I just returned from Shanghai, home to an exciting new bike-sharing system (launched last month) called Mobike. In my short time over the weekend I saw at least thirty people using them. Given that no one ever used the Shanghai city bike system when I lived there before, this was pretty cool!
The bikes are conspicuously designed, which helps Mobike differentiate their product from the incumbent municipal bike sharing services in the city, but is certainly bad from a long term usability perspective. With a lefty fork, shaft drive, and non-traditional wheels, the bikes are eye catching and futuristic for non-enthusiasts, but loaded with points of potential failure from the perspective of a specialist. They’re heavier than they need to be, and adjustability is significantly limited. That being said, the use of non-standard components can deter theft (thanks Ivan and Jojo!), which might extend the serviceable life of the bike. In any case, I would rather a bike design which gets the general population excited enough to ride, so it’s ok in my book. And they’ve clearly accomplished that.
Where the whole system gets interesting — unlocking and using a Mobike:
1) Download and register for the app
2) Scan the QR code on the handlebars or framelock with your phone (QR code mobile payments are everywhere in China) and unlock the frame lock
3) Ride the bike wherever you want, and leave it there
Why is it interesting? The bike itself is a poor specimen of city bike, but it shows that GPS technology, mobile payments, and smartphone technology are converging in novel ways. Wherever you are in Shanghai, you get an up-to-date map on your phone of all available bikes in the city. It’s practically the same interface as Uber, and surprise surprise, the founder of the company was General Manager of Uber China (a huge role, and the #2 market for Uber globally).
Car sharing, bike sharing, mobile payments, smart hardware are mixing together and generating new solutions to old problems. Exciting time to work in transportation!