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August 15, 2016

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Hot orange wheels: contemporaryrekindling of China’s cycling past

THIS summer, Mobike, a bicycle-sharing program, is sweeping Shanghai, with its iconic hot orange wheel hubs seen everywhere in the city.

Launched by Beijing Mobike Technology in April, this Internet-driven, app-enabled program is the world’s first public bike rental that doesn’t rely on parking poles. Drawing on GPS trackers to monitor every bike’s location and smartphones to enable self-help services, the company allows its bikes to be returned anywhere as long as it is public areas for parking. At the same time, the company has to help users fight the temptation to hoard or hide Mobikes.

The modest cost of 1 yuan (15 US cents)per half-hour rental and the ability to leave the bikes in many public areas made the program an immediate success, especially among young people. For them, riding a hot orange bike is both cost-effective and trendy.

“I really need someone to teach me how to ride a bike,” said Violet Zhang, after she had trouble finding a cab after work.

She said the sight of the ubiquitous Mobikes filled her with the urge to do something she failed to learn as a child — bike riding.

“The Mobike is built on the simple concept of giving every urban dweller the option to make a short journey at an affordable price and with more convenience,” the company said of its service. “To that end, we chose bicycles, which make travel more eco-friendly and help reduce the number of cars on the roads.”

China, the world’s largest auto market, used to be a country of cyclists. For an ever-growing, congested metropolis like Shanghai, ditching four wheels for two seems like a natural choice of pragmatism over materialism. But pragmatism also has its selfish elements.

Some users try to hold onto idle Mobikes so that they don’t need to share availability when they want the bikes for personal use. Eva Ma, marketing manager at Mobike, said improper “parking” of the bikes accounts for 30 to 40 percent of complaints from users every day.

The bikes can be hidden in enclosed areas or locked up in offices. If it were not for the hot orange color, some of the bikes might never have been found in thick bushes.

To set every one straight on the matter of sharing, Mobike has recently introduced stricter penalties based on a user credit-rating system.

Its base starts at 100, adding one point for each instance of appropriate sharing, and subtracts 20 for each violation. Since the end of July, those with credit scores below 80 will have to pay 100 yuan for each half-hour of bike rental.

“We never intend to make any money from charging these violators,” said Ma. “It is merely a deterrent or reminder that everyone needs to play by the book.”

Violators can redeem themselves by reporting the improper parking of others. Each report is worth one point.

Safeguarding the integrity of the bike program has spawned urban “white knights,” like Zhuang Ji, who doesn’t care about bonus points but does care about people hijacking the intent of the program. When he finds misparked bikes, he takes the initiative to move them to their proper location even if he has to pay to unlock them in the first place.

“The knight spirit is all about responsibility,” he told Mobike, which is compiling stories of 100 riders as modern knights for its marketing. “When you do a good thing, people will listen, and help voluntarily. We need more knights.”


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