The 16 Best Bike Shares in the World

New York City only the latest to hop on this global trend

When Citi Bike rolled onto the streets of New York this Memorial Day, it was treated as a national event and even international media took notice.

In advance of the launch, one blog post on Le Monde’s website crowed, “Vélib’ to conquer America.”  (Vélib’ is Paris’s iconic bike share.)

The United States may be a little late to the game, but the business of European-style bike sharing isn’t that old to begin with. In a 2003 paper for Transportation Quarterly, bike share expert Paul DeMaio, then a transportation planner for Alexandria, Va., identified three generations of public-use bike schemes, going back to 1968 in Amsterdam with the use of free so-called “White Bikes.” (That program collapsed within days.)

Click HERE to see the best bike shares in the world.

The next major development was in Copenhagen, which introduced a coin-operated system in 1995 called Bycyklen, or “City Bike.” For 17 years, these bikes zipped through the streets of Denmark’s capital until the program was shut down late last year—it’s getting an upgrade to third generation technology. [slideshow:697]

Sponsored by media giant Clear Channel, the French city of Rennes brought the next generation of bike share gadgetry to the world in 1998 by replacing coin operation with card access and electronic kiosks. From there the technology has progressed, picking up GPS and real-time tracking along the way, and has spread throughout Western Europe—and the world.

According to the Bike Sharing World Map, maintained by DeMaio and Russell Meddin of Bike Share Philadelphia, there are 553 bike share programs in operation worldwide and another 193 in planning or under construction.

And they’re not just in Europe and North America.

The worldwide leader in bike sharing, as measured by the number of bikes, is China. According to data collected by the Earth Policy Institute, 20 of the 25 largest bike share programs are Chinese. Its largest one, in the city of Wuhan, has twice the number of bikes as all of France’s shares combined.

Although most of the systems share several characteristics—bikes with low theft value, electronic docking stations, tiered payment scales—different cities are trying different ways to make bike sharing work.

With an eye towards highlighting the range and scale of the modern bike share boom, we picked 16 of the world’s standout programs and decided to see how they stack up against each other.

The most important factor in our rankings wasn’t the size of a program per se, but its size measured against the city’s population. For example, Mexico City’s 4,000 bikes may give it the third largest system in North America, but that’s in a city of 8.9 million—over 2,000 people per bike!

This ratio becomes a stand-in for variables that are harder to quantify: How “open” is the system to all who might want to use it, and how integral is it to the life of the city (or country, as the case may be)?

We also considered four other categories: affordability, popularity, functionality/convenience, and the city’s bike friendliness. We handily rolled those into a score—giving special weight to people per bike—and ended up with some unexpected results. Take a look!

Click HERE to see which cities have the best bike shares in the world.