Unshared Bikes

It would be easy to throw one’s hands up in disappointment at this particular round of mobility hacks, as on the surface, they nominally deprive potential users of the chance to get around by claiming them entirely for themselves with a lock. Their hacks radically boost the convenience/access of a two-wheeled vehicle without the high cost of actually paying for their exclusive (if illegal) “ownership” of it.

Frustrating, for sure. But as someone who looks at design and hacks around the world, the silver lining of these antisocial behaviors is the light it shines on the unmet needs/opportunities for an unoccupied space in current market offerings.

U-locked – Shanghai, China

Been on a recent streak of two-wheeled mobility hacks across China (from Shanghai to Chongqing) . Today’s trio of hacks are all about how enterprising individuals have taken publicly-accessible two-wheeled vehicles out of public circulation, taking control of a public asset for their private use.


The first is a simple-but-clever short-circuiting of a 共享单车 or Shared Bicycle (unfortunately I didn’t capture any shots that let me see which company it came from). This bike has seemingly been privatized for the cost of a u-lock (far less than the ~$200 it takes to produce the average share bike in China). Presumably the person who has fastened the lock around the rear wheel is not the one who’s paying/already paid the bill that allows the bike to remain in its unlocked state.

U-locked – Shanghai, China

I was curious what would happen if I scanned the QR code with the system’s app, but also didn’t want the system to charge me as if I was the one who had initially unlocked it, a costly case of mistaken identity. It would also be just as likely that scanning the QR code would lead to a digital dead-end, considering how many bikeshare companies have folded, sometimes in rather spectacular fashion.

A bolted Bolt – Brooklyn, New York

Across the ocean in Brooklyn, New York, a Bolt scooter is cable-locked to a fence. Bolt’s website is ambiguous about whether Bolt has formally entered New York City, and they also don’t mention the need to physically lock the scooter as a standard means of securing it.

A bolted Bolt – Brooklyn, New York

Instead, they promote its relative ease of access for urban residents in search of a last-mile lift. Unlike the other hacks covered here, this one raises a specific question: how does the new “owner” recharge the scooter’s battery?

Share bike, unshared – Brooklyn, New York

Unlike the two previous examples on opposite sides of the world, this Citibike has been not only physically removed from public access, but also digitally de-identifed and taken it out of circulation; the “owner” has taken the trouble to pry off the plate with the bike’s unique QR code, making it unscannable and unable to be checked out from a dock were it ever returned to one.

(note: there’ve been other QR-code related hijinks involving Citibikes this summer as well, with would-be cyclists unintentionally purchasing a joyride for savvy freeloaders)

Share bike, unshared – Brooklyn, New York

Have you seen any examples of formerly shared mobility assets being taken out of circulation and converted to private use? Do these behaviors point towards an opportunity for a new offering, or just towards the need for a better way of ensuring these vehicles stay truly public and less easily privatized?

A still-public Citibike’s QR code – Brooklyn, New York

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