Ofo Around Cambridge*

Sunday, 13 August 2017

When living in Winchester, cycling was a feature of my daily life. Living at the top of a hill, I could get down to work in roughly three minutes (getting back up with another matter), and if you excuse the times I managed to practically embed the pedals into my shins, or the time I rolled over the bonnet of a car (think Laurel and Hardy, not James Bond), it was something I thoroughly enjoyed and truly miss.

Move on a couple of years and my daily commute is in a car between London and Hertfordshire. This literally makes me part of the problem, I know that. If more people cycled, the world would probably be a far better, healthier, and a more unnecessarily lycra-clad place. It's worth looking toward cities like Cambridge, Copenhagen, and Amsterdam for inspiration here. Hell, even London is getting better... gradually. All of this meant that I jumped at the chance to head over to Cambridge and cycle around for the day with Ofo, the new bike sharing platform to hit the city. Ofo wants to get more people cycling, but also understands the issues that cities face with an excess of bikes. Bike sharing can reduce the ratio of bikes to people, whist getting more people riding. That's no bad thing for the world and all that preachy stuff.

Boris bikes are great, to an extent; the limitations of finding a docking station hinder the freedom they can provide, so what if this was a thing of the past? Ofo doesn't use docking stations, instead they use a clever mechanism that I first came across in Copenhagen: There is a locking system attached to the rear wheel, meaning you can take them anywhere and lock them up anywhere. Not only that, but the process to unlocking them (through the Ofo app on your phone) is easy, and gives off a surprisingly satisfying noise when it clicks open.

Being honest, I chose an awful day to cycle around Cambridge. After our first train was cancelled, my brother (Richard - The Glass Passport) and I arrived in the city as a thunderstorm hit. We found shelter (and coffee), proceeded to check the weather every five minutes, and created a loose game plan for the day. When the storm subsided, we set off to find the bikes. The app made that part relatively easy, although we did have to walk around a bit as we missed the two that were near the station. Once we found two bikes and set off, the storm hit again. We cycled into the centre to find that it was one of the busiest tourist days, and to discover that bike bells are NOT a universal language. We also found that our bright yellow Ofo bikes attracted some recognition, and photographs, from a lot of Chinese tourists, due to their presence (and origin) in Beijing.

Eventually, the weather turned to our favour. My Rains coat quickly became the source of sweat, rather than the barrier from rain. Fortunately, I had planned for this.

Overall, the bikes rode well. They are single speed so they adjust to what you need, meaning you don't have to worry about gears, and the seats are comfortable. The only issue we found was that both of us being 6ft2 or taller, the seats don't really go as high as we would have liked. However, we do understand that we are in the minority there, and we were using these bikes for hours, rather than the average 20 to 30 minutes they're intended for.

Like with any addition to a well-established infrastructure, there were concerns about Ofo from the people/council of Cambridge before they set up. The worry was that the concept would lead to easy bike theft etc, however all the bikes have the locking system and GPS tracking. When Richard and I met up with some friends in Cambridge, they all brainstormed multiple ideas as to how they could potentially remove the locking system and GPS, after realising that all plans would either fail or not be worth the effort, they went back to their beers. I personally don't consider it to be an issue, I'm no bike thief, but if I were, I'm thinking it'd be a lot easier and safer to steal a pedestrian bike than one with GPS. Just putting that out there.


 (Photos taken by Richard Tilney-Bassett of The Glass Passport)

sponsored this trip and post, but as always, all views are completely honest.