Share Bike Surrenders Its Secrets To A Teardown

If you are fortunate enough to live in a tiny settlement of no significance then perhaps you will be a stranger to bike sharing services. In many cities, these businesses have peppered the streets with bicycles secured by electronic locks for which the “open sesame” command comes through a Bluetooth connection and an app, and it’s fair to say they have become something of a menace. Where this is being written there are several competing brands of dubious market viability, to take a trip across town is to dodge hundreds of them abandoned across pavements, and every one of our waterways seems to sport one as jetsam courtesy of our ever-creative late-night drunks.

However annoying they might be, these bikes are electronic devices, and it’s thus interesting to read a teardown of one courtesy of [Electric Dreams]. The bike in question is in Australia and comes from Ofo, and it is very much worth pointing out that it is their property and prying it open is almost certainly a crime.

The bike itself is a fairly unexciting and rugged, with the electronics sitting in a module incorporating a back wheel lock sitting somewhere above where the rear brake might be. Inside is a custom board with GPS, GSM, and Bluetooth, and unexpectedly for an Aussie bike, a Netherlands SIM. Underneath the board is a motor and gearbox to activate the lock, but none of these parts are unexpected. The interesting angle of us comes from the power source, which is a D-sized lithium thionyl chloride cell, a primary cell rather than the expected rechargeable. These cells have a huge energy capacity, but at the expense of a truly nasty electrolyte and a high internal resistance which means they are limited to delivering tiny currents lest they explode.  To power the radios and motor in the Ofo, the designer has added a supercapacitor which presumably charges slowly and can then dump the required power when needed.

So bike share bikes have no great surprises in their electronics but a minor one in their power source. Curiosity sated, no need for anyone else to break the law for another look. It’s interesting to see a large lithium thionyl chloride cell in the wild, and it would be even more interesting to know whether Ofo get good life from them. Maybe our commenters will know. Or perhaps someone should ask the Feds.

Thanks [xtra] for the tip.

67 thoughts on “Share Bike Surrenders Its Secrets To A Teardown

      1. As a lifelong city dweller, I’m jealous of your tiny settlement lifestyle you’re boasting about. Also, I wish there was a way to double up on Jenny List posts and filter the comments to actually being on topic and/or constructive. Its hard enough to not be bummed by the state of world on most websites outside of Hackaday, I don’t know why we need to make this one so contentious. HAD is an escape and a relief, and I for one appreciate that we have this site and the people that bother to collect and organize these projects, no matter how many times they misspell or ignore typo warnings. (Although a error submission tool besides commentary would be nice) :D

        1. Mr B, some people might find “contention” right in the article! lol Surely if reducing contention was a goal, then something like a rental bicycle wouldn’t be described in the article and being unvirtuous, (a menace) and even having the business model attacked without even having data to know if it is a good business model.

          1. I invite you to come walk around Santa Monica Promenade and surrounding areas and after you’ve tripped over several limes/birds whatever, see if you change your tune a little. They’re a menace. They’re literally all over the place with no oversight and this startup/”disruptor” is doing this same crap that the others are doing – poor wages and no research into impact besides their bottom line. I have no issue with bikes or conveyances with responsible owners, but these things are not going to work in our cities without the companies making some changes to work with and not against basic laws and established social contract. look here for a taste :

        1. You raise a fair point, I actually had to search to see what Brian’s been posting and I agree with you. But his stuff is easy to ignore. Jenny’s headlines and above the fold paragraphs are just beyond obnoxious, rude, and generally unpleasant. So I’d rather leave Brian’s stuff up than Jenny’s. Jenny’s writing has been described as dry British wit, but it isn’t. It’s just plain nasty.

          But then that’s why I asked for a way to block certain editors, that will make everyone happy and give HAD valuable feedback about the tastes of their readerbase.

      2. I was more upset that a useful new business model is being declared a menace, unfairly.

        In my community, they’re profitable beyond expectation, too. I was very skeptical when they were installing them, but now I see people riding them all over town. And about half the time, they’re with somebody else who is riding their own bike. So a bunch of the cases of people who normally bicycle, but are visiting a friend, they can still bike around. Before even though they both normally bicycle, they’d have been driving because one of them didn’t have their bike with them.

