Bike sharing is becoming ubiquitous in China’s major cities. You’d be hard-pressed to walk through downtown Shanghai without spotting at least one orange Mobike or a bright yellow Ofo, the two main contenders in the country’s new transportation war.
As someone who owns an electric scooter, I’ve never had to rent a bike. But for one day, I abandoned my battery-powered baby and tried to Mobike around Shanghai.
My takeaway? People suck.
10:00 am: Where the hell is my bike?
It’s a drizzly day. Not ideal for biking. But I’m incapable of working from home, so I open Mobike’s app and look for a bike to get me to a coffee shop.
I’ve heard enough rants from friends to know about the hidden Mobike problem, where some jerk hides a bike deep inside their neighborhood compound – some of which are locked – so they can keep it for themselves. One friend even found a Mobike on the 15th floor of their apartment building.
To avoid that, I scan for a bike that looks like it’s parked next to the street. Lucky me – there’s a bike just a few hundred meters away. I tap on the bike, which reserves it for 15 minutes.
Unfortunately, said bike is nowhere to be found. I circle around a few times to make sure I’m not being stupid before opening the app again. I cancel the reservation – no fees charged – and find another one.
But the same thing happens – again.
It’s starting to rain harder and my mood sours. I spot another Mobike about two blocks away in the direction of the coffee shop. At this point, I probably would’ve been halfway to the coffee shop already if I’d gone on foot.
Third time’s the charm. I find the Mobike and check its serial number to make sure it’s the one I booked. After scanning the QR code on the handlebar, the bike unlocks with a loud click. I wipe down the bike seat and finally get going.
Maybe it’s because I haven’t biked in years, but my hamstrings start to burn after just a few minutes.
Since I’m close to the coffee shop, it doesn’t take long for me to reach my destination. After I park, I lock the bike and US$0.15 is subtracted from my account.
It’s lunch time. I decide to relocate to People Squared, a co-working space about a kilometer away from the coffee shop. This time I’m in luck because I can spot an idle Mobike right from the cafe.
I whip out my phone, book it, and within minutes I’m pedaling my way towards People Squared. Success!
00:23 am: Midnight muddle
I spend the rest of my day working in People Squared and eat dinner nearby (I’m a very sedentary person). Around midnight, I decide to head home and start scanning for a Mobike. The pickings are slim. The closest bike is two blocks away.
But the rain has stopped and I take my time as I walk over, enjoying the movement after a long day of sitting.
Alas, I run into the same problem that I had in the morning – no Mobike to be found. What the hell, people… Stop hiding your Mobike!
The next bike is four blocks away. I’m reminded of a screenshot one of my friends posted on WeChat. He labeled it his “personal Mobike black hole,” where all bikes are two blocks or more away. Cursing my luck, I think longingly of my electric scooter.
When I make it to the bike, all of a sudden my data connection falters. Since you have to scan a QR code in order to unlock a Mobike, no internet connection means no bike. For a second, I panic as I try to remember how much credit I have on my phone or if I have to top it up. If I’m out of credit, I’m really screwed because, ironically, I need internet to buy more credit.
Luckily, it’s only temporary. I try scanning the QR code again and after about ten seconds, the bike lock clicks. I head home, feeling relieved.
In one day, I managed to experience some major pain points of bike sharing. Good thing I didn’t have any appointments that day or the frustration I experienced would have been amplified.
I also didn’t run into any broken Mobikes, which can also happen.
Still, knowing that I can – in theory – avoid walking or waiting for the bus anywhere in the city is kind of liberating. And at US$0.15 for a half hour of bike rental, it’s way cheaper than a taxi or an Uber. It also absolves me of responsibility to take care of my own bike since I can dump the Mobike once I’m done using it.
As long as I don’t have to be anywhere at a certain time, it’s a nice alternative mode of transportation. Still, it feels good to be back on my scooter.
Converted from Chinese yuan. Rate: US$1 = RMB 6.89.