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We see a proliferation of bike sharing services. Given that most shared bikes are kept outdoors all the time, I wonder what components and designs help to make them robust in order to keep maintenance cost down.

Here is a number that I found hard to believe, quoted by Horace Dediu on Twitter: Chinese dockless bike sharing companies employ one maintenance worker per 1000 bikes. Western dock systems are close to one per 30.

Addendum: From the Financial Times 26 Dec. 2017 "China bike-sharing apps find UK market tough to crack": According to Mr Seal-Driver, in Cambridge there are 23 operational staff for 450 Ofo bikes. Steve Pyer, UK general manager at Mobike, which does not employ people directly but uses third-party partnerships, says there are about 10-15 people for every 1,000 of its bikes.

  • One of Horace Dediu's own comments at that page has a partial answer: I don’t think they need that much less, but they are simpler (no gears, run-flat tires, some have shaft drive). – Johnny Dec 22 '17 at 7:22
  • In that thread I estimated that one maintenance worker per 1000 bikes amounts to 30min of maintenance per bike every 50 days. Even twice that number would seem low to me for shared bikes. – Christian Lindig Dec 22 '17 at 11:44
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  • Mass - resists denting and damage. Some are steel, some are aluminium.
  • Single-speed - a lot of city bikes only have one gear, and those that have more are often euro-IGH (internally geared hub) with 3 speed, no more. Either way they have 1/8" singlespeed chains.
  • Chainguards - to keep the chain and pants clean.
  • Robust lubricants - intended to not wash out.
  • Tyres - fairly hefty, large, and puncture resistant means fewer flats.

And the big one:

  • Ongoing maintenance You may not see it, but the company will do ongoing maint of their bike fleet. Most of the apps support some kind of "report a problem" so that the fleet staff know where to go to find and fix the bike. Those that don't have etiquette

Cultural factors will come into it as well - suspect there are more vandalistic yobs in the west than in China.

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    "Cultural factors will come into it as well - suspect there are more vandalistic yobs in the west than in China" -- Funnily enough, a Chinese bike-sharing company is discovering just that in Manchester. – errantlinguist Dec 22 '17 at 9:01
  • See my comment above what 1 worker per 1000 bikes means for maintenance: 30min per bike every 50 days. – Christian Lindig Dec 22 '17 at 11:45
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    In the event anyone does not know what an IGH is in this context, it stands for "internally geared hub". – Tim D Dec 22 '17 at 15:50
  • From the ones that have recently appeared in my home town (four companies simultaneously!), I can certainly attest to the mass aspect. The one I tried to pick up was easily 20kg. Also, one of the companies is using solid tyres. – David Richerby Dec 22 '17 at 18:27
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What I would add to nice @Criggie answer:

  • "Sealed", long lasting drum or roller brakes.
  • Sealed dynamo hubs.
  • Shaft drive instead of chain or chain with anti-corrosion coating (i.e. Shimano NX10)

But note - they use components available at the market, priced about or below the average.

From my observation, the most severe problem to this systems are: thefts, vandalism, flat tire, not mechanical failure. Popular IGH's are quite durable, it does not suffer from weather condition. Have a look at countries (DK, NL), where lots of bikes park outside for most of the time. Bikes equipped with roller brakes, full chainguard and IGHs remain serviceable for years, without frequent maintenace.

It would be also very (too) expensive to order dedicated component for bike sharing system. Let's say that popular systems grow at most by few thousands bicycles every year. Compare it to to SRAM company that quit making IGHs because of low demand, reaching 200k units. Instead of making bikes super-ultra durable and theft-proof companies balance cost and bicycle "life expectancy". The less bicycle costs, the better for the company, when it gets stolen.

  • Good points - the ones here don't have lights. Never seen a shaft driven bike in person though. – Criggie Dec 22 '17 at 7:58
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    @Criggie Check warsavian Veturilo system by Nextbike. Someone here set the goal to spend taxpayers money in every manner he can imagine. Except regular bicycles we have shaft driven bikes, electric bikes, tandems, kids bicycles (in 2 sizes), dock stations with colour touch sreens. Everything for only 2800 USD per bicycle. – krzyski Dec 22 '17 at 8:43
  • I would expect the biggest problem to be corrosion of the drive train. Look at any bike that is kept outside over a rainy season. I keep my bike in a garage and still have to fight this over the winter. I noticed that yellow Ofo bikes use unusually light-grey chains - maybe they are extra resistant? – Christian Lindig Dec 22 '17 at 10:05
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    @ChristianLindig That chain is probably Shimano NX10 or sth similar with anti-corrosion coat. With full chainguard drivetrain is well protected against corrosion. – krzyski Dec 22 '17 at 10:12
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    The only shaft driven bikes I have seen were 'share' or rentals along the same lines. All others I have seen had fully enclosed chains and those do not need maintenance beyond a 'once a year' check. – Willeke Dec 23 '17 at 9:14

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