        The ones we have, have nice big baskets, too.

        1. It would be a great feature, which I’d love to have, but certainly not more useful than my suggestion.

          And in case you’re wondering, no, your post did not go over my head.

        2. Over your head? Nope, I was aiming for the neck. Looks like I missed.
          Anyway, one does have to wonder what experience you have had of nasty or obnoxious in your life to think you have spotted it anywhere on HAD other than the comments section.

    1. I’ve lived in Shitney my whole life, I’m looking for a way to get out. I have a very inner-city-bound career though – architect.

      As for the bikes – good riddance! One less of the damn things. I wonder what lithium thionyl chloride does when it gets into water-ways. Nothing nice I bet. As for illegality – aren’t Ofo the one that went bust about a week ago, disappearing with everyone’s credits and no refunds offered?

      1. Thionyl chloride on its own with water would produce hydrochloric acid and sulphur dioxide. Which would react away relatively safely and reasonably fast.

        The Lithium metal inside the battery would react first and very fast with water to produce Hydrogen gas and lithium hydroxide.

        If it is reacting in a very very small volume of water the mixture would produce end products of lithium chloride (toxic to the nervous system), sulphuric acid hydrogen gas.

        But in reality you would need to puncture the steel case (or wait for it to rust away) for any reaction to take place at all.

        The batteries are airtight because they need to be, otherwise the lithium metal inside would react with oxygen in the atmosphere to produce lithium oxide, and the battery would be dead on arrival.

        The reality is if the battery is punctured and thrown into a river, lake or pond then end products will be relatively benign in a short period of time, a bit of pond scum might die near the battery. But I think you could say the same for any type of battery, with the possible exception of the expensive “environmentally friendly” water-activated battery used by radiosondes.

        1. Yeah. With only one cell per bike, and the cell is in a sealed metal case inside a sealed waterproof box, the bike itself would be more of a hazard than the cell.

          There are going to be more LiSOCl cells in the wild in the next few years as more utilities move to smart monitoring systems that need to run for a decade or more without external power (my day job is developing some) but they’ll probably be all fixed installations rather than something a bogan can toss into a waterway.

      2. Didn’t went bust.
        The un-ruled, uncivilized colonials of Sydney and Melbourne kept damaging and dumping bikes everywhere.
        Then the councils, instead of persecuting the perpetrators, decided to blame and charge the bike operators. So the bike operators withdrew from those cities. Too co$tly to fight against 7 million vandals.

        MoBike still operates in Gold Coast City, Queensland and seems over there locals are more civil and don’t dump bikes on trees …
        Or they are far too busy having fun on the beach to loiter around.

        1. The Chinese are having the exact same kind of issues but to the point where the local councils are just out right banning the schemes, rounding up all the bikes and scrapping them!

          Such a shame as I could do with a few beater\ pub bikes. Even better if they have a built in lock I can modify!

  1. Depending on how often the bike is locked/unlocked the battery can easily last for several years. 19Ah at ~3.6V is a lot of energy to play with if you’re careful. The biggest energy drain would be the 3G radio, but that is going to be used *very* rarely, maybe once a day for under a minute, enough time to send the current position and battery state, and potentially update security keys.

    1. Well radio use is largely dictated dby how they assign and log usage, provide permissions, etc. If the network allows anyone with a card to ride for a flat monthly fee, then sure.. they only need to download the nightly user list, and if a new user tried to use the bike before the update, it would need to query for permission directly at that instance.

      If it’s a case of reserving the bike, being charged per use, or confirming identify per use to curb theft and vandalism, it would need to commuy a lot more.

      Some of the bike services near me are more security conscious and do things like use existing pay services, check out and in, etc. I’d imagine they recharge as you ride.

      1. You’re forgetting that the bike is unlocked by an app on the user’s phone. They’ll offload absolutely everything they can onto the phone’s battery and internet connection. The bike’s modem is only used to keep track of it when nobody has connected to it in a while.

