Adelaide Free Bikes

Riding Adelaide Free Bikes on Park Lands Trail

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.]

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Available Free Bikes outside a backpacker hostel.

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Freewheeling on one of Adelaide’s many park trails.

14 Comments on “Adelaide Free Bikes

  1. interesting to read this. As you say there needs to be good maintenance or the bikes will get fewer uses. I know a good saddle is important for me. These can get very worn. Looking forward to reading more about Adelaide

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Brenda, the bike share schemes are interesting because they’re all so different in how they’re run. I think they’re a good feature for cities to have. More stories to come 🙂

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  2. Hello Gail I’m pleased to read about the initiatives in Australian cities to keep us all pedalling – very important😊 I’m wary of sharing helmets with a lot of people and yet when travelling a cycle helmet is not necessarily a part of my luggage. I’m thinking a thin cap might do the trick… Jen

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    • 😀 Very apt! I haven’t heard of My White Bicycle before – the song or the movement that inspired it. Perhaps it was the original community bike share..??

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      • It was the original bike share scheme which was the idea of an anarchist group in Amsterdam. They took old bikes, oainted them white and left them around the city for anyone to use. Surprisingly the authorities were very anti and actively opposed the idea. The song was inspired by the scheme. Written and originally released by Tomorrow and later covered by Nazareth

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  3. Hi Gail A bit late coming back to you about Adelaide free bikes Good comments Basically the public has to embrace alternate transport and respect bikes Helmets??? What to say, Do we need them? Can understand that no one will put on a “used by all” Helmet

    The problem with mountains of broken bikes in Sydney was sad to see Sydney is not a perfect place to bike in any case

    Love from me Kxxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Kirsten, yes the Europeans do quite well without mandatory helmet laws. But they do have better bikeways than us too – more often separated from cars.

      I’m glad you mentioned the Sydney situation. I haven’t yet written about the ‘dockless’ style of bike share scheme which has been introduced this year into both Melbourne and Sydney. It has its own set of problems. This is the type that our Gold Coast Mayor has announced will be implemented here. If Sydney is any guide, the Gold Coast canals will end up as watery graves for many share bikes.

      Nonetheless, I remain a big fan of the community bike share schemes. It’s all in the design though and I think the perfect one is yet to be found. xx Gail

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    • From the few I’ve experienced, I like the ‘docked’ systems best. In fairness to Adelaide’s bike share though, it has been running since 2005, so I suspect it’s working well enough to serve its purpose. As for the new ‘dockless’ schemes that Sydney and Melbourne have recently introduced, I’m not so sure they’ll be popular over the longer term without some tweaking.

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