Andrew Louis takes the Harbour City's bike-sharing scheme for a test ride.
The last time I drove around Sydney, it was a nightmare. I missed a turn. No worries, I thought, I'll take the next one. But, nope, it was a one-way street. The next one was another one-way street, and another, and another, and another. There are so many one-way streets that even the locals can get confused. Then there are the toll roads and endless construction work that doesn't appear on Google maps. A taxi driver I spoke to, who had been driving in Sydney for 20 years, said on one bad turn he actually lost money because of all the tolls and one-way streets. The rental car wasn't cheap. I was paying by the day and I felt that if I wasn't using it enough, it was a waste of money.
This time around, I decide to forgo the car and try out these new bike-share outfits.
They're eays to use: you locate one of the many bikes littered around the city, then unlock the bike through an app, which starts the timer. When you are finished, lock the bike, which ends your session. No need to return the bike, just look for another one when you need it.
That's the general idea, anyway. It's not perfect but it seems like a better option than locking yourself into using a rental car.
There are several bike-share companies operating in Sydney. I chose Ofo because it didn't require any deposit and had the cheapest rate (A$2 per hour). The company charges by the hour so half an hour will cost $2, one and a half hours will be $4.
After downloading and registering the app, I found a few bikes within a two-minute walk radius. The bike's fully-rigid frame is a step-through design. It has an adjustable seat, basket and lights. You don't have the option to choose helmet size and mine was too large; luckily I had a cap to wear underneath.
I liked that it had solid-rubber tyres. No punctures possible but prepare for a hard, bumpy ride. Some springs in the seat would be nice. It has three gears, medium, fast and faster. Unless you're Lance Armstrong, you'll only use medium. Going up hills, none of them are any good, and you'll find yourself walking. The drum brakes are low maintenance but are a bit spongy, adequate for around town though.
You most likely will not need the bikes for more than half an hour to get to your destination. From my accommodation, Metro Aspire Hotel, I could reach most attractions easily within 20 minutes by bike.
Sydney has top-notch public transport. Buses, trains and ferries can all be used with the Opal card (similar to our Hop card). On Sundays, all fares are $2.50. When I get tired or it starts to rain, I like the option of ditching the bike and jumping on the next bus/train.
In the end, I found the bike share to be a fantastic, cheap, enjoyable way of seeing the city. It's an option that would be perfect for the younger traveller or a couple with energy to burn and on a budget.
PROS & CONS
Leave when you want, any time of the day or night.
Lock your own bike in town and you may or may not see it again.
If you run out of steam or it starts to rain, just lock it and catch a bus/train/taxi.
For the tourist, you get a better appreciation of the streets and landmarks by cycling than in a train or stuck on a bus route.
With all that excercise you can treat yourself to dessert with your meal without
Maximum charge per ride is $5.
Not in working order: Quite a few bicycles I saw had damage or needed maintenance. Buckled wheels, missing helmets, missing hand grips etc. The bike I used had a broken tail light and the basket had had a few dings. It would pay to give the bike a quick check before unlocking it.
Also some offered disc brakes rather drum brakes.
Shopping: Limited carrying capacity means if you do a lot of shopping you'll be taking a taxi or bus back.
Battery life: Running the app with bluetooth may drain your phone, especially if you are using Google maps to navigate around. Carry a spare battery bank.
Angry locals: I have heard about share bikes being discarded in rivers and parked inconsiderately. Local council states: "Bikes shouldn't be placed on footpaths that are too narrow or busy, or where they could pose a safety hazard. They should be placed kerbside away from the building. Shared bikes can be placed near public bike racks, but rack space should be left free for regular bicycles that need to be locked to a fixed point."
Availability: Ofo bicycles did not seem to be as abundant as their competitors in the market. That may mean they don't have as many bicycles, or they are more popular to use.
flies from Auckland to Sydney daily, with return Economy Class fares starting from $622.
Centrally located Metro Aspire Hotel is two-minutes' walk to Darling Harbour.