Apps ride high on bi­cy­cles, may help de­pol­lute cities

New bike-on-de­mand ser­vices give a new di­men­sion to ur­ban shar­ing economy

China Daily (Canada) - - BUSINESS - By MENGJING and OUYANG SHIJIA

In the 1980s, a bi­cy­cle, a ra­dio and a sewing ma­chine were con­sid­ered as the top three ne­ces­si­ties for young, mat­ri­mony-bound, love nest­minded Chi­nese cou­ples.

At the time, China was the “King­dom of Bi­cy­cles”— bikes were key to peo­ple’s daily trans­porta­tion.

Now, the coun­try boasts the world’s largest au­to­mo­bile mar­ket. There are more cars than bi­cy­cles on roads.

Yet, am­bi­tious en­trepreneurs keep at­tempt­ing to re­store lost glory to bikes. Their strat­egy, how­ever, is chang­ing.

While con­tin­u­ing to con­vince ev­ery fam­ily to own at least one bike, they are also at­tempt­ing to per­suade peo­ple to share bikes.

Wel­come to bike-on-de­mand ser­vices, the lat­est seg­ment in China’s boom­ing shar­ing economy. They are not very dif­fer­ent from ride-on-de­mand apps, which changed the way peo­ple hail cabs in China.

Sens­ing po­ten­tial for a sim­i­lar suc­cess story, ven­ture cap­i­tal firms are bet­ting big on bike-on-de­mand apps.

Since Au­gust, two Bei­jing­based star­tups Mobike, which en­ables peo­ple to rent the near­est avail­able GPS-en­abled bike via smart­phones, and its ri­val ofo, have been locked in a race for fund­ing. New in­vestors have poured cash into them ev­ery twoweeks on av­er­age.

New­com­ers such as Hel­lobike and Ubike are emerg­ing. How­ever, catch­ing up with Mobike and ofo, which also make their own bikes, may prove eas­ier said than done.

For, Mobike’s two kinds of sig­na­ture black-and-or­ange bikes are al­ready ubiq­ui­tous in Bei­jing, Shang­hai, Shen­zhen, Guangzhou and Chengdu.

Ofo’s shiny yel­low bikes are gain­ing in vis­i­bil­ity on univer­sity cam­puses in 18 cities, and all over Bei­jing, Shang­hai, Shen­zhen and Guangzhou.

Mobike has so far de­ployed around 100,000 bikes across the five cities. There are more than 190,000 ofo bikes out there.

Each of its bikes has cost Mobike hun­dreds of yuan to around 2,000 yuan ($290); for ofo, a bike costs be­tween 200 yuan and 300 yuan, depend­ing on bells and whis­tles like a veg­etable bas­ket in front.

Hu Wei­wei, the founder of Mobike, said there is a cer­tain ra­tio­nale to the in­vest­ment spree in bike-shar­ing firms. “Peo­ple have al­ways had a need for bikes, to cover short dis­tances of less than 5 kilo­me­ters. With the devel­op­ment of mo­bile in­ter­net tech­nol­ogy, we can now make it hap­pen.”

While cab-on-de­mand ser­vices such as Didi Chux­ing meet peo­ple’s de­mand for quick long-dis­tance rides, bike-shar­ing firms serve ur­ban cit­i­zens seek­ing to reach a bus stop from home, their of­fice from sub­way sta­tion or a neigh­bor­hood veg­etable mar­ket from apart­ment.

Li Xiangyu, 20, a sopho­more at the Bei­jing-basedUniver­sity of In­ter­na­tional Busi­ness and Eco­nom­ics, said he in­stantly took a shine to Mobike af­ter try­ing out the 1-/2-yuan-per-hour ser­vice.

“I ride their bike ev­ery time I need to go from the univer­sity to the near­est sub­way sta­tion. Un­like the bike-rent­ing ser­vices that re­quire users to bor­row bikes from (and re­turn them to) cer­tain lo­ca­tions, ser­vices like Mobike al­low users to bor­row and re­turn bikes wher­ever and when­ever they want,” said Li.

Be­cause Mobike’s bi­cy­cles are GPS-en­abled, the next bor­rower will be able to find them us­ing his/her smart­phone.

InMo­bike’s case, af­ter users lo­cate the near­est avail­able bike, they can reach it and book it by scan­ning its ID, a quick re­sponse or QR code.

Pay­ments are done on­line us­ing apps such as WeChat and Ali­pay. There is no time limit for a ride.

Li Hao, an an­a­lyst with the Bei­jing-based in­ter­net con­sul­tancy Analysys, said, “But there will be many bumps ahead, such as how to lower the cost of the high-tech bikes, how to co­op­er­ate with lo­cal gov­ern­ments.

“And there is no fea­si­ble busi­ness model yet be­cause bike-on-de­mand com­pa­nies are still at the stage of ex­plor­ing the mar­ket.”

One pos­si­ble way to gen­er­ate ad­di­tional rev­enue is to dis­play lit­tle ad­ver­tise­ments and brand lo­gos on such bikes.

Mobike said it will ex­pand its fleet to more than 200,000 bi­cy­cles by 2016-end, if the busi­ness grows as ex­pected.

... ser­vices like Mobike al­low users to bor­row and re­turn bikes wher­ever and when­ever they want.”

Con­tact the writ­ers at mengjing@chi­nadaily .com.cn and ouyang­shi­jia@chi­nadaily.com.cn

ZHU XINGXIN / CHINA DAILY

A stu­dent uses an ofo bike on the cam­pus of the Univer­sity of In­ter­na­tional Busi­ness and Eco­nom­ics in Bei­jing.

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