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Get on your Mobike and look for work

“What are those funny bikes – I saw three of them outside the gym?”

He asked the question as I was using my mobile phone to unlock a Mobike for the very first time. I can’t say I dazzled the questioner with my expertise, but he seemed to leave happy enough.

Mobikes are big in Asia, with Manchester being the first outpost beyond that continent, and they’re already proving to be a hit.

Here’s the deal. You download the Mobike app, and pay the £29 deposit. The princely sum of 50p then gets you up to 30 minutes cycling time.

Iain Roberts on a Mobike at Exchange Quay

Iain tries out a Mobike at Exchange Quay

We’re not in London

London’s bikes have to be taken from a docking station. There’s no dock for Mobikes. The app shows you where the nearest available bikes are. All being well, you stroll casually up to your bike, unlock it, and ride away. If you’re me, you wander around Exchange Quay for five minutes with a confused look on your face because the bike is 70 metres away from where the app says it is. But I got there in the end.

No exposed chain and no gears means no worries about oily trousers. The gearing is set to make it an easy, if slow, ride. The bike comes with a basket for bags, plus good brakes, adjustable saddle and a bell.

For short journeys around Manchester City and Salford (the two boroughs where the scheme is currently running), it’s ideal. For a longer commute, probably not.  As a sometime-cyclist, I regularly have the lycra-clad boys and girls leaving me in their dust, but the Mobike was certainly slower than I would be comfortable with over longer distances.

At the end of your journey you lock the bike and it automatically ends your session. Then you just leave it for the next person to use.

There are a few rules. Don’t leave the bike on private property where it can’t be accessed, don’t leave it parked illegally or dangerously and try to return bikes to Manchester or Salford.

Unlike the London scheme which costs a small fortune to subsidise, this one is self-financing.

It’s about more than cycling

And, much as Mobikes are a bit of a curiosity at the moment, they are important for Manchester’s aim to become a World City. Serious players need serious transport systems. As the population density of both residents and workers increases in the city centre, active travel – cycling and walking – becomes an essential part of the mix.

The reality is that getting more people cycling is part of the key to unlocking higher economic growth and productivity, quite apart from the benefits to health, pollution and road maintenance budgets. For Manchester, Mobikes are a part of the solution, with improved cycle infrastructure and facilities also important.

Failing to do it will lead to more congestion, more queues, and more businesses deciding to locate somewhere else.

So when you’re next doing business in Manchester city centre, consider a Mobike. It might just be an easier, cheaper and less stressful way to get around.

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