Will vandalism shatter bike sharing in China?

Despite their popularity, bike sharing apps are struggling against an onslaught of vandalism.

China’s bike sharing startups have raised generous financing from big-name VCs and tech giants, with leading player Mobike in January having secured USD 215 million in a financing round led by Tencent. But the booming industry has been facing challenges, including repeatedly reported vandalism in multiple Chinese cities.

No designated parking stations

Bike sharing — or, to use a more mundane name, bike rental — already existed in major Chinese cities well before the emergence of bike sharing apps last year.

Traditional bike rental, where users need to get registered at specific offices before using it, and are required to take and return the bike to designated parking stations, was not taken up by very many people.

Mobike and ofo, the leading bike sharing players, simplified this process with their apps, where users register themselves and pay deposits using their smartphones. In addition to this convenience, bike sharing apps also allow users to park their bike almost anywhere in public after use.

Vandalism challenges

Although attractive to users, the no parking station design brought challenges to these companies in terms of bike management.

A 49-year-old newsstand owner from the northern Chinese city Jinan on Saturday maliciously piled up Mobikes in retribution for the bikes parking there hindering his business, according to Chinese news outlet The Paper.

Mobikes are piled up by the newsstand owner. Photo from The Paper.

Photos of sharing bikes in chaotic piles, or covered with thick dust, or lying on the ground with broken bicycle chains were widespread on social media websites, Tencent Tech in December reported last year.

Ofo bikes in piles. Photo from Weibo.

Mobike saw damage to to barcodes on its bikes, whose users unlock a bike by scanning the barcode with the Mobike app.

Ofo, Mobike’s rival, faced more severe challenges, as ofo bikes do not have a GPS component embedded in the bikes.

A broken ofo bike. Photo from Weibo.

What’s worse, some criminals steal, or even dismantle the GPS component, and sell these sharing bikes on the internet. Mobike, whose manufacturing cost for every bike is RMB 3,000 (USD 436), saw its bikes sold second-hand with the GPS part removed, at a price of RMB 2,000, Tencent tech reported in December last year.

Major classified ads websites, including 58.com and Ganji, in the same month stated that they will use technical measures to stop the trading of these sharing bikes as second-hand bikes.


“Mobike designed its bikes with smart locks, which can help us locate bikes and spot malfunctions and other situations,” Huang Xue, responsible for Mobike’s public relations, told local media.

In the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, Mobike partnered with local authorities to regulate the use of sharing bikes.

(Top photo from Pixabay.com)

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