Ready or not, China, once known as the bicycle kingdom, is in the midst of a cycling revival. While the car has rapidly displaced bikes, we now see more than a dozen startups flooding into the dockless bike-sharing arena. Investors have taken their sides in the stiffening battle, but a more pressing question is which startup provides a better experience?
TechNode decided to test out some of the cycling apps to shed some light on this question. We chose Mobike, Ofo and Xiaoming Bike because they are the most accessible bikes on the street of Shanghai and the most easily identified with bright colors: orange and white for Mobike, yellow for Ofo, and blue for Xiaoming Bike.
All three apps require real-name registration with phone number, ID card, and a deposit. But the deposit varies from 299 RMB (43 USD) for Mobike, 199 RMB (29 USD) for Xiaoming Bike, and 99 RMB (14 USD) for Ofo. The difference in deposits is mostly because each company charges a different rate to rent the bikes. However, all the deposits are completely refundable and, if you use WeChat or Alipay, the process is almost frictionless.
As to price, Xiaoming Bike wins. In Shanghai, Xiaoming Bike is 0.5 RMB for 30 minutes. However, you can get a 0.1 RMB discount for every friend you invite; the cheapest possible ride is 0.1 RMB for 30 minutes. Ofo is roughly the same price (but no discount) at 1 RMB per hour, but offers a discounted rate of 0.5 RMB per hour for students. Mobike is the most expensive at 1RMB for 30 minutes for the regular Mobike. Mobike Lite is a bit cheaper at 0.5 RMB for 30 minutes.
With such low prices and little difference, the winner in this space is going to be all about user experience.
Finding & Unlocking Bikes
Finding bikes is one of the biggest differences among the three. Like Didi and Uber, GPS-enabled Mobike and Xiaoming Bike allow users to locate the bikes on the map and help to navigate your path to the exact location of the bike. Users can reserve the bikes 15 minutes (Mobike) or 20 minutes (Xiaoming Bike) before actually using them, making it convenient for those who know they will need it soon.
Each Mobike has a QR code printed on the handlebar and on the back. When you scan either one, the lock will open. In addition to a similar QR code-scanning feature, you can unlock the Xiaoming Bike via a Bluetooth-powered, handy if the QR code has peeled off or been defaced. Mobike has said they will also add Bluetooth in their latest update.
If everything goes well, finding your Mobike or Xiaoming Bike should be quite easy, but be mindful: the real world is complicated and sometimes seriously sucks.
Ofo, whose bikes are run of the mill street bikes, does not equip GPS on their run-of-the-mill bikes and so can’t show them on a map. The app can only show an estimated number of bikes around you. This seems like a pretty big design flaw as users will only use Ofo if a bike is right in front of them. Ofo uses a low-tech combo lock. They make up for this, however, by being the only platform that can work directly from WeChat.
Mobike plans to have over 100K bikes in Shanghai by the end of this year, company CEO and founder Davis Wang said to local media in October this year. Ofo’s official website shows they have over 200K bikes in the country, of which more than 20K are running in Shanghai. Xiaoming Bike’s team disclosed it’s going to have 400k bikes in Shanghai and Guangzhou by the end of this year.
These figures seem to coincide with our anecdotal findings. Mobike has the widest coverage, not only in downtown areas like Xujiahui, but also in suburban districts like Jiading, Qingpu, and Songjiang. Ofo and Xiaoming Bike are expanding quickly, but they are seldomly seen beyond central Shanghai.
Mobike is known for it’s fashionable and sleek design. The original orange bike is sturdy and well crafted, but takes too much effort to paddle. Getting the wheels rolling on an uphill is no easy feat: the bike weighs a whopping 25kg, twice the weight of a regular bike. The Lite version, which weighs 17kg, is much easier to ride. Xiaoming Bike weights 16kg and offers a smooth cycling experience; the adjustable seat is a huge plus. Cycling-wise, however, Ofo is our favorite for its light frame.
If you live more than a few kilometers away from the nearest metro-station, bike-sharing is a nice alternative to walking. But, if you’re outside central Shanghai, Mobike is your only option for the time being; we call it a lucky day if we come across a Mobike Lite. For long-distance travel in downtown areas, Ofo is the best choice because the bike takes a lot less effort to paddle and it’s charged on an hourly basis. If you have a lot of friends, Xiaoming Bike is your choice: inviting four friends for a steep discount isn’t difficult.
The market is just going to get more competitive; these companies need to paddle harder to get ahead of the pack.