Sheffield set to get hundreds more yellow scan-and-ride Ofo bikes as scheme proves big hit in city
Sheffielders have embraced the dockless Ofo bikes more readily than any other city since their launch a month ago, says the company, despite initial concerns riders may be put off by the hills and wintry conditions.
There are currently 1,000 of the bikes dotted around the city, but Ofo told The Star it plans to place several hundred more on Sheffield's streets by summer to meet the demand.
The 'geo zone' within which the bikes must be returned has already been extended slightly southward to Meersbrook and the northern edge of Millhouses Park. There are plans to further enlarge it to incorporate more of the suburbs, potentially stretching as far south as Dore & Totley railway station.
Adam Rose, operations manager for Ofo in Sheffield, said: "The take-up here has been genuinely fantastic. It's the biggest and the most popular launch we've had anywhere in the UK.
"Sheffield has taken it up better and faster than even Cambridge, where there's a massive cycling mentality.
"We've been surprised by just how hardy Sheffielders are. Down south we see rider data fluctuate quite heavily with the weather, but in Sheffield we don't see that as much."
He added that the scheme's success in Sheffield had played a big part in securing permission for Ofo to launch in Leeds, which was announced this month as its next UK city.
Mr Rose said he could not disclose user numbers for commercial reasons, but he revealed the most popular areas so far include Sheffield station, the University of Sheffield, Kelham Island and Hillsborough Stadium.
He also responded to the numerous instances of vandalism that have blighted the service in its first weeks, with bikes having been found in rivers and up trees or miles outside the city, where cyclists have attempted to break the locks.
He said this was one of the 'teething problems' expected with any launch, and he claimed the extent of vandalism had actually been slightly lower than in other cities and the frequency of incidents was already falling.
But he warned those responsible that the company was working with police to prosecute culprits for criminal damage.
The bikes are relatively sturdy meaning even those that have been deliberately damaged can usually be fixed and put back on the road within a few hours, but when they are beyond repair the parts are recycled.
Most people probably know by now that the bikes can be hired for 50p per half-hour, using a free-to-download app.
But Mr Rose said many appear to be unaware that dropping them off within the designated parking zones earns users a free credit for their next ride, meaning cyclists doing so every time could get unlimited use for just 50p.
The bikes in Sheffield have apparently proved most popular so far with students, especially those from China, Singapore and Japan, where similar schemes already operate, making using the bikes second nature for them.
The bikes have only three gears and are not designed with steep ascents in mind, but any questions as to whether they could cope with Sheffield's slopes were soon answered when Ofo challenged users to tackle the notorious Jenkin Road, in Wincobank, which has an 11-degree gradient and featured on the 2014 Tour de France route.
The company was astounded by the number of photos it subsequently received from riders posing proudly with their yellow bikes having conquered the hill.
The distinction for the most impressive journey, however, goes to a student who completed a 30-mile round trip from Sheffield city centre to Mam Tor in the Peak District wearing pink hot pants.
"He definitely gets credit for the most imaginative ride," said Mr Rose.