Entrepreneur

I Tried Commuting To Work Using A Ride-Sharing Bike By A Startup, And Got Laughed At

We live in an age of MRT developments, self-driving cars, and this moving tunnel and public transportation that may or may not take off in China. Despite that, the recent rise of bike sharing services is reinventing the wheel, so to speak, towards a more community-orientated cycling culture.

And breaking ground towards this movement in Malaysia appears to be Singapore-based startup oBike, who have set up shop in Klang Valley early this month.

The bikes are bright. They’re big. And they’re literally inviting us to ride them.

No really, the invitations are there.

Seeing that we’ve made some predictions about how these bike startups are going to do in Malaysia, it’s time that Vulcan Post puts our money where our mouth is, and our foot to the pedal.

That’s right! Because I once bragged to my colleagues that my house is near enough to the office that I could probably cycle to work, the team has now taken me to task on my big mouth and assigned this job to me.

Hitting It Off

The very accurate oBike location detector (Image Credit: Motion Digest)

Despite the circumstances of my semi-forced compliance, when it came to Day-Zero I was tentatively excited for the ride. At RM1 per 15 minutes, I’d pay about the same for price for petrol, but it was a wonderful opportunity to use my daily commute as an exercise method. And despite my half-joking denial, I was actually glad for an excuse to do it.

But the truth is this: I cheated a little bit.

The nearest oBike pitstop to my office is near Sunway University; I actually drove the bike to my housing area in a minivan I borrowed from my father (no Ayah, I’m not trying to steal this bike, honest) instead of cycling on a roadkill-full highway because I do not have a deathwish.

It was as I tried to huff and puff the bike into the back of the van that my father noted that the bike was heavier than the normal fare. It was true perhaps, but I hoped that it wouldn’t pose too much difficulty because I really wanted it to work.

Yes, I’m assuming an ideal future here where the bike sharing culture takes off, and oBikes can be found all over the place. Since my housing area is full of bicycle paths and highschools, it makes sense that any cycling culture-change could and would reach my little corner of Klang Valley.

Getting My Ride On

Sweat-free and ready to rumble.

How oBike works here is this: you download the Obike app on either Android or iOS, and using a debit or credit card, deposit some currency into the app. And like a prepaid phone line, this is now your credit that will deplete as you cycle.

You unlock the bike using the app. Each bike comes with a Bluetooth-enabled terminal, and once you’ve connected your phone to the bike, the bar that locks the back wheel from turning will unlock by itself.

oBike unlocking

I approached the appropriated bike and unlocked it using Bluetooth, which activates the bar that blocks the back wheel from spinning. I rolled the bike onto the street, looked up to the clear blue skies, and began pedalling to my future.

In my good suburb community, the bike was great. For the first time in a long, sedentary lifestyle, I tasted the crisp morning air and the cool wind in my hair. The bike was, as I noted the night before, heavier than normal. But at the first leg of this journey, I thought I could hack it.

Then, I came to the big three-lane road.

A little past rush hour, there aren’t too many cars. But what the road lacks in volume they make up for in speed.

Thankfully, the Malaysian driver ability to efficiently evade slow-moving vehicles on the road worked to my advantage here.

As I walked my bike up a grassy divider to go on the road, I noticed three people in a lorry pointing and laughing at me, probably unfamiliar with the unique oBike bulkier design (in fact, just earlier last week in Singapore, the team has already launched sleeker and lighter bikes). But I am a strong independent woman who don’t need no pride and I cycled forwards.

It was upon passing through a fairly risky traffic light that I came across my second big obstacle:

Inclined slopes. <insert scary music>

What I thought was a good opportunity to work on a little resistance training turned into a full-blown workout, and added on another 15 minutes to my commute.

It’s no wonder that oBike Singapore introduced their Smart Generation bikes that are 5 kg lighter than the predecessors.

Pictured: My dreams at the time (Image Credit: oBike)

Here at least, I was able to veer away from the car-infested roads and move inwards towards the suburbs on the other side of a pedestrian walkway. It was also here that I got my second round of laughs and a comment about how nice my bike sounds (the front wheel was squeaking).

A shot of the road I travelled, once I found a safe enough area to whip out my phone (Not pictured: the risky traffic-lights in the distance and the evil slope)

When I finally reached the business district that housed the office, I was sweaty and had been laughed at by 5 different people in two groups. So, I just started owning the situation and waving at people giving me weird looks. After all, this is a pretty swanky if big bike, and they’re probably just curious.

My waves elicited laughs from at least 3 more groups, the last being a police officer making his rounds on illegally parked cars that fine morning.

His was more of a surprised chortle at my bright greeting but he did compliment my “interesting” bike right as I parked it at what is technically a space cordoned off for motorcyclists. If it was sarcasm, I chose to see the situation with a glass half full.

