BikeShare: Possibilities and Limitations

As I have already mentioned, Vienna has a fairly well developed bike share programme: Citybike. And as I have already mentioned, I do not use it. Partly the reasons for that are practical.

For a tourist who wants to explore the center of Vienna by bicycle, Citybike is great. It also works for locals who both live and work in the city center. Sadly, I work in an area of Vienna that is not covered by the Citybike network and there are no stations near my office. In order to commute to work and back, I would have to rent the bicycle for the entire day, which would be financially prohibitive: The rental costs are calculated on a sliding scale, where the first hour is free, but the second hour is 1 Euro, and subsequent hours are priced increasingly higher. According to this scale, it would cost me 30 Euro per day to commute to work and back - which would of course be madness.

Even to go for a short recreational ride before or after work is not an option, because the bike's basket does not accommodate my work bag.

This is the bag I carry to work when I am in Europe. It contains my laptop and the documents I need for the day. As you can see, it does not fit in the basket - and since it's a one-shoulder bag, cycling with it in traffic is not something I want to do. This bag goes with me to official meetings, and switching to a messenger-style bag would not be appropriate in my line of work. I think that any city implementing a bike share programme must take this factor into consideration. In my view, it is a design flaw when professionals are unable to use the bicycles because the basket will not accommodate a standard laptop-sized bag. As you can see below, there is no rear rack either.

For those who want to cycle in the center of Vienna as tourists, the Citybikes are certainly well fitted for this purpose: step-through frames with adjustable saddle height; swept-back handlebars for an upright sitting position, dressguards, a chainguard,

fenders and mudflaps,

non-slip pedals,

a wide saddle with springs that is probably fine on short rides,

and the newer Citybikes have 3 speeds, which is sufficient for the central (non-hilly) parts of Vienna.

An additional reason I do not rent Citybikes is that, frankly, I do not wish to turn myself into a mobile billboard. In the photo above, you can see the juxtaposition of the Citybike moto "Vienna for free!" (this refers to the first hour of rental being free of charge - though there is still an initiation fee of 1 Euro) and the yellow adverts for Raiffeisen Bank, as well as the white and red adverts for Gewista (a local advertising agency). Personally, I would rather pay a small fee for the first hour of rental, than advertise for a company I have no connection to - though I understand that others might be perfectly fine with this practice. In the meantime, I will continue to support local bike shops by renting from them whenever I need a bike in Vienna.


  1. The yellow adverts are a bit garish. I'd ride such a bike if there were no other options, but I'd also be willing to pay a reasonable amount not to be a billboard. I look forward to your test ride story, including your notes on whether the shops offer proper rentals that provide an alternative to Citybike.

  2. Of course, the bikes we rode today are much nicer than the Citybikes :). But your photographs still make the shared bikes seem very chic. I only use them, when I don't have my own bike around or when friends come to visit. They are certainly not an eligible alternative for every day, but still useful for some purposes.
    When I ride a Citybike I try to catch a new one with no adverts, cause I don't want to feel like a billboard myself. There is a lot of criticism because of the way it's set up here too...
    By the way, on the shared bikes in Barcelona, they don't really have a basket in the front, but a metal rack with expanders. Work pretty well for almost anything one wants to carry.

  3. As a tourist, I found it useful.

    Yes, the advertisement is blight on the urban landscape though.

    Great review!

  4. Interesting to hear about the real factors that keep bike share programs from being useful. Those ads are beyond tacky, too bad.

    I look forward to reading about your meeting with Anna - how fun!!

  5. 30 euros to hire a bike for a day! That's just about car hire territory. Madness. I'm surprised too that the front basket doesn't accommodate a laptop bag. After all many of use carry laptops as part of our daily commute.

    I bet the test rides were fun though! Looking forward to reading your reviews.

  6. Carinthia - They don't actually expect anyone to pay those fees, so the sliding scale is really to discourage people from renting them for more than an hour or two at a time.

    Christa - I completely agree; if someone is a tourist and does not mind the advertising, they are useful and convenient.

    Steve A - Most bike shops in Vienna rent bicycles by the hour or by the day. When I lived here on a more long-term basis, I rented a bike from a local shop for long rides on the Danube.

  7. It's odd that those Spanninga rear lights are pointing up attached to some of the plastic skirt-guard-fenders. I notice that others have a plastic rabbit tail that fixes the issue, but they should really make sure all of their bikes have that addressed.

    Also, I bet the basket fits backpacks and small shopping bags better than messenger-style bags. I guess they really geared this thing for tourists, who probably don't even mind the advertising (since it's a part of the whole Vienna experience for them).

  8. MDI - There are several different styles of fenders and lights. See here what the other version looks like.

  9. Years late, of course -- I just discovered this most enjoyable blog and am reading back.

    We have one of these schemes in Denver and in Boulder. I was at first very excited about it, because public transport rail and buses only allow a limited number of bicycles, on a first come first serve basis, so you cannot actually rely on getting somewhere on schedule with your bike unless you give yourself a lot of extra time.

    Trouble is, the bike-share check-in and check-out racks are not everywhere one wants them to be. They have a similar sliding scale pricing for the service, with the first half-hour 'free' but for the 'access fee.' They want, and say, that the bikes are for commuter use and that recreational use is discouraged, but one must determine how to commute from the bike rack to wherever it is you actually want to go. I would have loved to use one from the conveniently located rack near my train station to go to a weekly four hour meeting, but it would have cost $16 in rental fees each time I did it, plus the access fee ($8/day or $20/week or $30/month or $80/year). I could buy a thrift-store or craigslist beater bike and leave it locked up overnight at the train station, and if it was stolen less often than once per month, I would be saving money.


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