Shared bikes hit country roads

Updated 2017-11-16 00:02:11 Xinhua

While some Chinese metropolises have proclaimed "enough is enough" to shared bikes, fleets of two-wheelers have started rolling into the vast countryside.

In late October, leading bike-sharing operator Mobike put 20 bikes in Qiqili, a poor mountain village in north China's Shanxi Province, its first launch in a rural area.

"I know what they are! You can use one simply with your mobile phone," Liu Wensheng, 57, told his fellow villagers at the small square where the bikes were parked. "I saw them before, in the city where I worked."

Trapped deep in the mountains, Qiqili has only a few dozen families scattered on rolling hills. Last year, it found a path out of poverty -- tourism -- by capitalizing on its proximity to the winding Yellow River and its rustic lifestyle, including house caves called "yaodong."

"The bikes are like a 'window' connecting villagers with the world. As tourism has boomed in Qiqili, they can better serve tourists," said Guo Ruoqiao, an official working at the village, who spent half a year persuading Mobike to offer the service at Qiqili.

Riding a bike, villager Liu Ningfu can get home earlier after farm work. "With the bikes, we drop by more than before, and simply go for a ride for fun," Liu said.

Tourist Zhang Shengnan from northeast China's Liaoning Province was astonished to see a shared bike in Qiqili.

"It brings me a familiar feeling," said Zhang, adding that bike rides make the trip to the Yellow River more fun.

Mobike CEO Wang Xiaofeng said the countryside shouldn't be forgotten when it comes to shared bikes, which have been nicknamed one of the "new four great inventions" in China, along with high-speed railways, electronic payment and online shopping.

Bike-sharing is not just a privilege for urbanites, Wang said.

"The whole society can benefit from technological progress and access to equal services," said Wang. "That is what 'sharing' really means."

China's bike-sharing industry rose from nowhere, reaching a frenzy in less than three years. Two market leaders -- ofo and Mobike -- are both worth more than 10 billion yuan (1.5 billion U.S. dollars).

The industry is expected to earn 10.3 billion yuan in revenue this year, a 736-percent increase from 1.2 billion yuan in 2016, according to a report from iMedia Research. It estimated the number of shared-bike users in China will hit 209 million this year, compared with 28 million last year.

Before Mobike's move, ofo had tested the waters in rural areas. The company put 200 bikes in Sanhui Village in southwest China's Sichuan Province in mid-May.

Bike maintenance is harder in the countryside. According to the agreement between the Qiqili village committee and Mobike, the committee is responsible for management of the bikes and the operator will regularly send maintenance workers to the village.

The bikes, which are vulnerable to vandalism in cities, are treated better by users in Qiqili. Villagers eligible to use the bikes for free regularly clean the bikes and make saddle covers.

A marketing executive with Mobike told Xinhua that the company has no plan for large-scale business in the countryside at the present, as many villages lack roads suitable for biking.

"In addition, we need to think about whether a village really needs bikes in its development," said the executive.

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