Share Bicycles in China

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

I’ve been riding bikes in Shanghai and Beijing, on my MGB Silk Road trip across Asia. On my first visits to China there were lots of bicycles. Over the years the numbers went down and down, part fashion (people wanted cars) and part government policy (cars were tomorrow, bicycles were history).

Today Shanghai and Beijing are both gridlocked, but bicycle have come bounding back due to bicycle rental. In Beijing at least I saw plenty of the government-backed rental bikes which, just like in London, Paris or New York, are available in locking stations from where you take a bike and later return it. The boom in rental bikes in those two big cities is totally privately operated and the bicycles are simply everywhere.

◄ Two Shanghai friends on a Mobike and an Ofo bicycle, the two major brands.




You have a phone app, scan the code on the bicycle and either the lock pops open or you’re given the numbers for the combination lock, depending on the brand. And off you go for 1 RMB (about 10p UK, 15c US) for the first hour (or was it half hour?). Except sometimes it’s free, like the internet? The bikes are locked, but not locked in place, so you could just pick one up and walk away with it although some of them have alarms which go off if they’re moved and supposedly they’re GPS tracked?

▲ Mobikes

There are amazing numbers of them, five mllion in Beijing and three million in Shanghai, I was told, an unlikely number, but whatever the number is it’s huge. How does it work? One theory I was told was that they were operated by financial businesses which wanted the 100 RMB initial registration fee. ‘Hot money?’

Ofo, one of the big operators had raised US$200 million and just gone back to raise another US$50 million, I was told. Ofo also claimed they had 10 million uses on a single day recently. I tried Ofo and Mobike, both just fine although neither had gears.

▲ One of the Shanghai share bikes, note the solid rubber tyres.