of operations. Authorities in Australia had to pull out 40 obikes out of the same river in Melbourne. In fact, Melbourne vandals seem to have gone to all kinds of creative antics, leaving them on top of portable toilets, in trees, and even… taped to a lamp post.
Causing obstruction was one of the reasons why MBPJ seized 250 oBikes three weeks ago. Yet, MBPJ doesn’t have anything against bikes… In fact they fully supported pilot projects to establish bicycle lanes in Petaling Jaya. This is a huge problem, since the lack of cycling lanes force 18km/h cyclists to go toe-to-toe with 80km/h cars… A recipe for disaster really.
Malaysians want to have nice things, so use but don’t abuse
The fact that there are people who misuse ride-share bikes shows that our society needs more civic-minded people. Just like how our new MRT service was vandalised DAYS after it opened. This is why we can’t have nice things ugaiz…
“We are in support of this idea (bike-sharing) as it is another mode of public transportation and will benefit pedestrians in the city, but it has to be properly regulated.” – Petaling Jaya mayor, Datuk Mohd Azizi Mohd Zain, quoted by The Star Online
Using bike-sharing systems can be really easy and convenient as long as we park our bikes properly, and ride carefully. If you’re planning to cycle on the road to your work/home/school/college, we recommend you learn some of these hand signals made for cyclists. Plus here’s a short refresher course on some basic cycling etiquette for the safety of all road users:
- When making a turn, remember LSM—Look, Signal, Manoeuvre
- Ride in a straight line—don’t swerve or suddenly change direction
- Pass or be passed—don’t hog a lane or tailgate (also called wheelsucking)
- Overtake with care—ring your bell when overtaking another cyclist
- Keep your ears and eyes open—keep your full attention to the road and don’t use your phone
On a final note, Anyway, although the gomen has not officially banned cyclists from entering highways, Kesas has stated that for safety reasons it does not encourage cyclists to use motorcycle lanes.
So ride safe, be civic-minded, and have a safe commute. Pedal to the metal!