To lock it back into place (and I’m only putting this here because I am a bit of an idiot and it took me a full 5 minutes to figure this out) you can push the back wheel bar back into place, which will untether your phone from the bike.

Well, it’s technically a bike parking area.

The Verdict

What my arduous journey taught me is that our predictions did come true. Cycling on Malaysian roads can be quite scary when you don’t know whether to risk the bumpier and skinnier grassy dividers, or to hack it on the roads with the rushing cars.

That day, the weather was good to me and oBike does feature a pedal-powered lightbulb and bright colours that helps with nighttime visibility on the cycle home. But if I was on the road on a wrong day and car drivers still unfamiliar of this concept don’t know to look out for me, the risk of an accident is real and heightened.

But here’s the thing. Malaysia’s oBike run was never meant for that.

Their grey and yellow bikes have been spotted and Insta-Storied in places like Sunway University and Taylor’s Lakeside, along with certain stops on the BRT circuit.

And as I tried to convince my father that I didn’t suddenly turn into a bicycle thief overnight, even someone as relatively tech-savvy as he is wasn’t aware of this new movement in Malaysian ride-sharing. It goes to show that their marketing was not aimed to target people such as he, the average Malaysian who lived in a location where the bikes have been seeded.

What this shows us about oBike’s current target market is this:

  • For students to ride if they otherwise walk home to their nearby residences and apartments.
  • For other students who have found good parking, and can now choose to cycle somewhere nearby for lunch instead of losing that valuable spot.
  • Public transport riders (like the BRT users) who can choose to cycle, instead of walking the rest of the way.

And while BRT users might face a little bit of this road issue as they ride to their destinations, it’s definitely not as long of a ride as my commute to work probably is.

My foolhardy ride towards work on the oBike was a testament to some pride and experimentation that was quelled immediately. Perhaps one day with some careful marketing, oBike can grow the service enough that our KL drivers know to swerve away. But now in their early stages, this is not the way.

But if their aim isn’t to dominate the roads, here are some other areas that I can see oBike venturing into:

Big Parks

Image Credit: lifetime4us

With parks like Taman Tasik Titiwangsa, the Shah Alam Park and many others, there is a strong potential for oBike to place some of their rides just a little aside from the paths.

As I’ve mentioned, since the bikes are heavy, they present a great opportunity for resistance training along those designated paths. The park’s owners don’t need to set up any bicycle rentals and users don’t need to lug around bicycles onto their vehicles to drive over to these parks.

Areas With Schools

Image Credit: The Star Online

If oBike wants to ensure some level of longevity in their users, putting their bikes in or near school areas with designated bike paths is not a bad opportunity to cultivate users who will eventually also go into universities—already equipped with oBikes.

If They Really Wanted To Cultivate A Bike Culture Here

I really do enjoy cycling, and as someone who does want to see the culture take off in Malaysia, here are some of my recommendations.

1. A Tie-In App That Shows You Ideal Biking Routes

Image Credit: London Cyclist

This app doesn’t have to be developed by oBike, but if it makes its round, might help oBike to penetrate the public consciousness. One of the problems I found while cycling is that as someone who is just trying it out, the cycling route is completely different to the driving route. I couldn’t follow a pedestrian’s path either, so I was rather stuck.

A crowdsourced cycling pathway app would be a great addition to oBike. We can all work together to map out the safest routes to places and in a small way help reduce the potential for accidents on the road while cycling.

2. Collaborations With Malaysian Bike Riders

Malaysian bikers are a niche but influential group. While oBike’s current aim focuses more on transportation rather than as a hobby, the fact that fixie-bikes (brakeless, sleeker and lighter bikes) can and have gained popularity here in Malaysia proves that there is in fact, potential.

So what better way to start cultivating oBike into the scene than to go straight to the influencers?

3. Cooperation With The Government

If biking culture is going to be a serious thing in Malaysia, then these bike sharing companies, among other interested parties will do well to work together with the Malaysian government to actively pursue the development of an interconnected biking path system. With the fluctuating petrol prices and a movement towards health, there may be people who would take it up as transportation seriously.

As for my daily commute to work, in the end I’ve returned to the comforts of my ol’ reliable Viva. But my oBike experience has inspired me to send my own bicycle into the shop to refurbish that old beauty, because as I’ve discovered, the way to work is actually cycleable once you figure out the route.

I’ll be looking forward to a future date where Malaysia rediscovers its cycling culture. But as for oBike, I feel that it’s best to ask students and BRT users for a more in-depth verdict of oBike’s initial push.

And bring the Smart Generation 5 kg lighter bikes here, please and thank you, oBike.

oBikes can currently be found at all BRT Stations, Jalan PJS 11/7 (Bus Stop) and the Jalan PJS 11/9 (Bus Stop, near the Sunway University entrance). You can download the app from the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store.