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Electric bike startup partners with $20bn data giant to launch in London

New wheels: IHS Markit’s new Freebike electric bikes. Photo: Freebike
New wheels: IHS Markit’s new Freebike electric bikes. Photo: Freebike

IHS Markit (INFO), the $20bn financial data giant, is launching a fleet of electric bikes for staff in London, marking the entry of another mobility startup into the British capital.

IHS Markit has partnered with electric bike startup Freebike, which will initially provide six dockless bikes at the company’s London office. IHS Markit’s 1,400 London staff will be able to unlock the zero emission bikes using an app or a swipe card. If it proves popular, IHS Markit plans to add more bikes.

Lance Uggla, the CEO of IHS Markit, said in a statement: “I’m delighted that we’re launching this initiative in the City and taking important steps to reduce pollution and congestion in such a busy area. We will be looking to expand this pilot to our other global offices in the coming months.”

The electric bikes can travel up to 22km per hour. Electricity generated by peddling is used to give assistance to the rider and Freebike says on its website it allows people to get around cities without breaking a sweat.

Billions are going into bikes and scooters

The pilot comes amid a flurry of investment into urban mobility startups such as Californian electric scooter company Bird, which has raised over $400m (£305m), and Ofo, the Chinese dockless bike business that has raised over $2bn. Bird announced a limited launch into London this week.

“Three years ago we starting developing this dockless electric bike, really in reaction to the disruption from China,” Katharine Butler, the co-founder of Freebike, told Yahoo Finance UK.

Freebike was developed by Homeport, a Czech Republic-based bike company Butler cofounded with her brother 10 years ago. The company runs bike sharing schemes in 16 cities, mostly across Europe. Freebike is its first dockless bike. It currently operates in three cities in Finland, Czech Republic, and Slovakia.

Happy customer: IHS Markit CEO Lance Uggla on one of the new electric bikes
Happy customer: IHS Markit CEO Lance Uggla on one of the new electric bikes

Butler said the recent surge of investment into urban mobility startups has been driven by longer-term investment into autonomous driving vehicles, led by companies such as Alphabet’s Waymo and Uber.

“There’s this whole smart mobility future that everybody sees,” Butler said. “Before we get to that the automated vehicles or the self-driving cars, the bike is seen as the stepping stone.”

While customers may be signing up for electric scooters and dockless bikes today, Butler said that tech entrepreneurs and venture capitalists believe those same customers can be converted into autonomous vehicle customers when the technology becomes viable. In that sense, companies like Freebike, Bird, and Ofo are more like a transport platform play rather than strictly rental companies.

“Everyone’s trying to be the Amazon of mobility — a sort of one-stop shop,” Butler said. “It’s a race for customers.”

This week Ford announced the acquisition of San Francisco electric scooter startup Spin, saying the deal was “an important step towards realizing our ambitious vision for the future of urban mobility.”

Bike dump backlash

The race for customers has drawn backlash from city administrators around the world as companies have flooded areas with bikes and scooters in a race to reach scale. London councils complained about the way operator oBike rolled out theirs and a photo of thousands of abandoned dockless bikes in China was covered extensively last year.

There are also concerns about the lack of oversight from operators of their vehicles. Mobike was forced to pull out of Manchester after police responded to 400 Mobike-related calls in just over a year. Early this year Sheffield police said they would stop responding to calls of vandalised ofo bikes.

Butler said Freebike would only roll-out by partnering with companies and councils. She said this will take care issues around oversight as the scheme sponsors would keep tabs on the bikes

“There’s been a big backlash against the clutter and the mess [from other dockless bikes] which is why we think our more measured and controlled approach will be popular with the cities,” she said.

Freebike is currently in talks with about 10 companies in London, as well as property developers and four London boroughs. Butler said she hopes to announce new partnerships in the city soon.