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Oxford Test Drives Peer-to-Peer Bike Sharing

A new platform, Cycle.land, connects people with local bikes for short-term rentals.

A Cycle.land user navigates the website. (Angel Sharp Media Ltd)

“The Airbnb for bikes” is one way to describe Cycle.land, the peer-to-peer bike-sharing service that recently launched in Oxford. “Inevitable” might be another way.

In founding Cycle.land, Agne Milukaite wanted to create a bike-share service that rivaled the innovation put forward by car-tech mashups such as Drivy, Uber, and Tesla. ”As a society, we are in trouble if innovation is focused solely on cars,” she says.

Milukaite grew up in Šiauliai, Lithuania, which developed into a cyclist haven after a bike factory opened in the city in the 1940s. There, Milukaite says, bikes united people; cycling races were common, and local bands played music inspired by bicycles. Even after moving elsewhere in Europe and to the United States, Milukaite got around on a bike, and everywhere she went, she saw room for more people to do the same.

Oxford, where Milukaite attended university, is a small city with a vibrant cycling culture—17 percent of the population bikes to work every day—making it an ideal testing ground for Milukaite’s personalized bike-sharing model. With her co-founder, Peter Ebsen, Milukaite set up an online marketplace earlier this year and invited local friends and family to list their bikes on the platform. In March, Oxford University Innovation incubated the platform, which officially launched in April.

On Cycle.land’s mobile-enabled website, registered cyclists list their bikes with a picture and a short description, including location and rental price, which varies from £1 per day to around £15. How renter and owner arrange the bike pick-up varies, Milukaite says; more than half of the several hundred registered bike owners use a combination lock with a resettable code, which they message to the renter. But plenty of members prefer to hand over their bikes and locks in person, and dispense local cycling tips while they’re at it.​

Many of Cycle.land’s over 1,000 users are students looking for a quick ride to class. The Oxford bus network is slow, and while the city is ​​​​​​highly walkable, cycling is the most efficient way to get around. Milukaite says that her company has partnered with several Oxford University organizations to provide bikes to students free of charge. But Cycle.land also caters to tourists and short-term visitors looking for an alternative to traditional bike-rental services, Milukaite says.

As with any peer-to-peer sharing model, there are risks. Theft is “a general nuisance” in Oxford, Milukaite says. While Cycle.land members have yet to report any robberies, the company will reimburse up to £1,000 in damages as an insurance policy. And the company takes pride in trying to foster a culture that discourages theft, Milukaite says. “We encourage our members to treat the bikes they borrow as if they were their own or even better,” she adds.

By the end of the year, Milukaite says the platform will expand to Cambridge, Bristol, Brighton, Edinburgh, and East London. While bike-share companies like Citi Bike in New York and Vélib in Paris continue to grow in popularity, they’re expensive for cities to install and operate. Milukaite sees Cycle.land bridging the bike-share gap for smaller places with more limited funds, and building a new network of alternative transportation in the process.

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