Home Features Are abandoned bicycles taking over our streets?

Are abandoned bicycles taking over our streets?


Towns and cities in many parts of the world, including my home town of London, are becoming littered with abandoned bits of bicycles and piles of randomly placed rental bikes. Is this something we should be concerned about, or is it the price we pay for encouragement of cleaner forms of transport?

The idea of being able to pick up a bike anywhere, click on a smartphone app and take temporary possession, is wonderful — in theory. But the reality is that our towns are becoming infested with rather nice looking bicycles seemingly abandoned and doing nothing.

At a subjective level, I see many people using fixed-location rental bikes. In London, this scheme was introduced by Boris Johnson, when mayor, and was sponsored originally by Barclays. Now Santander has taken over and the red-mudguarded bikes are very common, even in the suburbs.

Fixed-location bikes such as those in the Transport for London scheme sponsored by Santander, offer an efficient and tidy solution. Renters must return the bike to a convenient dock rather than throwing it down in any street (image Transport for London)

No fixed abode

Bicycles of no fixed abode, on the other hand, are bringing anarchy. The orange Mobikes in the pictures and those from Lime and others are quite another bunch of spokes. The strange thing is that despite the huge numbers of these bikes lying in wait for customers, very few seem to be in use. That, again, is the result of my observations, because it’s difficult to miss a bright orange or lime-green bicycle when seen on the road. I just don’t see them in use as often as I do the Santander bikes.

Here’s the offer from Lime:

You locate the nearest Lime bike through the Lime smartphone app, scan a QR code on the rear mudguard, and the bike should unlock for you. Test the brakes, and you’re away laughing. The rental costs an initial £1 to unlock the bike, plus 15p for each minute it’s in your possession.

Riders may be laughing, but pedestrians and users of wheelchairs are not impressed. Sometimes the inconsiderate abandonment of bicycles makes it difficult to use the pavement and can lead to accidents, particularly those involving older people or those with sight problems.

Incidentally, doesn’t this seem expensive to you? £10 for the first hour and £9 an hour after that. It’s cheaper on the bus.

Railing litter

There’s another phenomenon: The abandoned bicycle chained to railings. You see this all over London and, I presume, in other world cities. It is growing in nuisance value by the week. In some cases, the cycles look to be in good condition, except there is just a skeleton left dangling from the fence.

Presumably, the owners came back to find the bike cannibalised and decided to cut their losses — leaving some poor local authority factotum to pick the lock or saw it off. Surely owners of such bicycles have a moral duty to at least unlock the chain and, if possible, dispose of their rubbish?

Where’s the common thread in all this? It’s the fact the bicycles are A Good Thing. If our streets and railings were festooned with abandoned shopping trolleys and cars there would be outrage. Something would have to be done. But this isn’t the case with the new breed of rental bikes because they are evidence of the good fight against the internal combustion engine. So they can litter at will.

What’s the view from where you live? Are these rental bikes becoming a nuisance and are they creating more problems than they solve? Or is the litter the price we pay for greener transport?


  1. Definitely a world wide phenomenon, Mike.

    Same thing happens here in Melbourne. The “law of unintended consequences” also kicked in, and we now employ people to fetch the abondoned “hire bikes” from all over the suburbs, not just in the CBD areas. I’ve seen them as far afield as 20km from the central City, left like flotsam on the pathways and nature strips.

  2. I am in Amsterdam from Sydney.
    Enough said
    Bikes in use are a death trap . I saw an elderly lady in a wheel chair collide
    With a bike yesterday. Bikes fault but he survived.
    The abandoned bikes make London look bike free.
    I walk.

    • I had completely forgotten the appalling mess that is Amsterdam. It is a city totally ruined. The front of Centraal Station is a sight to behold. London has a long way to go. The nearby capital of Den Haag is so much nicer in my opinion.

  3. Not sure what the answer is. 20 years ago I worked a stone’s throw from Soho Square in London and abandoned bikes were a problem then. Most railings in the area carried signs warning that bikes left chained up would be removed. Back then I used to cycle daily through central London but there weren’t folk on rental bikes tottering around.

    I guess if you make something basically disposable then people will treat it that way.

    Now I live in the middle of a desert where there are no bikes and no bitumen either.

  4. I’m in the Sandover area (Officially called Utopia or Urapuntja) in the central deserts of Australia. Very quiet, very remote, not many people but the bird life is impressive.

    • I took a look at Sandover on Google Maps, satellite view… Wow, what a place, it is almost like you are living in the middle of an abstract photograph.

      That is one remote spot, not the sort of place to break down in your car.

  5. Here in Chicago bike riding tends to split into those hardy enough to bike all year round, even in -10F in the dead of winter. Those hardy souls also have to contend with bike lanes that are not always observed by truck and SUV drivers. The thought that any of them would abandon a bike is unlikely and any thief looking at profiteering from a bike would be unlikely to see much of an ROI.

    That leaves the “DIVVY” rental bike which can only be accessed if you have inserted your credit card into the bike locking system. The bikes are so distinctive that they’re not worth stealing by a casual thief – who would buy one?

    I lived in Amsterdam for a while an abandoned bikes – either worn out or stolen – were commonplace to the point where you could pick up your daily commuter bike for about €50.

  6. Rental bikes are always awful to ride.Iffy brake adjustment, a saddle that doesn’t fit your rear end and wonky steering, not to mention heavy, ugly and not agile.
    It doesn’t cost so much to buy your very own bike ( needn’t be expensive ) which overcomes all of these things and actually makes it enjoyable to ride.Yes, there’s always a risk of theft. Take precautions. But please, get a real bike not a piece of junk with a Spanish Bank name on it. It’s the city, not a beach resort.

  7. There is also a huge problem with cyclists on paths and pavements – in parks and close to where I live (LBHF), on the Thames path. There are kids and dogs and pedestrians endangered constantly by sweaty twits cycling at high speed on the paths – whilst there is a perfectly safe, hardly used road right behind.

  8. I can only assume that there is no planning condition that forces these companies to employ people to keep a check on where and how the bikes are parked, so users are able to just chuck them wherever, unlike the ‘Boris Bike’ docking stations. People are generally lazy when they can be.

    Personally, I would rather have bikes (that can be moved) blocking the pavement, than the disgraceful scourge of pavement car parking that blights our towns and cities.


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