Bulgarian volunteers time and money to rescue damaged rental bikes in Singapore

Hannah Teoh
Senior Content Producer
Zhivko Girginov, with one of the spoilt rental bicycles retrieved during a volunteer bike patrol on 12 December. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)

Once a month, a Bulgarian living in Singapore drives around various neighbourhoods in a rented lorry hunting for damaged rental bicycles.

With the help of messages posted on a Facebook group called Volunteer Bike Patrol, 32-year-old Zhivko Girginov searches for these bicycles and loads them onto the lorry. He then deposits the bicycles at a designated point for them to be picked up and repaired.

Girginov, a music teacher, spends about $200 on average for the lorry rental. The patrol can go on for around 12 hours, and he sometimes reaches home past midnight.

He told Yahoo News Singapore that he began his patrols in September this year because he was irked by the worsening problem of bicycles haphazardly parked around the neighbourhoods.

“Friends of mine said nothing can be done, just leave it, the authorities will take care of this. After a couple of months, I saw that the situation was getting worse and worse. More and more bikes are popping up on every corner, grass patches, pedestrian walks and void decks,” he said.

“It’s an eyesore to see all this. Eventually I decided, let’s see what will happen if I rent a lorry and retrieve a couple of bikes, at least to clear the area in my vicinity. That’s how I started.”

All in a day’s work. Zhivko Girginov poses with some the rental bicycles he collected on Tuesday (12 December). (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)

On a rainy Tuesday (12 December) afternoon, Yahoo News Singapore followed Girginov along on one of his patrols.

Having an appropriate place for lorry parking, difficulties in locating reported damaged bicycles and inclement weather are some of the challenges that Girginov takes in his stride.

If several bicycles are located in an area where there is no parking nearby, Girginov would park the lorry some distance away. He would then walk over to the bicycles, carry or wheel them one by one to the lorry and arrange them in such a way that they would not topple while he drives.

His most challenging assignment to date was having to retrieve four spoilt bicycles near Parliament House. He could not park the lorry near the sensitive site due to security concerns, so he had to park near The Esplanade before he moved the bicycles to the lorry – he did it over a distance of up to two kilometres for each bicycle retrieval.

“It’s not good for the image of the country. There are tourists there,” he recalled.

As a foreigner living and working in Singapore, why does he care so much about the eyesore caused by irresponsible users of rental bicycles?

“Even though I come from another country, I don’t think it matters. After all, we all live here and we want to enjoy good public order. Be it a foreigner or local, we need to care about this,” said Girginov, who has lived in Singapore for nine years.

Girginov currently collects only bicycles from oBike as it is the only vendor to have worked with him so far. Since he started his patrols, he has collected an average of 50 spoilt bicycles each time. After an exhausting patrol, there is no need for him to exercise, he joked.

Although he is an avid user of shared bicycles and has the apps of all the providers of such services here, he stressed that he has no affiliation to any one company and that he is not doing his patrols for publicity.

In response to queries about Girginov’s initiative, oBike Singapore general manager Tim Phang told Yahoo News Singapore, “We applaud these public initiatives, and will strive to work closely with the various groups to raise awareness of proper bicycle management by trying out various modes of engagement.”

Phang added that apart from the regular maintenance work carried out every month, oBike’s technicians go out to investigate and repair damages flagged via feedback channels such as social media, email or the oBike app.

oBike said it has also launched a BingoBike campaign which rewards users for moving bikes that have been parked indiscriminately or parked in obscure areas.

The Bulgarian said his next goals are to attract more volunteers via his Facebook page and approach the Member of Parliament in charge of his estate to explain his aim of retrieving more damaged bicycles without obstructing traffic.

Ultimately, he hopes that members of the public who use shared bike services will become more civic minded.

He said, “I’m not trying to teach people what to do. If possible, I would like to inspire other people to do this. I’m just showing them it could be done. I don’t want to be the hero.”

(Video by Dhany Osman)

This story was updated at 2pm to include a statement from oBike.