08 January 2018

On Google, You Can Find Everything...Except Their Bikes!

Which will come first:  a perpetual motion machine, or Donald Trump not taking credit for something?

Or a bike share program without theft or vandalism?

A little more than two years ago, I found a Citibike that someone attempted to camouflage with gold rattle-can paint.   That bike was one of hundreds that have been stolen from New York's bike-share program during its four and a half years of operation. Most other large-city share programs have had to deal with prodigious pilferage; some, such as the one Rome had, ended because of it.

Turns out, municipal bike share programs aren't the only ones whose bikes are swiped.  On its sprawling Mountain View, California campus, Google offers bikes for its employees to use.  The problem,it seems, is that not everyone who avails him or self to that service is an employee--or remains on the campus after grabbing the handlebars.

It seems that some local residents view the bikes as part of "the commons" and "borrow" them in much the same way some folks "borrow" shopping carts from their local supermarkets or "find" milk crates nearby. Some of the bikes have been found on lawns of nearby homes, roofs of hotspots and even in a local TV commercial.  Even Mountain View's mayor has admitted to riding one of Google's bikes to the movies.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Google's bikes are adorned with the Lego hues of its logo.  While this makes them distinctive, it hardly makes them impossible to camouflage.  While Citibike and most other municipal share bikes are shaped differently from most bikes you can buy, Google's frames, with their sloping twin-lateral top tube, have a form similar to that of many European-style city or commuter bikes--including at least one from a certain company located at the other end of Silicon Valley.  Thus, it wouldn't be too difficult to disguise a purloined Google bike.

That might explain why some have been found as far away as Alaska and Mexico, and why one turned up at Burning Man in Nevada while others ended up at the bottom of a local creek.  It also explains why Google is now doing something that, frankly, I'm surprised they didn't do earlier in the program:  They are attaching GPS tracking devices to the bikes.

Hmm...Can you imagine if supermarkets and dairy companies started implanting chips in their carts and crates?


  1. A couple years ago we toured Google's campus in Mountain View, Calif. My wife grew up in Palo Alto, and the family home was about three miles from modern-day Google. Those brightly colored bikes were everywhere, and I fantasized about applying for a job as Google's official bike mechanic. It would have been a sweet gig. All the bikes are single speed and the weather is always mild. Fixing flats and lubing chains probably would have been my main job.

  2. MT-That would have been a sweet gig, wouldn't it?