Bike-sharing schemes are riding into cities around the world with increasing frequency, offering locals and visitors another way to get around town.
Unlike Pronto, a similar service that used docking stations before it closed down earlier this year, Ofo lets you leave the bike anywhere you like. Within Seattle, it goes up against Spin and LimeBike , both of which started serving riders last month.
To use Seattle’s latest bike-sharing service, you need a smartphone with the Ofo app (iOS and Android) and a credit or debit card, with $1 getting you an hour of riding time. At the time of writing, that’s double what you get with Spin and LimeBike.
You can find available bikes by checking the map on the app. Once you locate one, simply scan the bar code on the bike to unlock the back wheel, hop on, and ride off. When you reach your destination, reset the lock manually and go about your day.
Naturally, these bike services — as well as the good people of Seattle — really don’t want you to leave the bike in any ol’ place when you’re done with it. Riders needs to ensure the two-wheelers are left well clear of things like crosswalks and loading zones. Bike racks are ideal, but if you have no choice but to leave it on a sidewalk, there needs to be at least six feet of walking space beside it.
With Pronto ending its service in Seattle after less than three years, it will be interesting to see how Ofo and its competitors fare in the coming months. Pronto is thought to have struggled because Seattle is considered by many to be a challenging place to bike, its hilly terrain and rainy weather prompting people to find other forms of transport. Or walk.
A local law also requires you to wear a helmet when cycling in Seattle, though many ignore the rule. The current bike-share services in the city don’t offer helmets with the bikes, either, which may deter some from pedaling off.
The services also need to ensure that — without docking stations providing some order — the bikes don’t end up blocking the streets in popular parts of town, creating an ugly and disruptive “bicycle graveyard” that has to be cleared by either the company or the authorities. Finally, there’s the risk of theft — one startup in China recently had to close down just six months in after 90 percent of its 1,200 bicycles went missing.
Despite the challenges, Dai Wei, Ofo’s 26-year-old CEO, thinks his company can make a success of it in Seattle.
Wei launched Ofo in Beijing in 2014, and gave his company that name because the word resembles the shape of a bicycle. It now has more than three million of its yellow bikes in around 50 Chinese cities. Besides Seattle, Ofo’s only operation outside of China is in the British city of Cambridge where it offers a small number of bikes, although it’s looking to launch in as many as 20 countries before the end of 2017, including France, Germany, and Japan.