Like a Pikachu hit by a Thunderstone, Chinese bike shares have evolved!!!
I remember the first week I arrived in Lanzhou, I was thrilled that the city had invested in a bike share program. All along major roads, near public buildings, and some parks were the ubiquitous grey bike racks that ate up half the width of the sidewalk. By tapping my transit card against a sensor, I could unlock the bike and ride around to meet friends for dinner or just explore the city at a leisurely pace.
The three MAJOR problems with the traditional bike racks were:
- Early mornings, when I needed to get to school (back when I lived off campus), the bike racks were empty!! Early commuters had snatched up all the bikes
- In the evenings when I got returned to my neighborhood, the bike rack was completely full. And I would have to ride around to find the nearest bike racks that were still empty (which sometimes took a very long time, to the point where riding a bike no longer saved time)
- If I met friends for a meal or drink at a restaurant on a smaller, less prominent street, the nearest bike rack might be ten or more minutes away, and I wouldn’t know where it was located anyway, so I would bike around in circles for some time.
The concept of a fixed pick-up and drop-off point drastically reduced the functionality of the Lanzhou Bike Share. But now, some GENIUS has taken the bike share to the next level!!!
With the latest bike share model, bikes no longer need to be picked up/ dropped off at a specific bike rack- the rack was entirely eliminated. A bike lock is built into each bike, and will latch around the back wheel of the bike; the lock can easily be opened by scanning the QR code with your phone, and a Bluetooth signal will pop the lock open. When you are finished with your ride, press the lock back into place- and you’re done!
This means the bike can be dropped off anywhere in the city- outside a café, on a bridge, on the side of a street market, next to a bench in a park, right outside my apartment building… anywhere! There’s the occasional asshole that will throw the bike into a flowerbed, or leave it in the middle of a busy street, but generally people have been very good about placing the bikes in strategic locations that are easy to spot, but out of the way of pedestrian traffic.
There are several rival companies that produce these bikes, but the most prominent in Lanzhou is “酷奇单车”, the Cool Bike App. With a 300 RMB ($45USD) deposit – a wrecked bike could probably be traced back to the last user – you can get in on the latest bike share. The app also tracks the total distance biked, CO2 emissions saved, and total calories burned. It’s a win win win for the world!!!
It’s also opened up so many new bike paths for me, especially on the gorgeous, quiet riverside parks on the north of the city (which for whatever reason, never had bike racks installed in the first place). This has come in handy as the weather gets warmer and the skies get bluer- my quality of life has increased exponentially because of the new bike share!
Disclaimer: All opinions shared in this blog are the author’s own, and do not represent the views of any outside organization, including but not limited to the United States Government and the Peace Corps.