Adelaide Free Bikes
The idea of Free Bikes has an appealing ring to it. Who wouldn’t take a second glance at seeing something they like on offer for free? On a recent visit to Adelaide, without my own bike to ride, I decided to see how this worked.
Adelaide sits on Australia’s southern coastline with a desert to the north and vineyards lining its eastern hills. It is Australia’s fifth most populated city and, like Melbourne, it was settled by Europeans as a colony for free settlers, not as a penal colony like Sydney and Brisbane.
The city rests on the Adelaide Plains beside the River Torrens. Together, the flat terrain and the meandering river, bring easy opportunities for riding. But geography alone won’t make a city good for bike riding. Pathways, bicycle lanes, clear signage and bridges result from organisations – be they government, not-for-profit or corporate – caring about cycling and thinking about how they can create opportunities for people to cycle.
Visiting Adelaide, I was in awe of the integrated network of cycleways throughout the city and beyond. An organisation keenly invested in bringing this together is Bicycle SA, the state’s independent advocate for commuter and recreational cyclists. One of their initiatives is Adelaide Free Bikes, a bike share scheme that gives free access to bicycles.
I’ve written about my experiences with bike share schemes operating in Oslo and Brisbane. Such schemes are growing in popularity as cities attempt to loosen the noose of motor vehicles choking them daily. Each scheme varies in how they function. Both Oslo and Brisbane use a docking system where a fleet of bicycles are ‘docked’ in bike stations throughout the city. In Adelaide, the Free Bikes are typically stationed inside a business, council or tourist building.
These locations house the bikes and, to hire one, you have to provide a valid driver’s licence or passport or Australian proof of age card to an employee at that hire location. After signing paperwork, you can then take a bike and helmet and ride away. You must return the bike that same day during daylight hours to the same hire location and before they close their doors. This is where the system requires a little planning. I found the need to return to the same location more restrictive than a docking system. Also, my selection of a hire location was complicated by each having different days and hours of operation.
I like the idea of Adelaide Free Bikes but the bikes I saw and rode needed maintenance to run well (and a good clean). I also found the helmets provided were very tired. The scheme has been running since 2005. As a famous economist once said, ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’. Someone has to pay for this free service and I wonder if charging a small fee would help ensure the equipment on offer stays in good condition. But then maybe I’m just particular about having clean, smooth running bikes and other people wouldn’t be bothered by these things. After all, I did see quite a few people riding the share bikes.
Whatever the case, it’s clear that Adelaide Free Bikes is playing a positive part in a broader and impressive bicycle strategy for this wonderful city.
[This is the first in a series of stories from my visit to Adelaide.]