Recently Xiamen has been getting a lot of attention from the world because of a new bike path. Not just a bike path but the world’s longest elevated bike path. It’s almost 5 miles long and built like a little bike highway with exits and entrances along the path, all hovering over the street (and the cars) below.
They also have guards stationed throughout making sure no wayward walker ends up on the path (you gotta have a bike). But that’s not a problem because hundreds of bikes are available along the path as well, available for rent for a teeny tiny price.
Have bike apps become a thing in America? Because here in China they have recently just blown up.
I think most of you are familiar with a city bike share program. You get a card, add a deposit and you can check out a bike from any bike stand for usually 1 or 2 rmb per hour (less than .20) with each additional hour going up in price. That’s to ensure you don’t bring a bike home with you.
But in today’s modern world, that seems like ancient technology. You need a card, you need to find a bike stand (on your own) and you need to go to a recharging station to add money to the card.
Today it’s all about apps, and bike share apps have been making riding a bike cool again. There are three major apps in Xiamen; hello bike, ofo and mobike. All bikes from these companies are clearly marked with a QR code. You download the app, pay the deposit (ranging from $20-50 depending on the company) and you can check out any bike you come across. No card, no bike stands, no hassle. (Unless you are a foreigner. Most of these apps require a chinese ID. I’ve heard OFO allows passports though.)
Some of the bikes come equipped with GPS trackers on every bike. So you can use the app, locate the nearest bike and grab it. Some don’t have GPS trackers but they have decided to blanket the city with so many bikes you don’t need to walk far to find one. Each bike is usually less than 1rmb per hour and doesn’t go up in price.
Some you scan the code and it unlocks the bike for you. When you lock the bike, the meter stops. With one company you enter the bikes number and it sends you the code for the lock. Then, they trust that you sign out of the app when you lock the bike up. The lock code doesn’t change though, and this has led to people scratching out the number (so others can’t enter it into the app) and then just using the bike whenever they want.
Yeah, people are dicks.
But this hasn’t stopped these bike apps from blowing up. They are investors wet dreams and they are raking in the cash. One, OFO, just received a billion dollar valuation. Not bad. Many Chinese tech companies like Tencent, Xiaomi and didi are all getting in on the game.
This is a great thing for congested, clogged China. Getting people out of cars and onto bikes is a smart move. And somehow these apps have made riding a bike cool again so you’ll see plenty of young people out on dates with dresses and high heels riding them, or groups of friends riding them. It’s very cool.
But there is an obvious problem, and one that is growing. With no specific drop-off point, these bikes end up everywhere. Just everywhere. In the bushes, in puddles, in giant heaps in dirt lots. And outside high traffic areas, like a mall or something, they can pile up into a huge mess on the sidewalk.
Shanghai is having the biggest problem. The police have recently seized 4,000 illegally parked bikes. While not as drastic, Xiamen is having problems too and the government recently released a statement saying bikes must be parked at specific parking locations (basically a part of the sidewalk with spray-painted borders).
But that’s basically impossible to police, so people are still leaving them wherever. In fact, a few times I’ve seen the police using the bikes, so obviously they are fans. And it’s kinda cool they are all over the place because it means you can find one with very little searching in all parts of the city. But, the companies don’t really take good care of them. They are making enough money to just resupply any empty street. Maintenance isn’t worth it.
So, between the new elevated bike path, the rental bikes and Xiamens previous bike paths, including the 20+ mile bike path along the ocean, I think Xiamen is a serious contender for World’s friendliest bike city. It’s definitely another reason I love living in the place so much.