When I lived there 10+ years ago I would never have believed you if you had told me that I would be riding bikes through the centre of Melbourne, let alone riding almost every day in Brisbane. I didn't ride. Period. In fact I didn't ride until October 2nd, when CityCycle launched last year.
Cut to today. Last month I clocked 97 trips on CityCycle, ride to and from work most days and use a bike share program as my primary form of transportation. Therefore, it made sense to spend my weekend back in Melbourne riding around town on the blue bikes that make up Melbourne Bike Share.
Melbourne Bike Share (MBS) and CityCycle (CC) are from two different players in the Bike Share market. One, Bixi possibly best known for the Boris Bikes in London and the other is JCD, best known for the Velib program in Paris. Both are successful systems in their own right (except here in Australia - insert helmet argument here if you like). Their bikes and their programs, while both "bike share" are quite different.
So how did the two compare? I will break it down to categories and decide which won what. If you don't feel like reading the whole thing, just scan for colours - Melbourne Bike Share is blue and CityCycle is orange because yellow is too hard to read. You can see which scheme won each area by the colour, or if it is a tie there is no colour. The one with the most colour wins. Very scientific, I know.
Let's take a look at the bikes first:
The first thing I noticed with the blue bikes was that they were higher. The frame is larger, the step through lower and it is MUCH lighter - I did expect MBS's frame to be better given that it doesn't hold a locking mechanism or the rack bar like CC, where much of its weight is located. MBS has a thin piece of metal that sits under the basket to rack and no lock (more on that later) making it a better frame given its lack of heaviness. One to Melbourne Bike Share.
The same gears are on both bikes, however I found more variation on the bikes with MBS and also thought that they were geared lower, so even less likely to build up much speed. Perhaps it is because the CC bikes are newer but they are more consistent and better for riding. One to CityCycle
Not sure if they are the same, however I found the tension on the brakes on the 8 different bikes I rode in Melbourne to be wildly different. Again, this could be age and or use, but going with CityCycle for consistency again as while there is some variance, it is nothing on MBS.
I was super excited that MBS had a basket with a strap. After watching their video I realised it didn't have sides but figured it would still be ok. Nope. The amount of tooing and froing to get the strap over is a pain, I have more than one bruise on my wrist from it. The elastic was so stiff, it even bent my bag. Compare to the wire basket on the CityCycle, you just chuck your bag in and ride. I got so fed up with the MBS system I just rode with my bag over my shoulders.
MBS has a handy "loop" that you can run your own lock through. Personally, I don't want to be carrying around a lock, and have used the CityCycle lock a total of twice. So do I want the option of less weight but less convenience, or more weight and more convenience? In the end, I have decided that since the two times I needed a lock were spontaneous (a cider pick up and a bathroom break - not related), convenience wins - this one to CityCycle.
Saddle (including height adjustment):
As far as my bottom could tell, it was the same saddle, however how the seat post and clamp on the MBS was far superior to that of CityCycle. While the clamps are both lever actioned, MBS releases a circular grip making raising and lowering the seat post a breeze. It also meant that I didn't have to almost bend my hand back to move the clamp as I do on the CityCycle. Also with MBS they have numbers on the side of the seat post. So rather than measuring with my hand and often getting rust or oil on it, I can just visually set it. Melbourne Bike Share - this was awesome!
Handlebars and Grips:
As people who follow me on Twitter know, my hands are prone to get all owies when I ride the CityCycle too much because of the raised pattern of the grips. As such I bought a pair of gel gloves (yeah yeah I know, shut up). I packed these (along with some unpadded full gloves for the cold in Melbourne) for my weekend of riding, and imagine my surprise when my hands clasped soft and smooth grips! I only used my bike gloves once. The handlebars were also higher than the CityCycle, thereby creating less pressure on your hands. Consequently, the comfort on the Melbourne Bike Share bikes was far superior to CC.
Given that I am not the most confident of riders, I have often had a mini freakout when the tyres of the CC get caught in a edge of the road or slight raise going from the road/grass to pavement. The tyres on the MBS are not only larger (less energy expended) but they are wider with what appeared to be off road ridges on them - totally different to the dinky little CC tyres. I loved the tyres, and didn't have a single moment where I was worried I might come off because my tyre caught on something. All you Melbourne Bike Share.
I used to think that the CC had the manoeuvrability of a battleship, but compared to MBS bikes, it is like a hummingbird. The lack of range on the MBS was staggering. I noticed it when I went to take out my first bike. I went to turn the handlebars and they just stopped. I can't imagine how the bike goes up a disabled or bike ramp, but then again I guess you can't ride on the disabled ramps in Melbourne anyway. This was one of my main dislikes of MBS. Another one to CityCycle.
Now the ease of use of the program:
Hiring a Bike:
In Brisbane we have the yellow cards that we swipe, enter a pin number, select a bike, release it and go. In Melbourne they have chipped keys that you slot into the rack next to the bike you want, wait a couple of seconds and the bike is released. Done. For ease and speed, MBS has it hands down, though the convenience of putting a credit card style card in your back pocket is pretty good, but this one stays with Melbourne Bike Share. MBS also has a casual, daily and weekly instant hire process. I didn't try it, but it is there, all be it involving way too many steps for me to want to utilise it when $50 a year is so cheap.
Say what you like about the bright yellow of the CityCycle and stations, but I will say this, they are MUCH easier to find than the MBS stations. MBS is deliberately unobtrusive, often sitting back off main roads. I found the Melbourne stations quite tricky to pin point, and would be stopping to check the app frequently, swivelling my head around trying to find the station. Bright yellow may be harsh and the advertising a pain, but you can spot a station easily. Unobtrusive is good, but being able to find a station is better - this one to CityCycle.
