Ride Kola Trials Give Organisations Greater Thirst for Active Transport

Melbourne, Victoria

A pilot collaboration between e-bike subscription service Ride Kola and Melbourne’s Merri-bek City Council has achieved a high success rate in convincing council staff to swap their cars for active transport for commuting.

Merri-Bek council last week released results from the program, which enabled 20 staff to borrow a Ride Kola e-bike throughout May, to provide a cheaper, healthier and more sustainable way to get to work.

“It made me realise that I want an e-bike for overall quality of life improvements.”

“The results and feedback have been amazing. Following the trial, 87.5% of staff intend to buy their own e-bike or keep riding, walking or using public transport for short trips,” according to a council report.

It says three out of four trial participants usually drive to work but were curious about e-bikes and hoped to get more enjoyment from their commute, “whether it was by not being stuck in traffic, getting exercise, or just feeling the wind in their hair”.

Post-trial comments from participants included:

  • “It was life changing!! I feel more able, confident and safe to ride for short and long trips.”
  • “It made me realise that I want an e-bike for overall quality of life improvements.”

Participants used the bikes for commuting, errands, and leisure, and clocked more than 2,200km, with most staff members using the bikes three or more times a week.

“Many of these rides replaced a typical car journey. We estimate the trial saved more than 542 kilograms of carbon,” the report says.

Ride Kola, a unique Victorian e-bike subscription start-up, is making major inroads to get Melbourne organisations onto bicycles since it launched in January.

It has been building plenty of interest with trials it has been running with health workers, school staff and students, as well as Merri-Bek council.

Ride Kola co-founder Chris Arnott said the trial with the inner-Melbourne council was over-subscribed within three hours of its launch.

They had allocated 15 bikes for the trial, expanded it to 20 bikes and ultimately received 40 expressions of interest from staff to participate.

The council offered staff subsidised use of a Ride Kola bike for the four-week trial throughout May and has a zero-interest loan scheme in place for participants who then want to purchase an e-bike. They can buy the bike from a store, with up to $2,000 of the purchase covered by the council, and progressively repay the amount through salary sacrifice.

Merri-Bek council has run similar trials with e-cargo bike subscription service Lug+Carrie in 2021 and 2022, offering local families free use of bikes to do the daily school run as part of the council’s Ride & Stride program with local schools.

Lug+Carrie enjoyed a high conversion rate from its trials with the Merri-Bek and Moreland council, with nearly 50% of participants becoming ongoing subscribers and contributing to the cargo bike company’s rapid growth.

Restrained Growth

Chris says while he’s hopeful of enjoying a similarly high proportion of conversions, Ride Kola intends to stay small, at least initially, and within its niche.

The business is taking a world-first approach by importing second-hand analogue Gazelle bikes from Amsterdam and retrofitting them with front-hub electric motors. While its recycled bike approach sought to tap into a particular market, the service’s step-through, sit-up-and-beg style bikes were also targetting female commuters who might not have been comfortable with existing categories in the Australian market.

Between corporate trials and private subscribers, Ride Kola has around 33 bikes out on Victorian roads – around half of the initial fleet it shipped to Australia last December.

“To date, we’ve had about 100 people contact us to enquire about subscriptions and the main demographic is women in their 30s, 40s and 50s, who are using the bikes as a commuter,” Chris said.

“That’s largely what we envisaged. People who are confident on bikes, and that’s often men, tend to ride what’s already available in Australia.

“Our product enables riders to sit upright. It’s got mud guards, a skirt guard and integrated lights. The chain’s away, which all helps if you’re a woman wanting to commute in normal clothes. It feels like that’s bearing out.

“They’re similar in style to a Lime bike but about 10 to 12 kilograms lighter, which is particularly important if you’re a small-framed woman.”

Ride Kola recently ran a come-and-try session with one of Melbourne’s big private schools, Carey Baptist Grammar, as well as a trial with the Western District Health Service (WDHS) that enabled staff to borrow a bike for a week and try a different way to commute to work.

Inspiring School Staff

WDHS’s director of corporate services, Nick Starkie, says the organisation has been inspired to buy several e-bike to add to its fleet, for staff to ride to meetings and other appointments.

“The feedback from participants in the e-bike trial was fantastic,” Nick said.

“Staff use their cars regularly for short trips during their work week and from a wellbeing and sustainability perspective, it makes sense that we do what we can to support our team to take care of themselves and the environment.”

Chris said Ride Kola has also been talking to other inner-Melbourne councils, with a couple in the pipeline for possible further programs.

“We’ve also had approaches from interstate, so there’s definitely demand out there in other in other spaces,” he said.

However, Ride Kola co-founder Amanda Stevens said they remained focused on slow growth.

“We’re not champing at the bit to have 10,000 bikes. We’d rather keep learning and do it well,” she said.

“To go to the supermarket, which was like one or two kilometres away, was taking them 45 minutes in their car.”

“We haven’t done any marketing yet, we’ve just used our networks – our friends, family and, and professional analytics and we haven’t really tapped all of those.

“We want to stay based around here. It doesn’t have to be that big to make it work.

“We haven’t sought funding or got hungry shareholders, so we can build slowly along the way.”

Second Bike Shipment

Amanda and Chris have a second shipment of bikes in the pipeline, but the duo plans to remain focused on the Melbourne market, where increasing traffic congestion is prompting more people to seek transport alternatives.

“We had a really interesting placement this week in the Toorak area. The comment there was for them to go to the supermarket, which was like one or two kilometres away, was taking them 45 minutes in their car,” Amanda said.

“It’s just a horrendous traffic jam and quite notorious in Melbourne. If you get stuck in that, you’re just stuck for 20 or 30 minutes.”

“If now if that Toorak family want to get some milk, they get on the bike and they’re done in no time. Then the best friend around the corner wanted one, so we’ve started deploying into that market of people simply wanting to beat the congestion.

“We’re providing a solution for convenience that just happens to be a bike.

“Melbourne is a city crying out for a solution like that and it’s getting worse and worse.

“We’ve got another person we’ve deployed a bike to in Westgarth. It was taking her 40 to 50 minutes to drive to work. Now she’s on a bike and it’s 10 minutes or so.

“The bike infrastructure to the north of the city is really quite good now, so she’s off road the whole way – separated and fully protected,

“The way many people are happy to sit in traffic just blows my mind. I’d rather be getting wet on a bike and doing something in 10 minutes than sitting in my car for 40 or 50 minutes.”

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