  2. “Where this is being written there are several competing brands of dubious market viability, to take a trip across town is to dodge hundreds of them abandoned across pavements, and every one of our waterways seems to sport one as jetsam courtesy of our ever-creative late-night drunks.”

    Bikes that bring themselves home.

    1. Everyone and the media is generally horrified about the menace of scooters (because that’s just what our current version of digital yellow journalism does with everything, we’re outrageoholics) but I can’t wait until i find a bunch of wrecked, worn-out or illegalized scooters to salvage motors and batteries from. Totally fine with me.

      In Thailand people ride little motor scooters everywhere in big cities. No laws saying they can’t pop up on the sidewalk to get around gridlock or ride over a canal on a pedestrian bridge. The whole traffic system is generally less rigid. We in the west clutch our pearls in abject terror when confronted with a system like that, but over there it’s very respectful and works out quite well. People are alert and accommodating and not spiteful like a crab in a bucket when somebody on a smaller vehicle is able to go around them. It also helps that not every single person in Bangkok is driving around in a giant SUV with seven empty seats all to themselves, sitting around idling on the asphalt an occupying a thousand square feet of real estate. Such a high percentage of the traffic is two-wheeled, which gives them a kind of herd protection. They are the rule, not the exception, so people expect and look out for them.

      I think we should quit trying to be so strict about what kind of vehicle belongs where. We’re control freaks.

  3. The only problem appointed is when the users abandon the bike at any place. A model where the user is charged ( credit card, whatever ) if they do not deliver the bike at an official receiver place could solve that.

    1. No, being able to dump the bike anywhere convenient is a *feature* of the system. The entire point of the phone hardware in the bike is to allow the operator to know exactly where every bike is.

      They probably have a couple of trucks drive around and rescue ‘weirdly’ located bikes and return them to regular circulation. It’s a hell of a lot cheaper than the rent on all the land for the “official receiver places” which have to be literally everywhere if you actually want people to use the service.

      1. Rewarding laziness and irresponsibility, what could possibly go wrong? As for locations, not much different than “where does one locate a bike rack, for those who own their own bike*”?

        *Read as “financially vested in equipment’s welfare”.

      2. that is exactly what they do – at least that’s what they said during a local radio interview I listened to around Cambridge (I think there are two operators here – ofo and another) – they’ve a bike+trailer that goes around and shifts them around to distribute them again to places that need them more.

        1. Mobike is the other. Seen the ofo guys on the science park a couple of times. As an aside, the photo of the ofo bike in the article is taken on Senate House Passage – but it doesn’t look like the ofos we have. Orange cars are better anyway :-)

      3. As said, rewarding laziness and trash. So if somebody dumps a bike in front of my house/lawn, I am entitled to just pick it up and dump it in the trash can, as it is just something abandoned, right ?

        As for land space, they can/should use space in parks, shopping centers, big public offices and the like. The necessary spaces, would need to be not much bigger than one or two freight containers, ant that can easily be squeezed out from the mentioned places.

        Of course, all of that if the intention is for people to use the bikes. If the intentin is for the outfit that sells the bikest to the city to profit then it is obvious that they will prefere the bikes to be dumped everywhere and be disposed of.

        1. Rog Fanther… Read you laws a little bit closer.

          “So if somebody dumps a bike in front of my house/lawn, I am entitled to just pick it up and dump it in the trash can, as it is just something abandoned, right ?”

          If somebody dumps a bike in front of your house, you are required to bring the bike to the police station, as it might be reported stolen and the owner would like it back.

          And rewarding laziness? Are you Amish? These people are providing a service. And this service is to let you pick up a bicycle, bicycle anywhere, drop your bike anywhere, and they will take care of redistribution. It’s the business model. It’s the service. You’re PAYING them for being able to drop the bike anywhere, and they will redistribute it if necessary!

          1. Oh the fun’s going to start when rent-an-autonomous vehicle comes out. Soon you’ll find one park in some of the same places bikes were, including one floating in the waterway.*

            *Please, someone get a photo. I need a good laugh.