Access to the Stations:
Brisbane City Council has done a fair bit of work in recent months to put in directional ramps to the stations for ease of gaining access to the pavement as well as getting off the pavement to the road. Melbourne doesn't have this at all and some stations are in the middle of the block, so no easy access. All CityCycle.
Brisbane has twice as many stations, so it is easier to find a station close to where you want to go. I will say though, that MBS had a station within a block of almost everywhere I was going, and Brisbane currently lacks stations at key areas, though this is supposed to be addressed in phase 2. It also felt like MBS was more for getting around once you got into town, where as I feel as though CC is designed to move people in and out of the city. As it stands, for how I used/use the system, it is a tie.
On Road Station Maps:
The maps that CC have at their stations can best be described as decorative. In contract, the maps for MBS show the stations and also helpfully say "you are here" as well as point out where helmet vendors are located. As a tourist (even though I lived in Melbourne for 8 years), I found myself plotting routes with the station maps and the app. Together they worked so well. It made picking my path and working out where the heck I was when I just went exploring so much easier. Well done Melbourne Bike Share.
The quality of the closest metre to the curb in Melbourne is much better than here in Brisbane. That alone made riding much more enjoyable. However, add to this the fact that Melbourne turns some parking on the sides of roads into Bike Lanes (enforcing the Clearway too) and it just gets better. Then you also have the unofficial bike routes - on the roads predominately set up for trams and come commercial vehicles. Apart from me really pissing off a couple of tram drivers (sorry I couldn't go any faster no matter how many times you rang your little bell), it was great to have a a grid through the city without all the cars. The only problem I had was that some areas became tram only so you had to get off the bike and walk it on the pavement - though I seemed to be the only one who followed the signs. This one goes to Melbourne Bike Share.
Off Road Cycling:
I love riding through the parks in Brisbane. I frequently divert on the way home to ride through the Botanical Gardens, or I cut through King George Square. In Melbourne though, there is no riding on pavements, cutting through parks etc. Also there are far less off road bike paths (that I could find anyway) than in Brisbane. I found this quite annoying while in Melbourne, but I followed the rules. Brisbane has this one - CityCycle.
Yes, it is the law in Australia that we must wear a helmet when we ride. Some of us are for it, some of us are against it and some of us just think you should be able to make up your own mind. To find a helmet vendor on CC's webpage you click on a link and get a list (not mapped) of 14 companies that will sell you a helmet outright. With MBS you have lists and maps that show stacks of 7/11's that sell the ($5 each and you get $3 back when you return it) as well as two vending machines that dispenses them for the same price all conveniently located on each station map. Melbourne Bike Share gets another.
Both models have an increased scale for keeping bikes longer than the prescribed amount of time. MBS costs $50 for the year and CC costs $60. However, with an annual subscription with MBS you get 45 minute trips and can borrow bikes 24/7, unlike CC which has a maximum free time of 30 mins and are only open from 5am till 10pm. Another win for Melbourne Bike Share.
Hands down this goes to Melbourne Bike Share - it is easy to use and navigate. Whomever designed and signed off on the CityCycle page should be performance managed.
Customer Contact Centre:
I haven't had any problems (less the current incorrect expiration date on my account) with Melbourne Bike Share so I can't comment on how it compares to CityCycle's hit and miss with their call centre. So this one is currently even.
I had no problems registering with either program, but it took me multiple times for the activation page to come up for Melbourne Bike Share and as I mentioned it is currently showing the incorrect dates. So this one to CityCycle.
This has been a major bugbear with me and CityCycle. They are TERRIBLE at it. It is as though they are doing the exact opposite of Melbourne Bike Share who actively engage with their riders on Twitter and Facebook. I have received personalised emails that actually relate to what I asked in a timely manner as well as receiving updates on how my "key" was going. This one is all Melbourne Bike Share.
While CityCycle's helpfully named AllBikesNow is functional to a point, I have many problems with it not displaying live data and its inability to communicate anything other than bike and rack numbers. AllBikesNow meet SpotCycle (again an amazingly unhelpful name). Not only can you change the display style, but it also has a timer and best of all it shows the cycle paths, lanes and unoffocial bike ways. SpotCycle takes AllBikesNow and laughs at it.
Problems with a Bike:
If you have a problem with MBS you follow the accepted practise of turning the seat around. We do the same here in Brisbane, however if there is something particular, we can record the number and advise CC. I am not saying this is a perfect system, it isn't and I have spoken about its drawbacks before, but it is better than MBS as MBS has no numbering system I could see or means for reporting a faulty bike (I may be wrong and am happy to be proven otherwise). This one goes to CityCycle.
So who has the better bike?
5 : 4 to CityCycle.
Which is the better program?
8 : 5 to Melbourne Bike Share.
Overall, Melbourne Bike Share wins. 12 : 10. Neither scheme is perfect. Some things I can't stand on one, I love on the other. I could have broken it down further, (ie the stands for MBS are wussy any my bikes kept falling over, or just how crappy both their bells are - same style of bell mind you, the lights etc), but theses are the main things I find important in my day to day riding. It begs the question though, why isn't Melbourne Bike Share more successful? They have the helmets, they have a casual hire option, yet for my weekend away I never saw another blue bike in action. I didn't see movement on my local racks. I even could draw a line in construction dust on some of them. For all the naysayers about CityCycle (and yes it has its challenges), it is being used more than Melbourne Bike Share.