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Social Bicycles announces availability by end of summer, we go hands-on (video)

Brian Heater
05.23.12
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When last saw the Social Bicycles (SoBi), there wasn't a heck of a lot to report on. The whole thing was little more than a concept, a Kickstarter page and an early prototype. Flash forward just under a year later, and it's beginning to look a lot like a real, consumer-facing product. The New York startup showed off its bike and a couple of apps today at TechCrunch Disrupt. The concept here is not too dissimilar from a Zipcar -- you locate a bike using the Android or iOS app, find it on the street, enter your PIN, pull out the lock and you're good to go.

If you're feeling particularly enterprising, you can can pick up bikes to rent up for $1,300 a piece, if you order less than 50 or $1,100 per, if you go for more. The wireless data, meanwhile, runs $15 per bike, per month. The company has both consumer and business-facing apps. On the administrative side of things, you can track the bikes and set boundaries for return. Incentive programs are set up, giving customers credits, should they do something like get a bike from outside a designated hub and return it to one.

Gallery: Sobi Social Bicycles hands-on | 23 Photos

On the consumer side, you'll get your activity stream (bike locked, unlocked, et al), routes and social sharing, via Twitter, Facebook and Google+. You can also reserve your bike from the app -- though, should you not have your smartphone on you, you can still get a bike by entering account information into the keypad.

The bike itself is pretty close to the final production model from what we're told -- one that looks a lot like the company's early renders. It's not a bad looking bike -- though perhaps not one you'd want as your permanent ride. It's roughly 40lbs, with a white curvy frame -- according to the company, the body itself is largely a proprietary design, including the metal basket that's welded to the front handlebars. There's no chain on the bike -- instead it relies on a shaft drive to move the wheels.

The keypad is located above the rear wheel. To the left of the numbers are indicator lights letting you know whether it's locked or unlocked -- once unlocked, you can pull the metal "u" bar out from just underneath. To the right of the keypad is a "hold" button, in case you want to park it for a minute while grabbing a cup of coffee. Beneath this is a repair button you can hit, should you get a flat or have some other trouble. The bike is largely kinetically powered, though there's a solar panel on the back, for when it sits idly for a bit.

Social Bicycles tells us that the bikes are set to arrive in Buffalo, NY and two west coast markets by the end of the summer, so stay tuned.

Zach Honig contributed to this report.

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