Bike-sharing brings some relief to urban commuters
Lim Siew May 
It’s important to adhere to safety aspects like wearing a helmet and bright-coloured clothing, as well as preparing essentials like clean work clothes, towel and toiletries

Even with the light rail transit (LRT) and mass rapid transit (MRT) systems in the Klang Valley, short-distance connectivity remains one of the pet peeves of public transport commuters. However, the situation may soon change with stationless bicycle-sharing platforms, which allow you to book or return a bicycle at any public bicycle parking bays via an application downloaded to your smartphone.

Theoretically, the benefits of riding a shared-bike are difficult to dismiss. Commuters can enjoy minimal transportation cost and flexibility to mix and match different modes of transportation. They also help to reduce air pollution while exercising and staying healthy.

For short-distance travel, nothing is faster, less expensive and more convenient than a smart bike, says Sanjey

Mobike Malaysia Sdn Bhd country manager Sanjey Chandran says the company has built a business model that integrates sustainable bicycle-sharing solution with existing transport networks. “Our ideal customers are those looking for a high-quality solution to fulfil their first- and last-mile journeys, or to expand their self-powered range of mobility in a convenient and eco-friendly way,” he says. Mobike launched its service in Shah Alam, Selangor in September and Cyberjaya in October.

Elaine Chan, marketing manager of another bicycle-sharing platform, oBike Malaysia Sdn Bhd, concurs. She believes oBike’s ideal customers are those who need and want to take short-distance travel. Most of its customers are daily commuters and students who rely on public transportation or ride-hailing services, she says. Since its April launch, oBike has signed up 300,000 users who have downloaded its app and created individual accounts.

The key benefit of bike-sharing is flexibility in switching mode of transportation, says Chan

Can bike-sharing solution providers solve our first- and last-mile transportation woes? Are their services more economical than, say, taking a bus or using the services of ride-hailing companies like Uber or Grab, which often offer great promotional fares?

According to Sanjey, although bike-sharing and ride-hailing companies compete for commuters’ attention, it is not a fair comparison, saying both operate differently.

Besides providing users with a convenient mode of transportation, bike-sharing service relieves congestion and reduces pollution. This is something which Sanjey feels no other common mode of transport can offer, particularly cars and buses. For short-distance travel, nothing is faster, less expensive and more convenient than a smart bike, says Sanjey.

Affordability is one of the key features of a bike-sharing system. Chan points out that oBike recently adjusted its ride fare to suit customers’ need and usage, particularly those who use its service daily. She says it now costs only RM0.50 for every 30 minutes of oBike ride, compared with RM1 for every 15 minutes previously. Commuters pay a deposit of just RM39 to use the service. A 30-minute ride, she adds, can easily get you up to 3-5km.

For Mobike, most of its riders go for short trips of 2-3km, says Sanjey. It charges RM1.50 for a 30-minute ride plus a RM9 deposit.

It is interesting to note that the fare for a 30-minute ride charged by both platforms varies depending on a user’s conduct. A new user gets 100 credit points on registration and pays the most competitive fare. Both companies use a carrot-and-stick credit point system to encourage proper usage of their services. Careless and irresponsible users will have their credit points deducted, while well-behaved ones get extra points.


Longer-distance ride a possibility

Although bike-sharing is likely to attract commuters travelling short distances, industry players say users can also go for longer journeys. Chan says oBike’s charges are based on usage, so its users can ride for as long and as far as they want.

Sanjey adds that Mobike’s smart bikes are comfortable to ride, even over long distances. “Our smart bikes are our most valuable asset, and we have invested a lot in research and development to ensure they are built to last and provide great user experience,” he says.

Since its April launch, oBike has signed up 300,000 users

Flexibility to switch transportation mode

Chan and Sanjey say renting a bicycle has other distinctive advantages over owning one.

Besides not having to pay to own a bike and other economic reasons, Chan says bike-sharing customers also enjoy convenience and peace of mind. There are also no maintenance costs involved and lower risk of losing one’s bike to theft. Most importantly, users enjoy the flexibility of switching transportation mode, she adds.

“If the weather is bad and cycling is not ideal, people can easily park our bicycles at any of our designated parking zones, and switch to the next alternative mode of transport such as a bus, train, taxi or ride-hailing service.

“On the other hand, if you’re using your own bicycle, you need to wait for the rain to stop, or find a safe place to park your bike, before you can get to your next destination,” she explains.

Sanjey concurs. “Our dockless bike-sharing platform provides bicycles on demand, eliminating the hassle of bicycle ownership, storage, maintenance and concerns over theft,” he says.

Mobike’s value proposition, he adds, greatly exceeds the convenience and accessibility offered by traditional bicycle ownership. “For example, you can ride Mobike to the grocery store, and then take a car or bus home with your bags of purchases,” he explains.

Safety first

One of the key concerns of city cycling is safety as roads in Malaysian cities are generally not cyclist-friendly.

How can the situation be improved to make city cycling experience more sustainable and a safer mode of transportation?

For one, investing in the right safety items, such as helmets, is a must. Based on FocusM’s observation, bike-sharing companies do not provide safety helmets. A quick check on e-commerce platform Lazada shows that a helmet can cost anywhere between RM20 and RM140, depending on quality and make.

Elaine Chan, marketing manager of bicycle-sharing platform oBike Malaysia Sdn Bhd, encourages cyclists to use their own helmets. They should also plan their cycling routes to minimise on-the-road risks.

She says there is also a cycling map on Facebook created by a group of volunteers. The group, known as Cycling Kuala Lumpur, Bicycle Map project, compiled the routes via surveys and feedback. It aims to make Kuala Lumpur a cycle-able city for everyone.

The map, she adds, lists different types of cycling routes with destinations and remarks which are useful for users when planning their rides.


