In Shanghai and a bunch of other cities in China, there is what is known as “Gong-Xiang dan che” (shared bike system) which is a part of the many forms of China’s shared economy. Unlike community bikes which you must register for a “bike card” at the local office and you can only rent and return bikes at designated stations, the shared bike system allows you to register and pay on your phone using an application. Then, through turning on Bluetooth and scanning the QR code on the bike, you can rent the bike for a small fee of 1-2rmb per hour and return it by parking the bike almost anywhere.
There are two main kinds of shared bikes in Shanghai with three main companies dominating the market. The first two companies are ‘Mobike’ and “Ofo”, which are regular bikes that have a Bluetooth activated lock that is attached to the wheel. You scan the QR code using your phone and the app automatically unlocks the bike for you. When you want to return the bike, you just push the lock button near the back wheel, and the bike is returned and no longer your problem. The other kind of bike is an electric bike and is run mainly by a company known as “Xiangqi e-bike”. Personally, I really like this bike because it doesn’t require any actual biking. Similar to ofo and mobike, you turn on Bluetooth, scan the QR code and the bike automatically unlocks. What is fun about Xiang-qi is that you just have to twist the right handle downwards like a motorcycle and the bike moves forward. This is something that I had never encountered anywhere else especially since it can be so easily rented without any sort of license.
As much as I love and use the shared bikes, my travails in Shanghai have both revolved around my experience with these bikes. The first time was when I did not realize how common stolen bikes are in China. I parked my mobike outside of a Family Mart (a convenience store) while I went inside to buy water. Being the absent-minded person I am, I did not lock the bike thinking that nothing bad could happen in the 5 minutes I was away from it. However, while I was checking out at the register, I turned around to find a guy pedaling away on my bike. I tried calling the customer service of mo-bike immediately to report the theft, however, their customer service line kept hanging up after 5-6 rings. Eventually, I was able to get a hold of them after 5 days of calling. Unfortunately, that day I had to walk 2km home because I wasn’t able to rent another bike and there were no taxis where I was stranded at.
My second unfortunate incident with the shared bikes involved the green electric bike. According to my Chinese friends, when the shared bikes first came out it was a common thing for some people to purposely break the bikes for fun. There were a couple news stories of people ‘parking’ the bikes in the river or purposely crashing them into things. Around 3 weeks ago, I was in a rush to get to school. I was lucky enough to find an electric green bike and began to ride it full speed. However, it wasn’t until I almost crashed into an electric scooter and landed on the pavement at an intersection did I realized that the brakes on my bike were completely broken. Halfway to school already, I thought that it would be fine as long as I took it slow, but luckily for me (not really) the battery of the bike fell out onto the road and I wasn’t able to return the bike because the Bluetooth connection was also broken. I spent the next 2 hours on the phone with customer service explaining hysterically what had happened because they suspected that I was the one who destroyed the bike, however, in the end, xiangqi customer service decided to “graciously” only ask me to pay a 30 RMB fee. In the end, although I had two pretty hectic experiences with the shared bikes in Shanghai, I honestly enjoyed using them and I still do every day. There is always a bike or two that don’t have functional brakes or break down halfway while you’re riding them, but the concept is superb and I hope that it becomes a global thing and available in NYC one day!