Ofo is one of 12 companies including Lyft and Uber applying for licenses to run an electric scooter hire scheme in San Francisco. Ofo’s protracted application for a permit to run the city’s first bike share scheme was rejected by authorities, meaning the US scooter craze could be the bike company’s chance to have a visible (bright yellow?) presence in the tech center.

The quality of the Chinese unicorn’s bicycles is much derided and although the company does not yet have a scooter design, it would launch thousands of scooters in via its new scheme in summer 2018 if granted a license, as wells as e-bikes across the US, according to the head of ofo North America.

San Francisco’s steep learning curve

Ofo faces tough competition and an even tougher local authority. Five companies will be picked by San Francisco’s transport agency to join a year-long pilot, according to PitchBook. In the first six months there will 1,250 scooters on the streets and, if deemed successful, the number could be doubled for the rest of the year.

Scooter heavyweights Bird, Spin and Lime which already run e-scooter hire schemes in the city have applied as have car ride-sharing firms Lyft and Uber (via Jump, the scooter brand it bought). The other companies are Scoot, Skip, Razor, Hopr, USSCooter and Ridecell. Companies already running schemes in San Francisco were ordered to remove their scooters from sidewalks by June 4.

Jump already operates a dockless electric bike share in San Francisco after winning the city’s only permit to operate a pilot in January 2018. Ofo, which has its US HQ in San Francisco, had worked with the city’s authorities for six months to try to secure a place in the pilot and complained about the process.

“Tens of thousands of e-scooters and e-bikes”

Chris Taylor, head of ofo North America took to Medium to declare ofo’s plans: “We’re about to kick things into an even higher gear in the US — literally and figuratively — with the introduction of tens of thousands of e-scooters and e-bikes in the summer of 2018.”

Taylor explains how the e-scooters and bikes that can be pedaled with a battery boost will fit into the range:

“While our traditional bike will remain the backbone of our dockless fleet, our pedal assist e-bikes and e-scooters serve different needs. Our traditional bikes are versatile and easy to ride; our e-scooters will be terrific for shorter, zipier trips around cities; and our e-bikes are ideal for longer trips and hilly terrains. The expanded ofo lineup will be the largest, best-built, and most reliable for consumers in the industry.”

The image accompanying Taylor’s announcement shows a typically yellow e-scooter with ofo branding, and also a clear Segway logo. Segway was acquired by China’s Ninebot in 2015 and is backed by Xiaomi. Ninebot is already making the scooters for Bird, Lime, and Skip.

Ofo is bullish about its US future. According to Taylor, the company is “now serving more than 30 US cities, with the aim to be in at least 100 by the end of this year.” Meanwhile, our reporting in Singapore finds signs that ofo is struggling to pay the bills and a warehouse may be selling off ofo bikes.

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Frank Hersey

Frank Hersey is a Beijing-based tech reporter who's been coming to China since 2001. He tries to go beyond the headlines to explain the context and impact of developments in China's tech sector. Get in...

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