1995Free Riders

It took 30 years for another major city to attempt a large-scale public bike program. Copenhagen’s Bycyklen, or City Bikes, allowed users to access sturdy, shared bicycles at specific locations throughout the city via a coin-operated system. Despite clear improvements over Amsterdam’s White Bikes, thefts and vandalism still plagued the program.

1996A Trump Card

Bikeabout, a small bike-share system limited to students at Portsmouth University in the U.K., is the first to come up with a solution to the theft problem—users had to swipe an individualized magnetic-stripe card to borrow a bike, which allowed them to be tracked when they weren’t returned.

2005Up, Up

Another advertising company, JCDecaux, partners with the city of Lyon, France, to launch Vélo’v, a similarly “smart” bike-share system only this time at a new scale—1,500 bikes.

2008Capital Connection

Washington, D.C., launches SmartBike DC, a 10-station, 120-bike pilot program that is the first modern bike-share system in the U.S. Like Barcelona’s, it uses the same Clear Channel technology developed for Rennes’s Vélo à la Carte.

In Montréal, a government-owned company known as Bixi pilots its own system with innovative, robust bicycles and a modular docking system.

And Hangzhou, China, launches its bike-share system with 2,800 bicycles. Today it is one of the world’s largest, with more than 78,000 bicycles.

2010American Dreams

Washington, D.C., launches Capital Bikeshare, replacing its earlier system with Bixi’s technology.

Minneapolis follows with Nice Ride, as does Denver with B-cycle, representing the second of the two major suppliers of bike-share technology.

2010The Big Time

Bike-share systems are now launching all over the world. Guangzhou inaugurates a program that’s integrated with its Bus-Rapid Transit system, designed to solve the “last mile” problem. Mexico City launches its Ecobici. Buenos Aires starts with a small system, one of the first in South America. And London launches a 6,000-bike scheme partially paid for by corporate sponsors and popularly known as Boris Bikes, after Mayor Boris Johnson.

Melbourne and Brisbane also start bike-share programs, the first in Australia. Critics will say that strict Australian helmet laws hamper adoption of the systems.

20151 Million

Globally, the number of bike-share bicycles hits an estimated 1,000,000. China is far and away the leader in the sheer number of bicycles; three out of four of the world’s bike-share bikes are in that nation.

The Bike-Share Boom

Does it feel like suddenly, bike-share programs are everywhere? The seemingly simple concept has indeed swept across the globe in a matter of just a few years. This is the story of just how quickly a great idea can spread when combined with the right technology—and a few fateful bumps along the way. By Sarah Goodyear

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1965You Say You Want a Revolution

In Amsterdam, a group of activists introduce the Witte Fietsen, or White Bikes—dozens of regular bicycles that were painted white and left unlocked for anyone to use and leave behind for the next person. After many of the bikes are stolen or damaged, the program is quickly shut down—and considered a massive failure.

1995Free Riders

It took 30 years for another major city to attempt a large-scale public bike program. Copenhagen’s Bycyklen, or City Bikes, allowed users to access sturdy, shared bicycles at specific locations throughout the city via a coin-operated system. Despite clear improvements over Amsterdam’s White Bikes, thefts and vandalism still plagued the program.

1996A Trump Card

Bikeabout, a small bike-share system limited to students at Portsmouth University in the U.K., is the first to come up with a solution to the theft problem—users had to swipe an individualized magnetic-stripe card to borrow a bike, which allowed them to be tracked when they weren’t returned.

1998Let’s Work Together

Vélo à la Carte in Rennes, France, is the first city-scale bike-share program to use magnetic-stripe cards and RFID technology. It is a partnership between the city of Rennes and Clear Channel, the advertising company, which developed and operated the new “Smart Bike” technology. The program is offered by the city free of charge and launches with 200 bikes at 25 stations.

2005Up, Up

Another advertising company, JCDecaux, partners with the city of Lyon, France, to launch Vélo’v, a similarly “smart” bike-share system only this time at a new scale—1,500 bikes.

