Beijing Bike Shares – A Tourists (brief) View
As a first-time visitor to Beijing I have been immediately struck by not only the space and greenery of this city but the amount of bike share bikes available. There are literally tens of thousands of bikes littered through the city. A cycling benefit of all that space is bike lanes that put the best of Australian bike lanes to shame. They are wide, separated from the road either by a concrete kerb or fences. The downside of this space is the bike lanes are often filled with scooters, people and every now and then the odd car (parked or moving). But hey, it seems to work….
There are 3 main companies that all run similar bikes, which all use the station-less system which means you can literally walk onto any street and get a bike ride off and then park it wherever you want.
- Ofo – 1,000,000 bikes across 34 Chinese cities (Started March 2015)
- MoBike – 70,000-100,000 bikes across 7 cities (Started Dec 2016)
- BlueGoGo – 100,000 bikes across 6 cities (started Nov 2016).
All the above brands use GPS and an App on the user’s phone to unlock (via a QR barcode) and start the trip. Once you finish your trip you lock you’re the bike and that’s it, stops recording your trip and charges your account and walk away. Simple.
The rates for the bike share bikes here are outrageously cheap, after the initial deposit of 299RMB ($57AUD) (MoBike and Ofo) or 100RMB ($19) deposit for BlueGoGo (all deposits are one off). You are charged in half-hour blocks at a rate of 1RMB ($0.19), yes you read that correctly, so that is why so many locals use this form of transportation for short and medium distances.
Are they easy for tourists to use? Yes and no. I personally can only vouch for Ofo and they have an English version of the app, and with a little help from the hotel concierge I was up and running in no time. Luckily there were about 50+ bikes about 30m form the hotel so on I hopped and went for a little pedal around Beijing…. At peak times, you will see piles of bikes outside train stations and within hours they are cleared away and back at designated bike parking locations, these are generally outside major department stores and train stations, ready for the evening peak. If for some reason you cant find one hanging around the streets, which is highly unlikely, just head towards a department store or train station and pick one up!
Riding in Beijing is interesting…. Its manic, it shouldn’t work but it does. It’s all about confidence, sticking to a line and not hesitating, also don’t be afraid to use the inbuilt bell. Riders come from all directions at all speeds and merge into one lane without crashing or yelling, it’s a perfect storm of riders. Would I recommend riding in Beijing to less confident riders? Probably not as its not only bikes you need to worry about but also cars which seem to play by another whole set of rules. The bikes themselves are nothing amazing, they have roller brakes, 3 speeds on some and single on others (Beijing is dead flat) and fenders and metal baskets on the front. They are on the heavy side but still much lighter than the blue bikes we have in Melbourne, remember these bikes are built to take a beating and keep on giving.
Do these bike share schemes actually work? In Beijing, they do. The fact that this is the cheapest form of transport around besides walking and that you don’t need to wear a helmet (let’s not have that discussion here) and that there are 22 million people in Beijing help with the economies of scale and allow such cheap pricing. There is also a level of respect for these schemes that I haven’t seen in Australia, yes there are incidents of damage but it seemed very minimal from what I could see. I can’t see a reason to own a bike in a city that has such amazing bike share schemes at such a low cost.