Sunday cyclists seeking a set of wheels are spoilt for choice but not all bike-sharing schemes are made equal. We gave them a spin. Summer’s been blazing for a while now, but even with it cooling down, there’s no excuse not to bike around the city. Not only is cycling friendlier for the environment, it helps tone your legs for these short-wearing days, and in Berlin it’s usually the fastest and most serene way to get around. Don’t want to invest in a bike? Thanks to the surge in sharing schemes there’s no need to – with only a smartphone and debit card you can get on the road quicker than the waiting time between S-Bahn services… DONKEY REPUBLIC: Comfort with a downside Donkey Republic was founded in 2012 in Copenhagen. The quirky name comes from the company’s wager that donkeys were once the most dependable ways to get around and the bright orange bikes are certainly more comfortable than their hoofed namesake with wide handlebars, soft leather seats and a bell. And if you need to rely on Google Maps to find the route, these rides come up trumps as they are the only ones on this list that provide a stand to secure a smartphone. At last! Now you don’t have to risk a fine from the Polizei by holding your phone as you cycle. The downside? You can only get these bikes from designated hubs that stretch a radius of 10 metres in specific spots and your rental doesn’t offi cially end unless you lock your ride in a specific zone. Nearly all the rides are focused on the city centre; we didn’t fi nd any available south of Tempelhof. This option delivers on style and ethos but can be less convenient to find. Verdict: 3.5 stars Pricing: €1.25 for 30 minutes, €5 for 2 hours, €10 for a day Fleet: 1500
BYKE: The little Berliner on the rise
The matte blue glow of Byke might not be a common sight but if one catches your eye, it is well worth taking out. The company was founded in Berlin last October with a fleet of 150 bikes and has also branched out to Frankfurt and Ruhr. Byke’s design wins in comfort and aesthetics; perfect for a mellow afternoon ride. It also wins on price, charging 50 cent for 30 minutes or for €20 a month you can enjoy an unlimited amount of rides lasting up to two hours. After the first month users have the option of choosing a subscription plan or opting out. After setting up your account via SMS verification code, locate a bike, scan the QR code and you’re ready to roll. If you pedal into a predicament, Byke offers speedy assistance from English-speaking operators. And if you’re excited to find out how many calories you’ve burned or how much you’ve saved in carbon emissions on your jaunt, the app will give you a round-up. Overall, we love Byke. The only trouble is finding one. While the fleet is still small, Byke promises to roll out more across the city within the coming weeks.
Verdict: 4 stars Pricing: 50 cents for 30 minutes, no deposit Fleet: 150
LIME: The extra green kick
California-based Lime (formerly Limebike) was launched in the US last June, pledging to eliminate the country’s carbon footprint by providing sustainable transportation. It has had a successful start, reaching an estimated value of €225 million last year. In April Lime hit Berlin’s streets with a fleet of 1000 bikes. Half of the company’s sleek, fluorescent green rides are fitted with a small electric motor at the rear. Not only are they easy to spot but the motor adds an extra kick to each pedal, pushing its level of convenience far ahead of rivals. Each bike is fitted with a generous basket, a sturdy frame and a comfortable leather seat. Plus, the app interface is easy to navigate: just download, enter your card information, scan the QR code on the bike and start cruising through summer. If you find yourself on a Sunday rush to get to Berghain from Kreuzberg before the queue begins, a motorised Lime bike will cut the regular 20-minute cycle down to 10 and cost €1.83. If you prefer to stop and smell the roses, one of their regular bikes costs 66 cent. When you arrive, just lock it up and get on with having fun.
