How to Develop a Bike Sharing App: Bike Rental Systems and Key Features
A common sight in most major cities, bikes for rent have been present for years and the trend is here to stay. In 2020, the bike sharing app market was estimated to be worth $3.3 billion and by 2026, it will reach over $13.7 billion.
If you want to build a bike sharing app and offer a new solution to a specific region or city, understanding the development process is essential. In this article, we’ve compiled everything you need to know about bike rental app development from the mechanics of these apps to the features and technology stacks used in bike share programs.
How does bicycle sharing work?
Public bicycle rental systems have been around since the 90s. The UK, US, and Europe were all early adopters of the movement. In 1995, the city of Copenhagen introduced a bike rental system where people used coins to unlock vehicles. Later systems utilised magnetic cards that let users take a bike from dedicated docking stations.
A bicycle in the ‘Copenhagen City Bikes’ program. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Today, two types of bike sharing systems exist. The first is more common and uses docks, or stations, where bikes are ‘parked.’ A user can unlock a bicycle via a dedicated cycle rent app and after the trip, park the vehicle at any other station in the system.
The second type of bike sharing system is dockless; bicycles are parked anywhere within a city and feature electronic locks in the frames. GPS devices mean they can be found easily. A user unlocks a bike via a bike rental application and can park it wherever they like. It’s a handy system that has seen a lot of success with other types of vehicles, including electronic scooters and cars.
An overview of the bike rental app market
Often, cities and countries develop their own bike rental apps, which explains why the market is so varied. Nevertheless, there are still several major players on the market, such as the US-based Lyft. Given the number of companies in this space, what are the best bike sharing apps? Let’s take a look at some of the top performers.
Mobike is a Chinese bike sharing app headquartered in Beijing. It spans more than 200 cities worldwide and operates in South America, Australia, Japan, the UK, the US, Israel, and several European countries. All its vehicles are dockless, meaning a user finds a bicycle via geolocation services and unlocks it in Mobike’s app.
Headquartered in San Francisco, Lime app offers rental bicycles, electric bikes, electric scooters, and mopeds. Lime is also a dockless system so users can park the vehicles anywhere they want. The app operates worldwide including North and South America, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Australia, and New Zealand.
Nextbike is a German app-based bike rental company that was founded in Leipzig in 2004. Its app works in 28 countries and 300 cities across Europe, New Zealand, and the UK. There are docking stations to park the company’s bikes but the app also allows travellers to find and park vehicles anywhere within a limited area. The app offers bikes and e-bikes.
How to develop a bike rental app: Your first pedal strokes
Just like any other app type, there are certain features you need for a quality bike rental application, and a specific technology stack to keep the app’s wheels turning smoothly. Before we touch on matters of technology, let’s take a closer look at the critical features in traditional and electric bike-sharing app development.
Features to include in a bicycle rental app
Basically, a bike sharing app allows users to pick up a vehicle, pay for the rent, and then return the bike to a docking station or lock it after use. It might not seem like a complicated set of functionalities, but you need to pick a good development team if you want your bike rental app to work well and keep users returning.
Let’s examine the key features your app will need:
- Login: Users need to sign up or create an account in your bike rental app. Allow authentication via email or social media accounts to make the process quicker.
- QR code reader: Users unlock bikes by scanning QR codes in the dedicated app. Integrate a camera feature to make code scanning seamless. Such functionality is especially important for dockless bicycles.
- GPS and geolocation: This is the most important part of any bike sharing app as GPS helps users locate nearby bikes and prevents thefts as devices are integrated into the bikes themselves.
- Payment methods: Allow users to choose from a variety of payment options for more convenience, such as card integration, Google and Apple Pay, PayPal, and others.
- Notifications: Notifications are crucial in bike sharing apps as they remind users about rental time. In the case of such apps, more time spent on the vehicle equals more money.
The technology stack in bike sharing app development
GPS and other bike rental app functionalities require a specific set of technologies, and specialists to make them run smoothly.
For example, you can’t imagine a bike sharing app development without payment integration, so your app must be secure. While frontend developers build the features, backend developers make sure the information stored in the app, such as credit card numbers and user profiles are safe and sound.
Today, it’s common practice to develop a cross-platform, or hybrid, app that shares the same code and works for Android and iOS since it’s a cheaper solution. However, if you want your app to work smoothly, we recommend native app development. This does increase the costs as you’ll develop two apps simultaneously, but it’s a wise decision if you want an app that performs well and is bug resistant.
Note that major companies never use hybrid apps as big players invest into stability and quality. Plus, as bike share apps collect and store payment information, good security is key, something that is easier to obtain with native apps as these leverage platform-specific security features.
Technological matters aside, what about the price of building a bike rental app? Let’s take a closer look at costs.
The cost of building a bike app
The amount of features you implement in your cycle rent app and the type of development you choose are two of the crucial price-forming factors. What’s more, the location of the development team you work with can also affect the total cost as specialists from different countries charge at different rates.
All in all, bike rental apps don’t require too many features as their purpose is somewhat limited. Building a minimal viable product (MVP), an early version of an app with basic features, will cost around $30,000.
A fully-developed project might cost around $100,000 (not including additional costs such as its release into app stores and ongoing maintenance. These numbers are approximate, of course, since the final price is estimated by the development company you entrust your project to.
The world of shared mobility
Today, there are many alternatives to bicycle rental as other shared transport types are having a big moment. In India and Asian countries, motorbikes, motor scooters, and mopeds are huge with dedicated apps for rental available. Even on-demand bike taxi app development is present in the region as some travellers and tourists can’t drive motorcycles themselves.
In Europe and America, electric scooters are almost everywhere these days along with traditional bikes and e-bikes. This is why many apps dedicated to analogue bikes have added electric vehicles to their list of services.
Carsharing, or renting a car instead of ordering a taxi, is another way to travel, but carpooling or ridesharing is also growing rapidly. Ridesharing allows people to move in the same vehicle in groups, a system that confers economic benefits to the driver, and the passengers who are getting a cheaper ride, and environmental benefits too as theoretically, there are fewer cars on the road.
For long distance journeys, there’s BlaBlaCar, a dominant carpooling service that has been around since 2006. Uber and Lyft also cover the ridesharing market for relatively short distances within a city.
If you’re interested in carpooling app development, read our guide on building a rideshare app.
The world of shared mobility is rich and varied. There might be plenty of competition, but there’s also plenty of room for new riders (such as yourself) to make an impact on the market with a quality app and service.
Let’s summarise the key takeaways from this article:
- There are two types of bike rental systems: docking, where users take and return bikes from and to dedicated stations, and the dockless sharing system, where users lock vehicles wherever they’d like to stop within predefined zones.
- A bike sharing app needs login, GPS, QR code integration, payment method integrations, and push notifications as its main features.
- Native app development might be costlier, but pays off in the future as there are fewer bugs, a better user experience, and greater security to keep user data safe.
- Be attentive when you choose a development team as even with such basic functionality, everything must be developed at the top level otherwise, the app will not perform as expected.
At MadAppGang, we know how to develop great transportation apps, whether it’s got four, two, or even one wheel, we can help. If you have a project idea, fill out an app requirement document and drop us an email.
Or contact us via the interwebs and we’ll get back to you with some ideas and a plan for moving forward with your bike rental app.