Big Issue e-bikes launch in Bristol

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Bristol’s first shared e-bike fleet has launched with Big Issue e-bikes starting to appear on the streets of the city this week.

The fleet, set up by the owner of the iconic magazine sold by homeless people, aims to recruit and retain unemployed people, potentially including some of its vendors, to maintain and redistribute the bikes to where they are needed. The bikes are eye-catching and sleek, painted white with red trim, and with the Big Issue logo prominently on the side.

So far around 150 bicycles have appeared, in designated hubs, with another 100 or so visible on the app in their warehouse. Big Issue is planning up to 500 in the city as the rollout continues. So far the bikes are clustered mainly in the centre of the city but some are available as far out as Filton, the UWE campus and the Clifton Suspension Bridge. While journeys can finish anywhere in Bristol, Big Issue’s pricing structure strongly incentivises users to finish at a hub, so keeping the system tidy. Bristol’s previous bikeshare, YoBike, suffered from a low density of bikes due to the “leave anywhere” model and because their design was vulnerable to vandalism. The operator withdrew in the summer of 2020.

Technology summary

The technology and equipment partner for Big Issue e-bikes is Sharebike, which runs a number of schemes in Norwegian towns and small cities. This is their first launch outside of Norway. The bicycles themselves are HongCity BD22 electric bikes made by Hongji in China and weigh 22kg each. The company supplied an earlier version, the BD03, for the original HumanForest fleet in London in 2020, although these were later withdrawn due to a manufacturing defect.

The battery, which is integrated smoothly into the frame, can output 250W, so should have no problems boosting riders to the maximum of 15mph on Bristol’s many hills. Having already tested the HumanForest version, Zag Daily found the bikes a very comfortable ride, with generous use of the battery allowed, making starts at lights and on hills very fast and smooth.

The only way to discover the locations of the bikes is in the Big Issue e-bikes app, or by happening across one on the street. The app uniquely includes a prediction of whether it is likely to rain in the local area in the next hour – certainly an important factor when carrying out a micromobility journey.

Big Issue’s offering is very similar to the rival Voi e-scooters that have a considerable presence in the city. Both fleets can only be accessed via a smartphone app and cost 20p a minute (it is 50p to start a Big Issue journey and £1 to start a Voi journey) and both have a maximum boost speed of 15mph. Users may find the sitting position on a Big Issue e-bike allows for longer journeys in comfort, but Voi’s fleet of over 2,000 vehicles means you are more likely to find one to start near you (Voi also operates e-bikes in some cities in the UK although not in Bristol).

Further Big Issue launches planned

Big Issue e-bikes were originally planned to launch in Cambridge and Aberdeen, last year – though both these launches have been postponed indefinitely.

Bristol, therefore, launched first, the focus on the city by Big Issue thanks in part due to an investment of nearly half a million pounds in the fleet by City Funds, a local investment fund.

Big Issue said that it does have other UK launches planned this year so we may well see one or both of these getting their electric shared bikes soon.

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