A well-parked Mobike Light
They invaded China, and now they’re invading the world, nation after nation. In Europe they have already arrived. They are yellow or orange, green or blue, and have pedals and two wheels: bike sharing, is the green answer that has arrived directly from China for getting around the city. Specifically, in Italy the first to arrive are Ofo and Mobike, but they’re not the only ones made in China.
In fact, since they do things big in China, they’ve moved on from taking advantage of carbon mines, to a wild bicycle movement with unfair competition at times, to the last seat.
The idea, although it has been realized with exponential numbers that have grossly crowded up the sidewalks of their respective cities, was to bridge the gap in the lack of public transportation in an ecological way: which it does, in fact, in those cases where your destination is too far away to walk, but not so far as to call a taxi and then have to wait for it.
It is for that last mile to cross, from your door to the metro, from the office to the bus station, that Mobike, Ofo, Hellobike, Bluegogo, Yongxiang, Xiaoming, Yubike and many, many other have come.
The situation, it must be said, is a little complex and rapidly evolving: in fact the dominance of Ofo and Mobike, the respective properties of Alibaba and Tencent, has made it so that smaller private companies are slowly disappearing from circulation. So I will limit this to describing in detail the two leading companies.
So here’s the complete guide for how to stay up to date with shared bicycles in Europe, but especially, on your next trip to China.
Mobike first model with single fork
To use shared bicycles you need to have a:
- cell phone with internet connection;
- credit card or online payment tool (Wechat Pay or Alipay);
- form of identification (to activate the service)
First of all, download the App for the bike company you’re interested in using. Those who currently offer Apps in a non-Chinese language are (well, look who it is) Mobike and Ofo. At first access you’ll be asked to register (email and cell number) and then leave a deposit (mandatory) and validate your identification.
To verify the document you’ll need to take a selfie with document in hand or take a picture of the information page of the passport, following the instructions. At times the confirmation takes a couple of days: so if you’re thinking about using a rented bike on your next trip to China, don’t wait until the last minute to activate the App.
The deposit amount varies according to the company, and is usually between 100 Yuan and 300 Yuan. The deposit is not your account, your wallet, where your amount will be withdrawn after each use; that gets recharged separately even with 20 Yuan, to be able to use the bikes. The deposit is refundable at any time.
Once the App is activated, you have to look for an available one, which you can do by consulting the map included in the App, or by just looking around, since they are e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e. The bike will unlock by scanning the QR code on the bike or by manually inserting the access code. Even when you leave it when you’re done using it, you have to remember to lock it; the App will automatically register the end of the use and debit the appropriate amount.
If you remember later on that you left your Mobike or Ofo unlocked, you can lock it remotely through the App, but only if the model you used isn’t one of the manual ones.
If you want to be sure that no one “steals” the bike you want, you can use the advanced booking option (click the bike you want on the map)! But it’s for a limited time, so you can’t get attached to just one.
An example of bikes left without care on the side of the road
All behavior against the rules of good sense, from reckless parking to damage to to forgetting your lock and things like that, are punished with a fine. So much so that frequent use is rewarded with “reward trips”; for example, the use of at least three bikes a day allowing you to pedal for free from the third one onward.
Moreover, there are various offers to make sure that the bikes are equally used or taken from places where they’ve been stashed or left to rot. If you have time and patience, by consulting the map, you can find and use only these forgotten bikes, which are many, and always ride for free.
And still, an attentive user that is actively indicating breakdowns and inadequate behavior will be rewarded with a travel coupon. Basically, the system is designed for responsible use.
This is because, as soon as bike sharing appeared in China and spread from city to city, instances of neglect reached incredible levels. Since the bikes aren’t “anyone’s”, the one responsible at the time was “nobody” because the system didn’t provide for a self-monitoring system for infractions.
Therefore those who used them negligently would park without respect for the road or the rules of the road, nor the inhabitants or future cyclists. Piles of bikes blocked metro exits or even the entrances to homes!
Moreover, by means of a couple of malicious strategies one could disadvantage the competition: scraping away the QR code of a Mobike would make the bike automatically unusable; the same thing with locking an Ofo with a personal padlock; or by physically damaging it.
This is why it is said that in the beginning the agencies had a real war to the last incorrect act to conquer the market, well aware that a part of their means would be out of order for a brief time. The result, cheap options and laxity on the part of users. For their part, bike renters usually had a dozen bike sharing App’s ready to use so as to avoid getting stuck.
The Ofo unlocking system
When the law officially stepped in, things got much better and it was then that the small agencies began succumbing to the two large companies: Ofo and Mobike have in fact greatly improved the quality and number of bikes on the roads, making the use of other models superfluous for citizens.
Now, it’s not as if the metro exits are completely clear or you’ll never find bikes stacked in the dark corners of the roads. However, it’s much less, there are user control systems (rewards and demerits);a small army of collaborators patrolling the streets and restoring the masses of abandoned scrap iron, broken bikes or a lack of means; the authorities actively work to keep the situation under control.
Una Ofo (parked on the sidewalk)
The famous yellow bicycles. Several have a basket in front and adjustable seats. Activating the Ofo App requires a deposit of 200 Yuan and verification of your identity. The deposit is refundable. It normally costs 1 Yuan an hour.
The latest bicycles in circulation have replaced the earlier models (they were so heavy they were impossible to lift up), they are so comfortable that they seem more like mountain bikes than spartan city bikes. They are certainly an option that’s much more than just the “last mile”.
Ofo can be unlocked either with the QR code or lock combination assigned to that bicycle. In the latest version, the App works via bluetooth and automatically unlocks the bicycle, saving you the effort of opening the combination lock.
The QR code for unlocking Mobike
The Mobike App has at times given problems approving the document; in fact it requires a longer procedure that might fail. The deposit is 300 Yuan and the cost is 1 Yuan each half hour.
The first Mobikes put into circulation have a certain appeal: they have single forks like the most expensive competitive Mountain Bikes. It’s a shame that they weigh like a rock. The seats of these Mobikes for experts is fixed in the “medium height” position and are not adjustable. So anyone who surpasses the yardstick, will at a minimum incur a heavy buildup of lactic acid in their quads.
Mobikes are known for their orange-silver color. They are without a doubt the most widespread and vandalized, even though it just takes some scraping of the QR…
A model of a shared electric bicycle, for the laziest
Whether you’re a fan of Ofo or Mobike, the service is competitive with the super cheap forms of Chinese transport! Not even a ride on the bus is as inexpensive. If you add in the discounts on offer, you might even be able to take the bike for free.
For getting around the traffic-filled cities of China, which are for the most part flat, at times bike sharing is the quickest and least stressful option. Clearly, rainy days are a little different…
What do you think? Have you already tried?