Chinese bike rental companies Mobike and ofo expanded to more than 30 countries last year. While attending the SeedStars Summit 2018 in Lausane, Switzerland, we asked people from 5 different countries what they think about Chinese bike rental startups’ expansion into their home countries.
Recent data from Cheetah shows that China’s active users of bike rental service increased six fold in 2017. In China, ofo ranked number 1, Mobike came second, dominating 90% of the Chinese market, and Hello Bike is in third place. Didi also just launched their rental bikes in Chengdu and Shenzhen.
Cheetah Mobile is optimistic about bike rental companies’ global expansion, predicting that the number of bike rental users in the world will increase to 306 million in 2019 and there will be 5 to 10 times more room for expansion in the overseas market in the next 2 years.
In Europe, many cities tried to roll out docked bike sharing, as “dockless bike-share companies” launched in Europe in 2017.
Last August, ofo said it planned to operate 6,000 shared bikes in Bangkok by the end of September. However, when we interviewed one investor from Thailand whether he had tried ofo in Bangkok, he said he has never seen ofo bikes in Bangkok.
“Bangkok doesn’t have bike lanes, so it’s not so safe for bicycles to pass. We mostly commute to work with cars, or maybe train,” he said.
Mobike officially announced its launch in Rotterdam, the country’s second-largest city, last November, after a successful trial period in the Netherlands. They couldn’t enter Amsterdam, the capital since the city decided in August to temporarily clear up all sharing bikes, as the bikes occupied the city’s scarce public space.
In January this year, Mobike and nine other dockless bike-share companies agreed to work together on API integration, excluding Ofo and oBike.
Everybody owns a bike in Amsterdam, even more than one. People would rather rent a car. So, the idea of renting bikes could work for tourists. I rented a car twice recently, and I think a car sharing model has a better market fit. I haven’t seen Mobikes in Amersterdam.
Mobike kicked off its operations in Berlin, Germany in November 2017, meeting its goal of expanding to 200 cities globally by the end of 2017. After other bike rental companies also launched in German cities, transport authorities in Munich and Frankfurt have limited the maximum number of bikes to be left at particular public locations, while Cologne has introduced designated parking zones for bikes.
Mobike’s arch rival Ofo is hiring people in Germany right now.
Julian Daum, editor at Business Punk
There’s a grey [Deezer] and a yellow [oBike] bike startup with bike stands, where you can put them. There’s a debate around these bike rental startups. Everybody’s hating them. Because they are standing around, thrown everywhere, but nobody’s picking them up. Berlin is a bike stealing hotspot. You cannot let it stand there for two minutes, so it makes sense to use bike rental startups. But I prefer racing bikes, especially from the 70s. Rental bikes are not very fast. Besides, everyone I know owns a bike. I don’t see any people driving around on rental bikes. But if there’s space in the local market, why not? Someone might be needing a bike or a car.
[Bike robbers] have specialized gear to break the locks, so some people use two locks with different lock systems since not many robbers carry gear to break two kinds. One of the reasons for robbing bikes is because there is a big second-hand bike market. They deconstruct the bike, put the parts together differently and resell. A lot of them go to Poland. In Germany, we use car-sharing companies. There are two moped–little electric scooter sharing companies–Emmy and Coup.
Paris has three bike rental players including, Singapore’s oBike, with about 1,800 grey-orange bikes, and two major Chinese firms: Ofo, with about 1,000 yellow bikes, and Mobike, with several thousand orange bikes.
Stefan Himmelstoss, head of scouting at tire company Continental
I have seen Mobike and ofo in Paris. The problem with it was the vandalism and it doesn’t make a good picture in the city. Expanding to Copenhagen and Netherlands would make more sense in general. Bike sharing models in Europe were adopted because of its traction gained in Asia.
BMW is running electric scooter business in Paris and Berlin has electronic scooters for inner city transport. So people there don’t need to own the transport.
Co-pace is the startup program of Continental. Our main purpose of launching co-pace is to help mature enough companies and to advance with them. In products, maybe we want the companies to generate more stream of revenues in various ways. Investment is only one part. Working together and understanding each other is much more important. Continental’s co-pace is looking for startups in mobility that is reducing the communication problem. We are looking for startups who are available in data analytics, has knowhow upfront and how that will work. For example, we can take away the cars and replace them with shuttles. This needs a mixture of intelligently and efficiently working transportation.
Italy was the second European city that Mobike expanded to, following the UK. The a fleet of orange bikes were launched in both Florence and Milan last July, followed by ofo’s yellow bikes. Mobike charges €0.30 cents for the first 30 minutes, then €0.50 for each additional 30-minute period. Ofo charges are lower — starting at €0.20 cents for the first half hour, €0.30 for the next and €5 for a full day pass.
Italy is also seeing bike theft and vandalism. The police in the Quarto Oggiaro district in Milan used Ofo bikes’ geolocation to find 20 bikes locked within a private residence.
Loris Lanzellotti, co-founder and CEO of BoostHeroes
BoostHeroes is a venture capital company with a portfolio of 55 companies with a sector-agnostic view. I invested in Hong Kong-based bike rental startup GoBee bike. GoBee bike was started by a French CEO in February 2017. GoBee bike expanded to Rome, Florence, Turin in Italy and Paris, Lille in France, since the founder of GoBee had major contacts in those cities. However, they encountered vandalism and theft, and the service didn’t work out. The rate of the bikes stolen or thrown away was higher than expected in their business plan. In February, they shut down the operation in Paris.
In some cities, they tested the model earlier than Mobike and ofo. GoBee bike didn’t launch in Milan as there were more ofo bikes.
Mobike and ofo are doing pretty well in Europe. Many are complaining about their service. I’m not sure if they’ve reached break-even point or not. Education of customers is necessary. You don’t want to be the first company to launch, because the bikes will be subject to vandalism and theft, and you don’t want to be the first one to make mistakes in the market.
Note: On April 13th, SCMP reported that ofo plans to take over the operations of Hong Kong-based GoBee Bike.
Singapore is one of the first countries that ofo and Mobike have expanded to, in early 2017. We previously reported that ofo and Mobike aren’t doing so well in Singapore due to its local player oBike.
Stanley Chia, co-founder and COO of Cialfo
I use Mobike in Singapore, and I like it. In Singapore, you can link your credit card to Mobike and pay. It’s helpful. But it’s more useful in China, because of the number and easy access to bikes. But in Singapore, there are much fewer bikes.
These bikes, however, make streets messy. In China, it’s acceptable to some extent. They are hiring people to tidy up the streets. In Singapore, the rules are much stricter. Users are expected to park the bikes in the parking zone. So it’s quite inconvenient because you can only pick up a bike from where it’s parked properly. From both perspectives, it’s less accessible, and not easy because there aren’t many bikes. On the other hand, it cost too much to keep it organized since we don’t have many parking places. So it’s hard to make it more organized in Singapore.
In Singapore, we normally use MRT and bus. Lazy people like me use a taxi. I reached certain income range to own a car, but it’s too expensive. So using taxi costs less for me. I use taxi-hailing apps like Grab taxi.
I think the idea of ofo and Mobike is not that innovative, there were such ideas before. Mobike and ofo could bring it to volume for the masses, and make wide use of it. Acceptance of such innovation in the community is impressive. So it’s more about the community who are open to change and innovation. When it comes to innovation, in a big city like Singapore there is an obvious difficulty of implementing it.