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Smart Riders
Text by Zhang Xue

 

It’s easy to unlock a smart bicycle by simply scanning the QR code, using an app downloaded to a smartphone. CFP  March 2017, Tiananmen Square. Last century, streams of bicycles shuttling along the wide Chang’an Boulevard were a symbol of China in foreigners’ eyes. Today, however, riding bicycles has come into fashion again. CFP

Mobikes, notable for their fashionable design and eye-catching orange-yellow color, became vogue on the streets of Shanghai in April 2016. For a moment, pictures of the bikes were going viral all over WeChat, a popular social networking app.

“It’s romantic to ride a bike at sunrise and sunset,” grins Hu Weiwei, founder of Mobike, who was born in the 1980s. Hu frequently waxes poetic, but China’s recent drive to upgrade its industries aligns more with the practicality of her startup than the passion.

Mobike is simple to use: A user downloads the app, registers, verifies his or her identity, pays a 299-yuan (US$43) deposit and locates a bicycle on the street. After scanning the QR code with a smartphone, the bike is released to use immediately. After riding, the user leaves the bike in a designated parking area on the street. The rental price, one yuan (15 U.S. cents) per half an hour, is much cheaper than any other travel option except for walking.

The popularity of the service heated up in Shanghai, and three months later, it landed in Beijing. By the end of 2016, after just eight months of operation, hundreds of thousands of smart shared bicycles were in service in 10 cities throughout China.

The emergence of Mobike has not only eased the pain of the last-kilometer-to-commute, but also offered a new option for those struggling with traveling relatively short distances. Furthermore, easier access to bicycles aligns with increasing awareness of environmentally-friendly transportation. Mobike’s brand has become synonymous with green travel across online social networks.

For most of the 20th Century, bicycles were the most important means of transportation in China. A brand-new bicycle once carried as much prestige as a limousine does today. Early each morning, the streams of bicycles flooding the wide Chang’an Boulevard were iconic to China, which became known as a “kingdom of bicycles” to foreigners.

In the current century, Chinese people have many more travel options thanks to the development of urban transportation infrastructure, a vast domestic rail system and mature air routes.

Mobike has made this traditional mode of transportation fashionable again, rekindling public interest in biking. Recent statistics from Iresearch show that by January 2017, the number of active Mobike users had exceeded 5.8 million per week, while that of its nearest rival, ofo, reached 1.4 million.

In the sharing economy era, this new business model has been popular in the capital market. In late January 2017, Mobike announced it had formed an exclusive strategic cooperative agreement with Foxconn, China’s leading smart hardware manufacturer, in which the latter would introduce a specialized production line for Mobike in dozens of factories to boost annual production capacity to 5 million. Foxconn also became a new strategic investor in Mobike.

Not long ago, Mobike completed its Series D funding, in which it raised US$215 million, approximately 1.5 billion yuan.

 

 

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