American cyclists rejoice — as of yesterday, you can ride your favorite Mobike shared bicycles stateside, in the comfort of your own motherland.
The US has had its own homegrown shared bicycles. In New York City, I’ve had countless conversations about the near-useless mediocrity of Citi Bike. If you have to go to a faraway station to pick up a bike, and leave it at a docking station that’s far away from your destination…isn’t that basically just taking the subway but with more effort?
The key difference with China’s shared bikes is that they’re dockless, and can be picked up and dropped off anywhere. So far, Mobike’s US launch is limited to Washington DC (where rides are free until the end of the month). The company collaborated with the DC government on the project, developing customized bikes with special frames and three gears, apparently nicer than what we’ve seen in China so far.
While US Mobike fans are limited to DC right now, there are signs that the global takeover is upon us. Earlier this month Mobike announced a partnership with AT&T and Qualcomm, in what could be a move towards a single, international model. With Qualcomm modems and AT&T networks, Mobike will be able to capture huge amounts of user data from its bicycles. The idea is to work with city planners, and use the data to incentivize riders to move the bikes back to parts of the city where they’re more needed.
While that process is still in development, and we’re certainly several steps away from a shared bike omni-model that could function as easily in Vancouver as in Mumbai, the expansion of shared bikes is occurring extremely quickly, despite measures being taken to curb their presence at home in Shanghai and Beijing. Competitor Ofo launched their US operation in Seattle last month, bringing the Ofo-Mobike rivalry to our front doors. One thing’s for sure, and that’s that Citi Bike sucks.