This Company Is Giving Free Bikes to Londoners Who Don’t Mind Being Rolling Ads

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If you're based in London and want a free bike, a new company called Buzzbike—whose name explains its entire business model—can make that happen for you. 

In partnership with Cooper (creator of the Mini Cooper), which is providing the actual bicycles, Buzzbike offers Londoners not only a free bike but a Hiplok DC lock, lights, insurance and servicing—all for a £100 deposit (about $145). In exchange, users must commit to biking to work a minimum of 12 days a month and park their bikes on the street. 

Why the weird requirements? The bikes are branded by whoever wants to be seen streetside, adding a democratic twang to the city bike model—Nike recently created its own city bikes for Portland, Ore., and Citi, of course, sponsors the New York program. The difference here, of course, is that no single brand has to carry the slack for the people's transport. 

If you're wondering how Buzzbike would even know how often you bike to work, that's part of the exchange, too: On top of visibility for your toils, brands also get access to data from Buzzbike's app, which riders are obliged to use. 

"I was amazed by the number of bikes on the road and thought that if we could do marketing and advertising on bikes—but do it with a bit of integrity, do it the Apple way, if you like—then bikes could be an interesting creative platform," Buzzbike co-founder and CEO Tom Hares tells Creative Review. (He is notably also the former managing director of TBWA\Media Arts Lab, Apple's ad agency.) 

Let's hit pause on the creative bit; we're not done talking about user constraints yet. In addition to biking frequently, parking in public and using the Buzzbike app, the company also prefers that bikes be visible in groups to draw more attention, so the places where you live and work will also be judged for potential brand traffic, or qualitative impressions, if you prefer. You're basically a human ad platform. 

"The way we sign people up is largely on their home postcode and their work postcode, most importantly their work. Then we get a sense of where they're going to be parking the bike—because they have to park on the street—and that allows us to cluster those campaigns so the bikes are going to be seen," not to mention localize the campaigns by brand preference, Hares explains. 

"But ideally over time we can be as inclusive as possible, and get as many out there as possible, as we sign up with more brand partners." 

London actually already has its own bikeshare, the so-called "Boris bikes" created by Transport for London and currently sponsored by Santander. But Hares calls Buzzbike the "polar opposite" of that program, which he says is aimed more at casual bike users. 

"We're very much for people who actually cycle every day, and the big difference is there's no stand for these bikes, they become part of your life, you get to keep them 24/7," says Hares. 

Buzzbike plans to kick off this fall with about 100 bikes, backed by payment platform Braintree. Another 1,000 bikes will be deployed next spring, and the brand is currently running a crowdfunding campaign to support that phase. 

Prior to kickoff, check the Buzzbikes out at an installation just outside the Design Museum in London (photo via Vianney Le Caer, courtesy of Creative Review): 

The bikes there currently feature snazzy designs and illustrations by artists and studios, including Jean Jullien (whose Peace for Paris sketch famously went viral after the attacks in November), Eley Kishimoto, Universal Everything and Smithtown. Images appear below this post, in order of the artists mentioned. 

Once marketing departments get to them, though, you probably shouldn't expect the bikes to be this sexy. Consider the look of almost every other bikeshare program out there, the exception in this case being that lots of brands will be able to get their claws in. We can already imagine the visual din, and it's giving us brainfreeze. 

In the end, Buzzbike's initial success may depend on how much you actually trust Hares, who also reassures users about the bikes' look and feel: "We wouldn't work with [just] anyone," he says (though their current efforts to crowdfund may suggest otherwise. Papa needs a cash infusion, and such restraints can generally lower one's initially lofty standards). 

"It's about a premium brand wanting to do something innovative and interesting … I didn't leave working with Apple to create a company that did ads on bikes," Hares insists. "We're making something that we want to have genuine creative integrity." 

Customers who fail to comply with Buzzbike's rigorous biking standards will forfeit their deposit—though Hares says they'll adjust targets if someone is sick or the weather turns for the worst, which sounds like a lot of individual management, a natural enemy to scale. 

Still, you're probably best advised to stick to the Borises unless you're already a hardcore biker, in which case you probably already have your own bike. In fact, the only real benefit we can see to doing this is scoring a free bike whose eventual theft you won't care that much about.