🇨🇳 Bike Sharing

April 30th, 2017

Several months ago futuristic silver and orange bikes started to appear around Tangjia and Zhuhai. Branded with the word Mobike in a thin orange sans serif typeface, these bikes could be found lined up in rows along the city streets at various locations.

Mobike is a bike-sharing company. Within a month or two of these bikes appearing green bikes from U-bicycle and yellow bikes from OFO also stared showing up on sidewalks. Each uses a similar business model.

How does it work?

Walk up to a bike, scan the barcode with the app, and the bike unlocks. (Bluetooth is required.) You ride the bike where you want to go. Usually the company charges based off time and distance ridden. My longest ride was 30km and took 26 minutes, but that still only cost me ¥1. Many of my short rides turn out to be free.

Riding to Tangjia on bike is a 4 minute ride, whereas walking can be 15-20 minutes. Totally worth $0.15.

When you get to your destination, you manually lock the bike using the built in bike-lock which hooks through the back tire. This sends a bluetooth signal to your phone to signal the ride is done and you're billed appropriately. The app keeps track of the distance you've biked, kg's of carbon you've saved, and the calories you've burned.

The neat part of this process is that you can park the bike anywhere. Obviously, you're not allowed to take a bike into your home or lock it in your yard. You have to leave it where other users can easily access it which means people will park them in convenient to reach locations.

To setup an account can be a little annoying, they need an photo of your ID card or Passport. You need to put down a deposit on the service as well as buy credits to put on your account.

Mobike asks for a ¥299 deposit, which you can get back if you close your account. I've been told other services have lower fees. I put ¥50 on my account right away and they gave me a bonus of ¥30. I think this is mostly done so that the bank transaction happen in one big lump and not little micro-transactions of ¥1.

The original Mobikes which appeared on the streets looked really neat, but they have some issues. They were built to be rugged and require minimum maintenance, but that required some tradeoffs.

The tires are made of solid rubber and the wheels don't have spokes like a normal bike, instead the tire is suspended by ten thick pieces of metal. On a road or bike track this wouldn't be a huge problem, but most of the pathways here in China are brick and the lack of shock absorption makes for a rough ride.

Many of the bikes don't have adjustable seats, which is a main complaint I hear from westerners who have either used the service or are considering it. The bikes do have built in bells though and are easy to pedal, despite being single gear bikes.

Over the last few weeks I've seen different versions of Mobike appear on the streets. The one I rode today actually had spokes and the tire, while still solid rubber, had holes in it to help make it more spongy. This bike also had a basket. The basket bottom was a solar panel, presumably used to help keep the onboard electronics fully powered.

The Mobikes use a lot of non-standard parts and are built to not come apart easily. This is one benefit over the competition, since they are harder to vandalize. I've seen pictures of OFO bikes with missing seats. OFO uses some sort of combo lock to unlock the bike and they occasionally have their QR codes scratched off. Presumably this means whoever got the bike combo just sabotaged the bike so no one else could take it. This is a classic Chinese move, trying to beat the system.

I really like this business model. Bus stops and gated communities nearly always have Mobikes parked near entrances. Mobike tries to be very community driven. When finishing a ride the app asks for bike feedback and lets you report broken pedals, breaks, or other bike problems. If you find a bike that's been parked behind a locked gate or in an inappropriate location you're able to report it. The person who left the bike in a bad spot will loose some karma (called "credit") points. Lose enough of these and your rides will be more expensive. Lose too many and you get locked out of your account.

The map inside the app will help you find the closest bike and will even allow you to reserve it up to 15 minute in advance if you're afraid someone else might try to grab it.

As the bike-sharing industry has become more competitive in the last couple months Mobike has begun to list some bikes as "red packet" bikes. These bikes are free for the first 2 hours of use and if you ride for more than 10 minutes you have a chance to win up to ¥5000.

I've been using this service a fair bit lately. It's so easy to be able to park a bike near the main gate and not have to worry about it. No need to think about flat tires or broken gears. Yeah, I still have to walk a bit to get home, but I don't have to cary my bike up to my apartment on the second floor. It also allows me to bike somewhere and ride a bus home.