Riding Ofo & Mobike Dockless Bike-Share Bikes in Hong Kong and GuangzhouMay 15, 2018
As an unabashed cycling enthusiast, I also travel a few times a year for business. In doing so, I’ve gotten a chance to sample many of the bike-share schemes in cities around the USA, having used our own bike-share system here in Portland, as well as in DC/VA, Milwaukie, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and San Antonio, TX. All of these bike-share systems are docked bike share arrangements, meaning they operate from a network of fixed bike-share docks which have been installed at various strategic points around the city.
And while these types of bikeshare systems have their advantages – one of which, of course, is that bikes can remain available for use in predictable areas without having bikes strewn all over the city – there is one type of use case that they handle poorly, and that’s the one-way bike journey where the target destination does not have any bikeshare racks. This was a terrible problem for me at my recent conference in Las Vegas, where I wanted to bike to my conference every day, but as the only RTC Bikeshare racks are in the downtown / Fremont Street area, and none are actually down on the strip, it was entirely unfeasible to use a bikeshare bike to get the 2 miles I had to ride down from my hotel to my conference.
Similarly, when I was just in Guangzhou, China for the Canton Fair, I was staying at the Four Seasons in Zhujiang New Town, about 6 km away from the Canton Fair complex. Now, having gone to the fair last year, I’ve tried basically every single mode of transportation getting there. I’ve gone by bus and by taxi, I’ve taken the Automated People Mover line under the river, changing trains to the battery-powered Guangzhou light rail trains, and I’ve taken the Metro the long way back. All of these options have their positives and negatives, but all of them also have to deal with the fact that the Canton Fair complex is MASSIVE, and even taking the Metro there can result in your having to walk a good 1.5km just to get to the ENTRANCE to the fair that matches where you want to be.
And this is where dockless bike-share bikes are awesome. In most areas I found myself in, in Guangzhou, I was never more than a half-block or so away from my nearest Mobike or Ofo bike. Seeing as Mobike entered the US market last year, their Android app, which when I came to the fair last year only accepted Wechat Pay and AliPay as payment, now will use Visa/Mastercard/Amex as well. You stick your card into the app, then go find a bike, scan it, and <<BEEP>> it unlocks the bike for you and off you go. Trips to the Canton Fair and back averaged a whopping $0.16/each, so this was far and away better than dropping $10-$15 on a cab ride.
I took a little video here of what the trip looks like to the fair with my commentary on what route to take (sorry for the wind noise):
With the bike I was able to get the 6km from my hotel to the Fair door-to-door in 25 minutes, and that was riding at a leisurely pace. Well, I HAD to ride at a leisurely pace. My only demerit I’d point out on these bikeshare bikes is that they are made for the average Chinese build, and I’m a lanky 6’4″ American. So, for them, it must have looked like I’d stolen my 7-year-old’s bike.
But the point I do want to make is that one can ride these bikes right to the entrance of the fair, and park them there, limiting your transit time and actually making this the fastest way, door-to-door, to get from the hotel to exactly where I need to go at the Fair.
As a tip (which I mention in the video above), if your hotel is on the other side of the river from the Canton Fair, you’re going to want to use the Liede Bridge to cross the river. Locals are notorious for riding their bikes the wrong way down limited-access dual carriageways, but it doesn’t mean you should too. The Liede Bridge (the big white one that has a center support that looks like a horseshoe) has ample protected bikeways on either side of the bridge, with a spiral walkway to get your bike up & over at either end.
I should also tell you a bit about what the actual on-street cycling was like. Although most of the time I was on protected bikeways, I did spend some time biking on the street around Guangzhou. Bike lanes are virtually not a thing at all, and when there are lanes marked for bikes, they are generally over-run by electric scooters doing deliveries, or commercial buses and the like. Traffic through the cities, unlike what I would have expected, moves at a fairly slow rate of speed – mostly due to the traffic cameras that are EVERYWHERE. There are no police patrol cars at all, but the cameras are virtually omnipresent. So, people don’t speed, but that means they just do their absolute chaotic weave of activity slightly slower. Basically, everyone on the road (cyclists included) has to drive/ride like anything they’re going to do is 100% inevitable. As in, you don’t make eye contact with other drivers and wait for an opening before merging or turning – you just DO IT and everyone bends their plans to whatever you’re doing. It takes a while to get used to, especially coming from Portland where 3 lanes of highway will all come to a stop to let people make a left turn.
Bike-Share Biking in Hong Kong
On my trip this past year, I also spent several days in Hong Kong, and sampled the bike-share scene there too.
My friend Bernie here, demonstrating that even Ofo bikes can wheelie.
Mobike has a very small presence there, but its affiliate Ofo has plenty of bikes – just not nearly the concentration of bikes that you’ll find in mainland China cities like Guangzhou, Shenzhen or Shanghai. Now, one difference between Hong Kong and mainland China is that seeing as much of Hong Kong’s major development was as a British protectorate, it didn’t grow with the same cycling culture as mainland China did. So, as Hong Kong and Kowloon grew up all space-constrained, there simply were hardly any provisions made for cycling. So, in Victoria, in the Central and Admiralty areas, and in much of Kowloon, you’ll simply never find any bike lanes or bike paths anywhere. Yes, you can ride your bike, and yes you can find an Ofo bike (or the local gobee.bike) you’re pretty much taking your life into your own hands.
However, north of the bustling center of Kowloon, starting in Sha Tin (easy ride up on the MTR East Rail Line) there is a beautiful network of bike paths along the riverfront and ocean that goes for about 10 miles up the coast to Tai Po. I grabbed an Ofo bike there on a few occasions and took it up the river for a ride to get a breath of fresh air.
Just be warned, like it is in China, in Hong Kong none of the bike-share bikes’ seatposts adjust any higher than what you’d need as maybe a 5’9″ male. So, if you’re tall like me, be prepared to either squat or just rent a bike at one of the many bike rental places that are up and down the Sha Tin area.
But bikes like this enable one to easily access views like the one above, which is amazing in Hong Kong considering that it’s one of the two most densely populated areas on the entire planet. Score one more for bike-share bikes.