For me, bike-sharing schemes have always seemed a little far- fetched. Sure, I like riding bikes every now and again for the novelty, but on the whole you’ll find me getting places in a car, or more recently riding subway followed by walking. But, recently my commute is getting a tad greener.
Every day, the weather seems to be getting just a little nicer which, after the coldest, driest, windiest winter I’ve ever lived through, is a welcome change. Now instead of being a little glad for all the bodies on my crowded subway car heating the thing up, I’m dreading being super close to dozens of other slightly sweaty bodies. Enter, BIKE-SHARING!
So basically, two major companies have taken over the scene in Beijing. Meet MOBIKE. Meet OFO.
Both of these sleek contenders offer a fare of 1 rmb per hour or .13 USD. Obviously, it’s super cheap. But, perhaps most surprisingly, it’s also extremely practical. These two companies have tons of bikes around the city. On an average walk plus subway commute to work, I probably pass around 100 bikes from one of these two companies. Enter third super biking perk; Beijing is flat as a pancake. Seriously, if I bike for 45 minutes from my apartment to work, I go over exactly 0 hills.
So now that you know why it’s awesome, why not learn some of the how’s. How do you get to use this amazing, inexpensive idea? You get the app. China is the land of the digital wallet. If I buy a coffee, I pay with my phone. If I buy groceries, I pay with my phone. If I buy chicken on a stick from a street vendor, I pay with my phone. So, of course, when it comes to bike-sharing there’s an app for that. Once you sign up, you pay a 100-300 rmb deposit (roughly $15-$45) contingent on which app you decide on. Then, you can go up to a bike and scan the QR code (think, barcode) or enter in the ID number from the small license plate. This allows you to unlock the bike and zoom to your desired location. Then you simply lock the bike back and notify the app that you’re done. You walk off and the transaction is complete.
So why is the Beijing scheme the best? Unlike other cities and companies where you have to pick up and take the bikes from designated areas, there are no limits on where you can leave the bike. I have walked out of my apartment building to find several bikes parked literally outside the door which is all the more impressive considering I live inside a gated complex. Also, the apps are really good. I have the OFO app (which is all in Chinese) and I haven’t had any problems. To be honest, I still have roughly the same Chinese reading ability as a trained bear.
Considering everything, the trifecta of ease, convenience and low-cost has me considering switching my 40-minute subway and walk for a 50-minute bike ride to work every day, but only when the pollution doesn’t scare me off. I guess that goes to show that nothing is really perfect.