          2. Warning – am not a lawyer. As with much stuff, depends on local statute and regulations.

            Per my lawyer’s explanation, it is important NOT to take possession of the lost/stolen property. Many states have some code that requires that the property be restored to owner where known. Where the property is a nuisance or a hazard, there are always bazillions of regulations for abatement. In my rural area, typically move it to the edge of a common area and proceed per local regulation of reporting lost stuff. For larger vehicles, never touch the thing. Call the police and they will have the thing towed.

            For stuff that is dumped and obviously trash, dispose in accordance with local waste regulations.

            And if you find a human body on your property, pack a bag prior to calling police and be prepared to leave your abode for a few days. If a space-alien body, should probably dispose as hazmat…

      4. I have seen in many cities trucks driving around and moving bikes, many times it is because the flux of people is not a closed loop, but some directions are favored. The system would have a lot less capacity if the bikes would not be moved.

        1. They need to build self driving bikes that re-home themselves when needing a charge, or having passed an arbitrary period of time without a customer!
          Such bikes could also relocate outside of pubs in the evening to assist pub patrons to get home (or to the next pub).

    2. I think good compromise is a system where they can be left only in certain areas, like designated parking spaces. The system should be good at determining if the user left it in a proper place or not.
      This way you avoid the need for a dedicated dock and the annoyance of stumbling around bikes all the time.

  4. I am totally against the idea of leaving these things anywhere and everywhere. I think a better solution is setting up locations where these things are stored and unlocked from as well as deposited when done. If located in sane places in a city then it serves its purpose well with people riding most of the way and walking only the last 50 meters or so. It also means that also none of them will ever be thrown away as the charges wont stop until it is returned to any appropriate location. Another benifit is that the bikes can be much simpler and cheaper as you wouldn’t even need any real electronics in them, if one gets “lost” then just charge the user who checked one out but never returned it.

    The other side of the coin is that cities must adapt their infrastructure to incorporate bicycles more often as well as encourage people to cycle instead of driving. This will cause disruption and anger some people but promoting cycling over driving in major city centers provides a net benefit for everyone.

    1. “Another benifit is that the bikes can be much simpler and cheaper as you wouldn’t even need any real electronics in them”

      That’s no benefit. A smart lock of the type dissected in this post is much more inexpensive that some type of locked storage/stations at many locations throughout the city. The solution you want is first generation bike sharing. But operators are now clearly moving to second generation, smart-lock-on-bike systems. Some still require you to end your rental in a designated zone, usually near bike stands next to public transit stops, supermarket or spots tourists or locals tend to hang out in. Works pretty well in my experience of using a few of them in big cities in Europe.

        1. They could cover a long distances faster than most people except for athletes could cover on a bike and have their own on board intelligence that can navigate congested spaces better than any self driving car but they have this habit of leaving manure everywhere.

  5. I am just laughing at the post and the comments.
    They tried a bike share program in our city. Lasted all of two months. I honestly consider it Frisco snake oil.
    Without proper traditional advertising it is a pointless endeavor. You only tap a small portion of folks that way. It is bound to fail. That is what happened here anyway. That and folks don’t rely on public transportation to begin with so bikes are just for DUIs and recreation lol.

    1. They put one in the city down the road from us. They spent millions of dollars making bike lanes so they needed to have bikes to use them. Initially they had them around places where people would eat and shop, in the business district. Now they seem to be gravitating to more residential neighborhoods and even the outskirt of town. I think some people may be almost “keeping” them. Rent it to ride to work, hide it at work, rent it to ride home, hide it at home. Use it hard and when it has an issue, go and find a new one. These bikes and the car share cars that can basically be just be picked up are going to have the living crap kicked out of them, IMHO.

    2. It works in some places, fails in many others.
      The weird thing is that nobody seem to have any way to predict it will fail. While to me that does not seem so impossible.
      There might be edge cases though, but there are a great many places where you can just know it will fail with an astronomical amount of certainty.

  6. I bought an OFO bike for $70 from a car dealer in Dallas. I would like to use the lock, but from what I’m reading, it seems kind of impossible to somehow program it with a code so I can lock and unlock it at will. It’s really just about comfort; I’d like to lock my bike without any kind of external lock.
    Is that possible at all?

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