NextBike: A Review

next bike
A review of the NextBike scheme in Cardiff. Source: 16850449 (via Pixabay)

By Katherine Wheeler | Comment Editor

In this article I will boldly go where few residents of the ‘Diff have gone before: ride a NextBike from the top of Cardiff to the bottom.

The NextBike scheme officially launched in Cardiff in May 2018 in order to ‘normalise cycling for the masses’ and encourage a safer cycling environment in the city. Cardiff University’s partnership with the company means that rides under thirty minutes are free for registered students and rates beyond that come at a discount. Since all University owned halls are five minutes or less away from a NextBike station, it’s easy to take advantage.

No Bikes Left?

It was a Saturday morning and I had planned my route from Rhydypenau to the Bay. To make my investigation a little more conclusive, I planned to switch bikes every twenty minutes so I could get a better idea of the range on offer. The sun was shining, I had successfully got myself out of bed… What could go wrong?

On my way up to the start of my journey, I passed a handful of NextBike stations that, on my map, had shown at least one rentable bike. When I got to each of them, however, not one of the several bikes docked was showing as ‘Available’.

After a few unsuccessful attempts, I started just above Roath Park on Rhyd-Y-Penau Road where I had no choice but to take the one bike docked at the station. The bike I rented first was, putting it mildly, a death trap. After rolling down a small hill I gripped tight at the brakes. A few long seconds later and my bike had only slowed down a fraction. Not only that, but any time I tried to steer, it felt like somebody had attached a weight to my handlebars. Even after adjusting my bike’s seat, my knees were dangerously close to the front as I cycled. I managed forty-six minutes, half on, half off the roads as I tried my best to cycle into the centre.

The Next Bike

After a journey of stopping and starting, I found a station I wanted to stop at just outside Cartwright Court and cycled around to get docked in. Only what my app was showing me was incorrect. Though the icon I was looking at had a ‘1’ attached, there was no sign of a bike anywhere. The street was silent and the station empty. If I had been on my way to an appointment or, worse, an interview, my chances of getting there on time would have been scuppered.

I turned around and cycled almost ten minutes more before I was able to stop safely and find a station with an available bike. From then on, the majority of my route followed busy roads. Many of the cars I saw left no room for cyclists so I’d find myself in traffic jam after traffic jam. My new bike was better but I still found myself hyperaware of just how heavy the steering was.

An Uncertain End

By the time I reached the bay, I was exhausted. Though I’d swapped my bike around three times, each new frame felt heavy and clumsy and the extra caution had taken its toll on my energy levels.

Many of the bikes I encountered were listed on my app as available but on closer inspection were completely locked off. Though I had no problem docking and locking everything up when I arrived, I was nearly out of phone battery. Since the bikes are phone reliant, had I run out there would have been no shot at renting another. This would have been a massive problem had I gone further out to somewhere like Penarth.

NextBike is definitely a good solution for getting somewhere fast if you’re not a driver, but it’s extremely hit and miss. If you’re strapped for time, a broken and heavy bike might just get you there but with some major added anxiety!

Katherine Wheeler Comment

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