2007And Away We Go

Inspired by its smaller neighbors, Paris launches the 6,000-bike Vélib’ system and the worldwide movement toward bike-share is off and running. By 2015, Paris will have a total of 18,000 bikes.

In Spain, Barcelona’s Bicing is the first entry in what quickly becomes a nationwide boom in that country. By 2013, 132 Spanish cities will have bike-share, making Spain a global leader in the phenomenon.

2008Capital Connection

Washington, D.C., launches SmartBike DC, a 10-station, 120-bike pilot program that is the first modern bike-share system in the U.S. Like Barcelona’s, it uses the same Clear Channel technology developed for Rennes’s Vélo à la Carte.

In Montréal, a government-owned company known as Bixi pilots its own system with innovative, robust bicycles and a modular docking system.

And Hangzhou, China, launches its bike-share system with 2,800 bicycles. Today it is one of the world’s largest, with more than 78,000 bicycles.

2009All Systems Go

Bixi launches full-scale in Montréal. The company will go on to provide bicycles and docking systems to cities in North America, Australia, and London, but its financial situation will prove to be precarious.

2010American Dreams

Washington, D.C., launches Capital Bikeshare, replacing its earlier system with Bixi’s technology.

Minneapolis follows with Nice Ride, as does Denver with B-cycle, representing the second of the two major suppliers of bike-share technology.

2010The Big Time

Bike-share systems are now launching all over the world. Guangzhou inaugurates a program that’s integrated with its Bus-Rapid Transit system, designed to solve the “last mile” problem. Mexico City launches its Ecobici. Buenos Aires starts with a small system, one of the first in South America. And London launches a 6,000-bike scheme partially paid for by corporate sponsors and popularly known as Boris Bikes, after Mayor Boris Johnson.

Melbourne and Brisbane also start bike-share programs, the first in Australia. Critics will say that strict Australian helmet laws hamper adoption of the systems.

2013Critical Mass

New York’s bike-share system launches with 6,000 bikes and a first-of-its-kind funding model that uses no public dollars, fully paid for by corporate sponsorships.

Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area also launch bike-share programs this year. Globally, 2013 saw a 60 percent increase in the number of programs, with 65 new bike-share launches in China alone. The number of bike-share bikes worldwide hits 700,000.

2014Bottom Lines

After years of financial woes, Montréal’s pioneering Bixi manufacturing company declares bankruptcy and is taken over by a new owner. Systems using Bixi technology all vow to go on, finding other suppliers if necessary.

20151 Million

Globally, the number of bike-share bicycles hits an estimated 1,000,000. China is far and away the leader in the sheer number of bicycles; three out of four of the world’s bike-share bikes are in that nation.

Back to Top

With nearly 900 bike-share systems now in operation worldwide, research and data on their performance and usage patterns is becoming more widely available. For additional reading on how the bike-share boom is playing out across the globe, we recommend MetroBike LLC’s excellent Bike-Sharing Blog and Bike-Sharing World Map.

This timeline has been updated since it was first published to correct the following errors: While Denver, Minneapolis, and Washington, D.C. all debuted full-scale bike-share systems in 2010, D.C.’s did not launch first. Also, while Buenos Aires was among the earliest adopters of bike-share in South America, it was not the first. That honor belongs to Rio de Janeiro.

PRESENTED BY

IMAGE CREDITS (TOP TO BOTTOM)
Kevin Kovaleski/DDOT DC; Actipedia; Annie Riker; Annie Riker; pepsiline/Flickr; Annie Riker; AP Photo/Michel Spingler; Borinot bcr/Wikimedia Commons; Annie Riker; Payton Chung/Flickr; Reuters/Christinne Muschi; Annie Riker; Libby Bawcombe; Annie Riker; Phil Roeder/Flickr; Annie Riker; Kevin Kovaleski/DDOT DC

INTERACTIVE CREDITS
Executive Producer: Sommer Mathis; Producer: Clarissa Matthews; Art Director: Libby Bawcombe; Lead Developer: Frankie Dintino; Associate Producer: Mark Byrnes

SPECIAL THANKS TO
MetroBike LLC