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Lime bikes in London
Image: Shutterstock / Time Out

What’s with the click-clacking Lime bikes all over London right now?

The capital is suffering from a clamorous e-bike epidemic. They’re a great step forward for green transport – but why are they making such an almighty racket?

Amy Houghton
Written by
Amy Houghton

There’s an incessant clicking haunting Londoners right now. You know the sound: a metallic clamour that stalks us as we walk up Peckham High Street and echoes through Soho as we stumble home from a night out. It pops up on our daily commutes and provides an unwelcome jump-scare on our weekend strolls. There’s no getting away. 

The source? Electric bicycles. An epidemic of garishly green Lime bikes singing a repetitive click-clacking tune has taken over the capital, to the aggravation of city residents and the delight of local meme accounts. But why are they making such an almighty racket?

The clicking is so widespread it has become London’s summer soundtrack for 2023

Founded in North Carolina in 2017, Lime runs electric bikes, scooters and mopeds in a number of cities around the world. The company arrived on London streets in 2018 and generally its neon e-vehicles glide by with an almost ghostly hum while providing a supposedly environmentally-friendly way of getting around the city. However, reports of the bikes being tampered with to be used for free have ballooned over the past few months, and with them, a loud and furious clicking so widespread it has become London’s summer soundtrack for 2023. 

You’d think that the persistent noise would be an effective deterrent, but the culprits seem entirely unfazed. TikTok videos sharing the ‘Lime bike push method’ for hacking a free ride have amassed hundreds of thousands of views. The method involves taking a run with the bike with the back wheel up, eventually breaking the wheel lock, initiating the repetitive clicking and allowing hackers to ride it without power. 

Lime bikes parked in London
Photograph: Sergii Figurnyi

The bikes are completely dockless, meaning that on top of complaints over stolen bikes, many members of the public have voiced concerns over them being dumped recklessly and putting pedestrians at risk. Many are blaming the hackers, since they can’t be tracked and fined for leaving the vehicles somewhere unsuitable. 

A spokesperson for Dockless Obstructions, a campaign calling out irresponsible parking of dockless vehicles, tells Time Out that school kids ‘blatantly hack Lime bikes after school as their free ride home’. He adds: ‘They will try several bikes until a successful hack, abandoning the unsuccessful ones across pavements and pedestrian crossings. Successful hacked bikes are then dumped at end of use without a care.’ 

Sticking it to the man

Luca George is an artist from Camberwell who tells me that he produces work to reflect his environment. Naturally, that meant creating ‘Hacked Limebike Ventriloquism, 2023’ wherein the artist spins the wheels of a miniature Lime bike he created, complete with him mimicking the ubiquitous sound.

Unlike some other residents, George isn’t that bothered by noise. ‘London is one of the most expensive cities to live in so it can be quite a disheartening place to be,’ he says. ‘It’s good to know that people are travelling around the city for free and in doing that are making a larger tech company look a bit silly. I personally enjoy that sound, I think it’s quite a positive thing.’ 

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A post shared by Luca George (@lucage0rge)

He’s not the only one finding a strange sort of joy in the noise. One social media user tweeted: ‘Post-school there is the clicking noise of teens on jump-started Lime bikes throughout London, and (safety aside) I’m loving the anarchy of this.’ Another wrote: ‘Engineers can’t keep up with those meddling kids and I’m all here for it.’

Lime’s 700 strong fleet of London e-bikes is the largest in the city and a ride will cost you £1 to start, then 23p per minute. That means that a 30 minute ride would knock you back £7.90 – pocket money that, particularly in the midst of the Cozzie Livs, most kids are unlikely to have going spare. That aside, the hack also means that teens are able to bypass Lime’s 18+ user agreement.  

An end to the epidemic?  

Is anything actually being done about the widespread bike-hacking? Dockless Obstructions met with a Lime representative to discuss the issue, but said that the company is putting too much blame on young people rather than trying to fix the hack themselves. 

A Lime spokesperson said: ‘We are aware of a limited issue relating to the criminal damage and vandalism of our e-bikes. We are implementing a series of measures to prevent this behaviour, with further hardware solutions set to be rolled out throughout August and September. In the meantime, we are working with the police and local schools to identify, limit and warn against it.

‘We are also in contact with social media platforms, which bear the responsibility of removing criminal content like this if shared by its users. We ask users to report any videos circulating of tampering or vandalism of rental e-bikes to the relevant social media platform.’

Several councils have also addressed the issue following complaints. Back in April, Westminster councillor Paul Dimoldenberg released a statement that read: ‘We’re also very concerned about the apparent ease with which these bikes can be hacked and essentially used for free. There are videos across social media which demonstrate how to hack Lime bikes, and we hope that all dockless bike companies will do more to tackle this.

‘Our priority has always been the safety of residents and visitors to the city and keeping our pavements clear. If these bikes are hacked, the rider is untraceable and the bikes can simply be dumped with impunity.’

So, whether you hear the distinctive ‘click-clack’ as an irritating nuisance or a weirdly endearing stick-it-to-the-man, it’s likely we’ll have no choice but to put up with it for a little while longer. 

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