Rambling Different Trails: An Adventure In Bike Shares.

We are back from a week in Nanjing, Suzhou, and Shanghai, and are excited to see that bike shares are so common there. Nanjing is a modern city, heavily damaged during the Japanese occupation but today re-built and full of interesting places to visit by public transit and bicycle. I immediately noticed that the municipal Public Bicycle bikeshare of Nanjing which uses docking posts sometimes lining a whole city block, was not the only option. A number of private ventures are also available. Their bikes outnumber the municipal bikeshares available and the same app (and deposit) can be used in any city they operate in. I noticed some of these same companies  in Suzhou and Shanghai, and I’m sure they operate in other cities as well. They come with names like Mobike, Bluegogo, Ofo, etc.. There must be a dozen different companies, each with their own unique identifying color and style. It took a while to figure them out as a foreigner, even though I could choose to have the app in English.

We were surprised to see this in English in Shanghai.

Without our millenial traveling companion Bamboo Sun we wouldn’t have known what to do. He downloaded several different bikeshare apps to compare. We went with Mobike because they are the most plentiful and had two models. You just scan the QR code which unlocks the bike. It also tracks your route, mileage and time, and when you finish your ride and close the frame mounted lock you pay on-line. Ultimately however, Steve used Ofo because one of their models had a quick release adjustable seat post (he’s 6’3″). The Ofo app gives you the combination to manually unlock the bike and doesn’t track your mileage.

Bikes of all kinds outside the metro station. Bluegogo seems to be the popular bikeshare here.

The advantage the private shares have over the municipal ones that use a smart card is that you can pick them up and drop then off pretty much anywhere, not just at a docking station, and you don’t have to obtain a smart card, which makes it easier for foreigners. The way this works is to saturate an area with many bikes. When you finish your ride and lock the bike it registers on the website as available. Anyone else can use it, as they are locatable by GPS on the website, even in walk-out restaurant basements. Sorry restaurant worker, but someone rode off on the one Bamboo had been riding so it was fair game. We noticed other instances of people trying to hide bikes for later use too, but the gps tracker gives the location away, so you may or may not leave on the same bike you came with.

Here someone has tried hiding their Ofo bike for later use, but there’s no hiding with GPS.


The biggest drawback we found? The bikes were tiny for us. I felt like I was riding the bicycle equivalent of a clown car. My knees reached to my waist when pedaling and both feet easily rested flat on the ground when stopped. This affected steering, which I didn’t expect, and made even slight rises something everyone seemed to dismount and walk, as you have very little power riding like that. I finally stood up to pedal over a bridge, which seemed to startle my traveling companions (except for Steve.)

Bamboo is riding a sporty model here, but he complained “it’s heavy!” It looks like it could have an internal shift hub or power assist, but no. Not meant for BMX, either.

Wheel sizes of the bike shares were mainly 24″ and 26″, with some smaller. The Chinese are generally smaller people, and at  5’5″ I’m the size of an average man here but there are many taller Chinese too, especially among younger generations. All bikes should have adjustable seat height. Steve of course had an even tougher time with bike sizing than I did.

Our bikes had tubeless solid rubber tires, and on one model they were drilled with holes to create a lighter weight bike. Steve mentioned the solid rubber foam made the tires feel “dead.” All are of course single speeds, some came with baskets.
Another drawback we found was that as foreigners, payment was problematic. You need an on-line payment option that the app recognizes, like Ali-pay, or a service recognized by a third-party app like Wechat wallet, a Chinese version of Facebook. You have to register and submit a deposit, and while our Chinese traveling companions could do so almost instantly with their ID and phone numbers, with our passport numbers it took overnight and then some to be in the system. It is very cheap though, a ride costs between $.07 and $.21 an hour, and the deposit was about $13., so they are a popular mode of transit. I think I saw almost as many people on bikes as scooters.
Would I use them again? Sure- for commuting, but I would definitely use a model with adjustable seat height, which were strangely not the bikes with the largest, or smallest, wheels.

3 thoughts on “Rambling Different Trails: An Adventure In Bike Shares.

  1. Steven Larrick

    Bravo for describing some bike share systems in China. Perhaps Lincoln will have a bike share system soon.

  2. Sydney

    Steven, Lincoln’s bike share is coming. Rumor has it that it will go live this summer.

    Janine, thank you for the update. Your posts modify my news-influenced perspective of China — in a good way.

  3. Janine Copple Post author

    People are just people trying to live their lives anywhere you go.
    “Ideally, travel broadens our perspectives personally, culturally, and politically. Suddenly, the palette with which we paint the story of our lives has more colors.”
    ― Rick Steves, Travel as a Political Act

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