Improvements to be anticipated

Industry players believe things can only get better. Chan says oBike is working closely with local authorities, including town councils, on ways to improve the cycling environment.

“This involves our data sharing, which would be very beneficial for cycling infrastructure planning,” she says. “Data based on actual usage collected from oBike users can help identify the where’s and what’s for better cycling infrastructure planning, such as potential routes for cycling lanes.”

Likewise, Mobike is also very careful in choosing the right cities to roll out its service. “As I understand, Kuala Lumpur is committed to introducing dedicated and segregated bike lanes, which is a great start to transforming cityscapes. Data from our artificial intelligence (AI) platform can assist city officials in planning bike routes by providing suggestions on where to place such routes to help complement and optimise existing transport infrastructure,” he says.

Some safety tips offered by Mobike are pointers that most cyclists are familiar with. “We encourage users to observe their surroundings and plan suitable routes for their journeys, to always be observant, and give way to pedestrians and other vehicles,” says Mobike Malaysia Sdn Bhd country manager Sanjey Chandran .

Mobike, he adds, has over 200 million registered users, supporting more than 30 million rides daily worldwide.

“In Malaysia, we find there is strong demand for bike-sharing services. We know this because we have a global positioning system (GPS) and AI-driven technology to track and understand bike usage patterns in Shah Alam and Cyberjaya. We have plans to roll out the service in more cities.” 

Cyclist: Why I ride 50km daily

At least twice a week, Alan Oh, senior manager of consumer insights – client service at The Nielsen Company (M) Sdn Bhd, cycles from his home in Kota Kemuning, Shah Alam to his workplace in Section 14, Petaling Jaya in Selangor.

He only drives his Kelisa to work if he has early-morning meetings with clients.

“If I have an early morning meeting, say, at 8.30am, I need to start cycling at 7am, which can be quite dark. Safety comes into consideration, so I wouldn’t be cycling too early in the morning. The same happens if it rains before I cycle to work,” he explains.


Key motivation

Oh enjoys cycling and is proud to be able to exercise at the same time. Based on his sports watch readings, he burns about 1,200 calories daily on his 50km roundtrip.

Oh’s primary motivation is to gear up for an Ironman triathlon next year. The race is an intense sporting event that requires one to swim 3.86km, ride a bicycle over 180.25km and complete a 42.2km marathon, all in 17 hours. “My end goal is important, but I have also incorporated this into my lifestyle. This has become a habit. If I don’t cycle, something is amiss – I feel empty,” he explains.

Oh estimates his disciplined lifestyle saves him at least RM200 monthly. “I easily save RM20-25 per day on petrol, toll and car maintenance when I cycle to work. If you compute daily parking fare of, say, RM5 to RM10 daily, that’s another cost I save, which can add up to a lot.”

“You can even cancel your monthly gym membership – that’s another cost saving. However, I still pay RM160 a month for my gym membership as I want to access its facilities. Also, the membership allows me to exercise when I am unable to cycle to work due to the weather,” he says.

Another intangible benefit is work efficiency and productivity. “I try not to cycle when the sun is down for safety reasons,” he says. “I leave the office at 6:30pm, and by the time I reach home, it would be 8pm. It forces me to be more efficient at work. Otherwise, I will reach home very late.”


Planning is crucial

The day before he cycles, Oh ensures he packs a set of work clothes, towel, wet wipes, toiletries like sanitary gel and deodorant, as well as a spare tube for his bicycle. He also makes logistics considerations, and avoids bringing home his laptop if he plans to cycle to work the next day. 

He believes route planning is important. “This is against the norm, but as a cyclist, I always take routes that are notorious for their heavy traffic. In jam-prone areas, cars will be forced to slow down, making it safer for cyclists,” he explains.

He frequently uses routes like Jalan Kewajipan, Kesas junction, the Damansara-Puchong (LDP) highway, Federal Highway and Amcorp Mall in Petaling Jaya. Another reason for maximising his route time on the Federal and Kesas Highways is to enable him to share the motorbike lanes with motorcyclists, whom he observes are often surprisingly accommodative.

Oh also checks the weather forecasts dutifully. “If I plan to ride the next day, I check the morning weather. I don’t care even if it rains in the evening as long as there’s no thunderstorm. Cycling in the rain improves performance and endurance. If there is a thunderstorm while cycling, I stop at a petrol station or bike lane for a while,” he says.

Safety is a crucial aspect of cycling. Oh encourages would-be cyclists to invest in a helmet. “A helmet is a must. You can buy a decent one at RM200 – there’s no need to spend a lot on it,” he says.

It is also important to ensure your front and back lights are functional, and wear bright-coloured clothing to be more visible to drivers and motorcyclists. Oh also carries a ziplock bag to keep his gadgets dry in case it rains.


Everyone can cycle

Oh says cycling is a suitable sport for everyone. “If you want to get fit, cycling is a good starting point. It has low impact on your joints. It is also an enjoyable experience to be outdoor and feel the breeze. You feel this excitement of going downhill at a high speed of 30-40km per hour,” he enthuses.

For those trying to cut commuting costs and change their sedentary lifestyle by cycling, Oh suggests taking baby steps for a start, as investing in a bike and accessories involves a small upfront capital.

“You can try a shared-bicycle first, or borrow a road or mountain bike from a friend. Try it once or twice to see if you like it. Once you are prepared to commit, invest in a proper road bike, which can cost RM1,000 to RM30,000. For daily commute, buying a RM5,000 bicycle is more than enough. You don’t want the risk of losing an expensive bicycle too,” he says.

Oh protects his two wheelers by locking and parking it at a designated area at his workplace. He also removes the front wheel and keeps it under his desk.

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 260.