The weird world of the Ofo dockless bikes

It was on the 10th March that I encountered a lone yellow Ofo bike near Here East. I read the instructions written on it, downloaded the app, confidently credited my account with £10 – then discovered I couldn’t hire it. It had been “Illegally Parked” – outside the geofenced zone where it should live.

A small plague of Ofo Chinese cycle hire bikes in York Way near Kings Cross.

I”d previously found many dotted about the streets before and was curious. As a long-time occasional Boris Bike user I thought this might be an improvement on having to find docking stations in obscure places and, worse, riding around searching for one that wasn’t full up.

I tried with Ofo again with odd lone bikes, but unless they’re (locally) in Hackney or the City it won’t let you take them. Today, out near the Big Yellow, I decided to have a serious go at riding one for the first time. I launched the app and headed for the nearest one in Smead Road, Fish Island.

Site of a missing Ofo bike – Smead Road, Fish island

I searched around and couldn’t find it, but thought I’d have a walk anyway so I headed to the top of Victoria Park – to Hackney – in an official Ofo zone.

Site of missing Ofo bike behind the People’s Park Tavern in Victoria Park

I search both sides of the hedge in the photo above, but there was no bike so I headed for the next one which was marked on the map. Guess what…

Site of a missing Ofo bike in the Gascoyne Estate, Hackney

Refreshing and relaunching the app delivered the same result in all cases.

For the next ghost bike I walked along Casland Road, past a house with a blue plaque to to Maria Dickin who founded the PDSA, then across Well Street and down a side street. I relaunched the app to check where I should go…

207 metres to walk to an Ofo bike (but when I got there it had gone).

So I gave up and walked back south, past the busy Hemingway pub and into the pagoda end of Victoria Park. Nearly home on Old Ford Road, I had no need of one of the bikes below.

No shortage of Santander bikes on Old Ford Road

In my walk around today I never saw a single yellow Ofo bike. And when I got home I checked with the app and it still showed the first three bikes I’d failed to locate.

After returning home the Ofo app still shows the 2nd & 3rd ghost bikes I couldn’t find

The Hackney Citizen ran an article about the bikes being vandalised in October. On Facebook and twiiter I found numerous reports from Sheffield, Cambridge, Australia and other places, about vandalised Ofo bikes being dumped. I also found reports from China about local authorities getting tough with competing operators blocking the streets with bikes. Here’s a story in Wired.

In nearly 4 months I still haven’t ridden an Ofo bike, but it seems the users are not the main reason why these schemes won’t work.

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