Are People Chucking London's Dockless Bikes Into The Water?

Harry Rosehill
By Harry Rosehill Last edited 16 months ago
Are People Chucking London's Dockless Bikes Into The Water?
Photo: Matt Brown

Scrolling around London on Citymapper the other day, we noticed something amiss. The app directed us towards a form of transport located on a blue part of the map. As everyone knows, maps + blue = water, so what is this new form of floating transportation and why has it gone unnoticed?

Upon closer inspection these dots represent the city's new dockless bikes — Ofo and Mobike. And, no they aren't some incredible water-cycle hybrid machine — they're plain old bikes that appear to live in water. So what's going on here?

Look at the image above. This Mobike is only just in the Regent's Canal in Camden. We got in touch with Mobike to find out if this bike is definitely in the water. They responded:

Sometimes the location accuracy of the bike’s sim card is not precise, so if you park a bike on a path by the river, for example, and there’s an approximate 5-metre or so location accuracy deficit, it can make it appear that the bike is in the water.

So this precious bike might be safe on dry land. Hurrah. Other bikes, however, are not so fortunate.

Moving onto our next "floating cycle" — as Citymapper unintentionally hilariously dubs them — and we find this Ofo bike in the Thames near Wapping. Ofo didn't get back to us, so we're unsure if their tech is exactly the same as Mobike, but by all accounts the two systems are pretty similar. This bike looks well outside the five metre radius of safety.

Mobike did confirm to us that — as in other cities — bikes do end up in the water in London. Early reports suggest that is also the case in London, so that's probably the fate of the Ofo bike above.

Finally we reach this oddity. Sure it might look like just another bike in the Thames, but study it further. Look at how far into the Thames it is. Even Hercules himself couldn't toss a bike that far from the river banks. So what's happened?

Looking at the image again, you'll notice the bike sits near a dotted line. Said line marks the route of a Thames Clipper. That leaves two scenarios. Firstly someone took an Ofo bike with them on a Thames Clipper, and the thing enraged them so much they decided to chuck it overboard partway through their journey. Plausible, we know.

Second scenario, someone rides a dockless bike to a Thames Clipper station, hops off and boards the boat, leaving the bike behind. Then partway through their glorious journey down the Thames, they realise they forgot to end their trip on the Ofo app. They do so, and the app records the bike as the place where the trip ended — at least for a short while until it realises where the GPS tracker is. See, that's one of the ways the app locates the bikes, rather than relying primarily on the GPS trackers.

There's no doubt that some of London's floating bikes that appear in the water are safely onshore. However, for other, less fortunate two-wheelers, we suggest Citymapper changes 'floating' to 'sinking'.

Last Updated 16 August 2018