Verdict: 4.5 stars Pricing: €1 for the first unlock and €5.50 for 30 minutes (electric), €1 for 30 minutes (regular bikes) Fleet: 1000
NEXTBIKE: The rigid old bull
Nextbike is an old-timer on the scene; the company was founded in Leipzig in 2004 and operates in more than 50 German cities and 25 countries worldwide but only arrived in Berlin last May. With 5000 bikes around the city, they are difficult to avoid in the Ringbahn area, and slightly outside it. The app is a dream to use, after you download it you verify an account and payment method by paying a €1 registration fee. Once that is done, scan the QR code on the bike and enter a code from the app to unlock your ride. The first 30 minutes cost €1 (unless you have a paid Deezer account, then your first half an hour is free) and each additional 30 minutes costs €1.50. You can return the bike at any of 700 fixed stations or, for an extra 50 cent, at any street within the inner city circle. The downside? The bikes don’t seem to have any springs, making you feel every single bump on the road. Rather unpleasant, especially if you’ve just had lunch! The fact that they have gears doesn’t seem to help since the frame is also on the heavy side; making pedalling feel like an Olympic sport.
Verdict: 3 stars Pricing: €1 for the first 30 minutes, €1.50 for every extra 30 minutes Fleet: 5000
LIDL BIKE: Authentically German
Lidl Bike was introduced in March last year after the ubiquitous discount supermarket chain paired with Deutsche Bank to replace their Call a Bike service. They have 3500 bikes available inside the Ringbahn area. Once you’ve downloaded the all-German app (help!) you have to choose a membership plan (the basic one is €3 a year) or rent out a bike for a day for €15.50. Not cheap if all you want to do is cycle to the next bakery for some Brötchen! The process also requires you to call the company before you get going. Once you’ve figured out the app, scan the QR code and you’ll get a pin to unlock the bike. None of this is convenient if your German is not up to scratch or if you’re not a frequent user. On the plus side, it’s affordable; the first half hour costs €1.50, and every additional hour is €1. The bikes are also the only ones that come with a seven-speed hub gearbox, improving longer rides. Their sturdy frames help cushion uneven paths and make for a pleasant cruise (provided you don’t mind turning into a discounter-branding machine on two wheels!) Too bad though that they didn’t take into account short-term visitors or non-German speakers.
Verdict: 3 stars Pricing: €1.50 for the first 30 minutes, €1 for every additional half hour Fleet: 3500
OFO: Up, up in the clouds
Established in Beijing in 2014, Ofo has grown to manage a global fleet of more than 10 million bicycles in 20 countries, and it’s easy to pinpoint its success as it proved to be our second best experience. Berlin recently became the latest city to feel the Ofo effect, with 2000 neon yellow bikes dotted around hotspots such as Mitte, Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain and Ku’damm. The app is efficient and simple to register, just scan a QR code to unlock your ride. Once you arrive, park the bike and lock it manually to end the trip. This sunny beast costs 80 cent for 20 minutes (after the first ride, which is on the house – or free if you figure out the notoriously easy hack caused by a glitch in the app). Although the bikes are not much bigger than rivals, the high air volume in the tyres and a light yet sturdy frame make them comfortable (you’ll feel like you’re riding on clouds rather than cobblestones, no kidding). You can’t go wrong with this one!
Verdict: 4.5 stars Pricing: 80 cents for 20 minutes Fleet: 2000
MOBIKE: The Chinese quickie
They’re everywhere! Mobike, a Chinese company, unleashed its fleet on Berlin last November and, while not disclosing any numbers, claims to be the biggest bike rental company in town. While these silvery rides score with unmatched availability, they disappoint on comfort. The design is clumsy, with high handlebars and hard seats. There are two models, one of which is slightly larger and has a bigger basket. However, most of the bikes you see around are the smaller kind without a gear shift. They don’t make for the smoothest ride but are ideal for short trips: if you’re on foot running late, there is more than likely a Mobike within a five-minute radius. The app is easy to use but has a longer registration process. You are charged by topping up an account by amounts between €5 and €50 as you go and a complicated point system rewards and punishes behaviour: you begin with 550 points and if your score drops to below 100, your account will be suspended. Things that gain you points include observing traffic rules and supporting the platform by using it regularly. You’ll lose points for parking in off-limit areas (such as residential properties and active bike lanes) and vandalising bikes. How this works in practice is a tad creepy… they must be tracking cyclists very thoroughly! An upside is that you can reserve a ride 15 minutes before you get to the bike and unlock a second one – ideal for traveling with a friend.