China’s bike sharing craze is in full force. Over the past year, bicycles in shades of yellow, orange, green, blue, red and every other color of the rainbow have been springing up across Mainland cities like bamboo after a spring rain. By using mobile technology, and tapping into China’s long history with bicycles, these start-ups have provided commuters in the urban jungle with a new way to get around. So warm up those legs and charge those cell phones as we take a ride into the world of rent-a-bikes in China.
How to use?
Renting bicycles in China is extremely easy, and all the companies follow the same formula (more or less). Below is a simple layout of how the process works:
1. Download app
The Android and Apple app stores will have the big dogs like Mobike and Ofo available in English, but most of the other competitors are only in Chinese (for now). Type in the name of the company you wish to use in the app search, press download, and you’ll be up and running (or shall we say pedaling?) in no time.
2. Sign up and pay
Once you have the app downloaded, you’ll need to insert some personal info. Some services require that you take a picture of your ID, along with you holding the ID near your face, for verification. Others just need your passport/ID number along with your cell phone number. Some will even ask for other bits and pieces of personal info. If you wish to ride, you need to supply.
Next, you’ll need a payment method. The easiest is Wechat or Alipay, though some of the smaller companies don’t have access to these payment methods yet. After linking the app to your Wechat or Alipay, you’ll have to make an initial deposit (between 99 – 299 RMB, depending on the company).
3. Find your bike
After paying the deposit, you’re ready to locate a rent-a-bike near you. Simply open the map feature in the app, and a colored symbol will pop up showing you where the nearest set of wheels are. Walk to toward the bike, and then…
4. Unlock the bike
Unlocking the bike can be done in two ways: One is to scan the QR code located on the bicycle, and voila, your bike is unlocked. The other is to get the combination code sent to your phone, which you’ll have to manually punch in to the bike’s keypad.
5. Start riding!
After unlocking the bike, you’re free to ride wherever you wish! Most companies charge by the half hour, but this is done automatically through your app, so you don’t have to do any math. Hurray!
Time to hop off and move on. Some companies require that you leave the bikes in a designated parking space on the side of the road (as indicated on the in-app map), while others allow you to leave it wherever you want. The green e-bikes (see below) demand that you park at a power docking station (for obvious reasons).
Once parked, you can lock the bike by snapping shut the wheel clamp. Once the bike is officially locked, your time will cease and you’ll be charged for the time you spent riding. That’s it!
Which bike is best for me?
There are already 30 or so companies in this industry competing for customers, and more and more are entering the game each day. With so many options, you may be wondering which one is best for you? Here’s a rundown on some of the most prominent players:
• Mobike – color: orange and silver; price: 0.5-1 RMB per half hour (depending on model); language: English and Chinese. Mobike was the first to enter the market, and is easily one of the biggest and most reputable rent-a-bike companies in China. They are widespread, meaning you can find one on just about any corner, and they have new models to suit different riders, as seen with the new Mobike Lite.
• Ofo – color: yellow; price: 0.5-1 RMB per half hour (depending on model); language: English and Chinese. Ofo has done quite well as the second to enter the race. It too has a large market share with various bikes scattered all over major Chinese cities, and it’s also coming out with new models. Ofo has recently launched the Princess bike, catered specifically to women with lower crossbars and bigger baskets. I actually just saw a Sponge Bob-style Ofo on my way to work today!
• Xiaoming Danche – color: sky blue; price: 0.1 RMB per half hour; language: Chinese only. If 0.5 RMB per half hour wasn’t cheap enough, Xiaoming Danche decided to disrupt the entire industry with a mere 0.1 RMB per half hour! It’s cheap, but not as cheap as…
• Zou Zou Danche – color: red and gray; price: free; language: Chinese only. You knew this one was coming... Eliminating riding costs altogether, Zou Zou has spun the entire industry into a price war – creating a few financial issues for other paid models, according to this recent Fortune article. If you’re looking to ride on a budget, it doesn’t get more budget than Zou Zou.
• Xiangqi Chuxing – color: green; price: about 2 RMB for 10-12 minutes; language: Chinese only. Xiangqi Chuxing actually has a real competitive advantage. As of now, it’s the only company that focuses on electric bikes. You can still pedal, but if you get tired you can turn on the battery and use it to zoom across town. The app and gauge on the handle bars lets you know how much juice is left in each bike, so you can choose accordingly.
• Other players: There are so many new rent-a-bike companies that they’re hard to keep up with – Hello Bike, UniBike, 1 Step Bikes, Bluegogo (in English), Ubike… They’re all more or less the same, only varying in costs or a few other “bonuses” or unique styles. But some are getting creative, as seen with the Tuhao gold bikes that have built in phone chargers.
Most of the competition will die off, just as the majority of car manufacturers did in the US over time. Realistically speaking, it seems Mobike and Ofo will come out on top (or even merge), while a few niche bikes like the electronic Xiangqi Chuxing could survive or get bought out.
There will also most certainly be a diversification among models. If companies want to expand their customer base, they’ll have to create innovative add-ons that make them stand out from the crowd. A Dutch tech company, for example, is currently working on bikes individual pollution filters, as seen in this SCMP article.
Love’m or hate’m, the rent-a-bikes of China are here to stay.
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