Fifteen shows off the latest generation of its shared, docked bikes
Photo credit: Romain Dilet / TechCrunch
Fifteen may not be a household name, but you may already be familiar with some of Fifteen’s bikes. Fifteen is the new name of the companies formerly known as Smoove and Zoov – these two oddly named companies merged a few years ago.
Smoove is one of the companies behind the Vélib bike rental service in Paris (alongside Indigo, Mobivia and Moventi). And Zoov offered a hybrid bike share program for both short and long-term rentals. While Zoov never reached the scale of Smoove, its bikes and docks serve as the basis for Fifteen’s new offering. In essence, Fifteen combines the range of Smoove with the technology of Zoov.
The past few years have been both challenging and promising for Fifteen. When the city of Paris chose Smoove and its partners for the new Vélib’ service, it wasn’t a smooth transition. After some serious problems (including financial difficulties), the service has now reached hundreds of thousands of subscribers and tens of thousands of trips a day – Vélib’ is now arguably the world’s largest bike-sharing service.
Fifteen’s attention has now shifted to other cities. The company has worked with local governments to develop new bike-sharing programs. In a press conference ahead of the Autonomy Mobility World Expo in Paris, Fifteen unveiled the next generation of its bike system and talked about upcoming launches.
New bikes and new docks
A few months ago, Fifteen launched a new bike sharing service in Marseille. This isn’t the first public bike-sharing system in the city, but it does mark a major overhaul compared to the previous service.
“It was a town with an old-school bike service managed by JCDecaux, with mechanical bikes that were rarely used – just one or two rides per bike per day,” said Fifteen CEO Benoît Yameundjeu.
But if you’ve seen the bikes in Marseille, they don’t look like the Fifteen bikes (the Smoove bikes) in Paris or any other city. That’s because the company’s revamped bikes and docks are the next iteration of Zoov’s bikes and stations.
These e-bikes are equipped with a magnetic docking system. Instead of “plugging” the bike into a dock, place it next to the last used bike. As soon as the bike is locked, it is attached to the rest of the station with magnets – the station also serves as a charging station for the batteries.
As a user, this means that you cannot choose a specific bike. You can only unlock the bike that is currently at the end of the station – unless it is a large station and there are multiple charging stations.
If there is a problem with the bike you just unlocked, put it aside and re-lock it in a designated area next to the station. This way, defective bikes are quickly isolated from the rest of the fleet.
You can see how it works in this picture. There are four different charging stations and a central area for broken bikes:
“We wanted to build a dense parking system that would be easy to install using our proprietary power transmission system,” said Arnaud Le Rodallec, Fifteen’s chief product and technology officer. With these stations, you don’t have to dig big holes for individual electrified docks.
As for the bike, Fifteen electric bike is more modular. Cities can choose some features with multiple options for the front basket, an optional high-capacity battery with a range of 120km, etc.
“We also worked on the frame. The more pieces there are, the more complicated it gets,” said Le Rodallec. “It allows us to shave 1kg of weight off the frame, reducing costs and improving reliability.”
However, the most interesting feature is that it’s not specifically designed for a dock-based bike-sharing service. Fifteen’s customers can offer long-term rentals, as users may be able to unlock the battery with an app and charge it at home – more on that later.
There are also some built-in sensors that cities can use to create virtual stations – this can be useful for special events, for example. You draw a rectangle on a map and users can lock and unlock the bike in that area by using an app to scan a QR code on the handlebars.
Fifteen is already thinking about what’s next for Paris and other existing cities, as the company says cities can get the new bikes with existing docking stations. There is an adapter that you can attach to the front of the bike.
Extended bicycle networks
Fifteen has deployed a fleet of 52,000 bikes in more than 30 cities. In 2022, 1.5 million people will have interacted with a Fifteen bike-sharing system at some point.
The company is now considering other use cases for its bike. For example, it has developed a new service for Auxerre and the surrounding towns. In May 2023, 320 Fifteen bicycles will be used at 42 docking stations.
“The first project I want to talk about perfectly embodies our vision. We want to offer a solution that meets all requirements,” said Chief Marketing and Sales Officer Amira Haberah. “If I need a bike for five minutes, I use it for five minutes. If I need a bike for two days because I’m visiting the Yonne department, I take it with me for two days. And if I want to keep it for ten months, I can keep it for ten months.”
Whether you want to rent short-term or long-term, you can go to the nearest docking station and unlock a bike with the app. When you’re done, go back to a station. 200 bikes are available for short-term trips to get you from A to B. The remainder is set aside for personal long-term rentals.
Fifteen is also working on another project with the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region around the regional train line that connects Royan to Angoulême. Many people still drive to work because their office is not near a train station.
There are eight stops on this line and Fifteen will set up a docking station at each station. When you get off the train you can unlock a bike, use it during the day and return it to the station in the evening.
As such, Fifteen is now focused on a single, unified platform designed to serve the needs of local governments of all sizes – from cities to regions – and for all needs – traditional bike sharing services and long term rentals. The company now has a bike, a docking station, and a software stack.