Go anywhere in Beijing and you’ll see bikes. Lots of bikes. Yet many of these bikes are bike rentals. You may be familiar with those in London. And some areas have these older models, with docking ports where you have to leave the bike in a designated area. Most, however, have QR codes on them. All you do is download the app, scan the code and then the lock unlocks and you’re off! Some of them also have numbers on them, so if the QR code doesn’t work, you can enter a number in the app instead.
In my Senior 1 exams at the moment, they have a choice of six topics, based on their Chinese English textbook topics. One is called ‘Wheels’, and one question we ask them about is why bike rentals are popular. Many of those who have talked about this topic (they can pick any of the six) have said that it’s because of traffic congestion and environmental issues.
The bikes are extremely popular, the two most famous companies being ofo (so-called, apparently, because the letters ‘ofo’ look like someone riding a bike), and Mobike. They have gone through various design changes since they were launched. I’m not sure which one is the latest Mobike, but I think the latest ofo bikes have a basket on the front. Mobikes have had various styles and designs, with black or silver handle bars, different sizes of baskets, square and curved frames and so on.
However, often I will leave school and find some brand new bikes all lined up outside, from a new company, also getting in on the act.
There is talk of some of these bikes being rolled out in the UK. I’m not sure whether that would in the same way. Here, you don’t actually need any money nowadays. You can pay for most things on your mobile phone. WeChat wallet, and AliPay both allow shops to scan a barcode on your phone and then the money is deducted from your bank account. The same thing happens with the bikes. You scan the QR code, and the money is taken from your bank account. Plus, because so many companies are now competing, often at weekends, ofo or Mobike offer free rides. I have only used the bike sharing scheme once – and that was when someone else scanned the barcode.
I don’t really cycle much, but next year, the university is a good 10-15 minutes’ walk from the subway, so they may come in handy then. The bikes are everywhere and you can leave them in most places. There are a few restrictions of where you can, but often you can just park them on the pavement and lock them. The apps have maps which show you where the nearest bikes are.
Of course, one problem with schemes like this is that there are sometimes too many bikes for the pavement….