In the World Now @en

Rainbows Made of Bicycles

15May 2017 黄吉
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Huang Ji (黄 吉)

Shanghai, China

Nagasaki Prefectural Coordinator for International Relations

Lived in Nagasaki from April 2014 to April 2015




Long time no see! My name is Huang Ji and I was a Nagasaki Prefectural Coordinator for International Relations from 2014 to 2015. I’ve been back in Shanghai for two years already. In these two years many things have changed here and I would like to tell you all about one of them.

What do you think it is? ^^



There is a common saying in Shanghai, 一年一変様、三年大変様, which means “if there is a single change in a year’s time, in three years’ time there will be great changes”. This saying was coined in the 1990s as praise for the development of Shanghai that was happening in leaps and bounds. The phrase is still commonly used today.



In the past few years, high-rises are being built one after another and Shanghai is changing at a bewildering pace, but what’s said to be the biggest change is transportation. There are over 3 million personal automobiles clogging the streets with 3.3 million kilometers of subway underneath them. However, the biggest change in the last year has to be the advent of shared bicycles, otherwise known as “rainbow bicycles”. These have swept Shanghai in the blink of an eye.

And why are they called rainbow bicycles? …Well, I’ll explain a bit later ^^




Bicycles in the 1980s (in People’s Square)


An advertisement from a bicycle maker in the 1990s.

Slogan: “Independence begins with a bicycle.”

At that time, bicycles were truly indispensable to the people of Shanghai


Present-day People’s Square and the shared bicycles in front of the subway station.




This bicycle boom began in the first half of last year. Initially there were only two companies that did shared bicycles: mobike (called 摩拝 in Chinese), and OFO, and they didn’t have many bikes available. You could walk hundreds of meters and not be able to find a bike. Then, once the apps for shared bicycle services were developed, it became so much simpler and easier to find a shared bicycle. They’re also extremely cheap to use. A 30 minute use is only .5 yuan (which is about 8 yen). It bears mentioning that it costs 2 yuan to take a bus, and between 3 and 7 yuan to ride the subway, so you can see how comparatively cheap it is.



Let’s take a shared bicycle to do some hanami

Photo by cloris chen



Let’s take a “mobike” to a café!

photo by Huang Ji



Towards the latter half of last year, the expansion of the shared bicycle market really exploded. Multiple bike sharing companies sprung up, including one that works with bikes with small motors attached! Each of these companies have their own distinct color of bicycle, so when all the different companies’ bikes are lined up in one of the shared bike spots they look like a rainbow. That’s why “rainbow bicycle” has become synonymous with “shared bikes”. These rainbows have become a kind of new symbol of Shanghai that can be found in many different places. They are becoming quite popular as photo opportunities for foreign tourists.



Shared bicycles with motors

photo by Huang Ji




As these shared bike services grew, the lives of people living in Shanghai grew ever more convenient. Why did these bikes gain so much popularity? I’ve listed a few reasons below.

  1. High level of convenience

Just download the application and you get access to all the bikes in Shanghai that company controls, you can just leave a bike once you’re done with it, and they’re really cheap!

  1. The connections to subways

To take mobike and OFO as examples, these two companies control over 100,000 bikes. They make a point of having many bicycles available outside subway stations and now the combination of share bikes and the subway have become the ideal way to get to work in Shanghai.

  1. Care for the environment

Because bicycles are powered by humans, this naturally makes them good for the environment as well as the rider’s personal health. They fit with current trends towards caring for the environment.



Young ladies touring the city on OFO bicycles

photo by Huang Ji




On the flip side of making life more convenient for some people, these share bikes to carry with them some problems of their own. The sidewalks of downtown areas are congested with these bikes making it difficult for pedestrians to get through. There are safety concerns about children riding these bikes as well as disputes about which government body is in charge of the huge deposits made by these bicycle sharing companies. The government is working as quickly as it can to establish practices for the management of such funds.



Multicolored share bikes in a bike parking space marked by a white line

photo by Huang Ji



I very recently found two interesting pieces of news on the subject of shared bicycles. The first of which is that Tim Cook of Apple recently visited the offices of OFO. The second is that both mobike and OFO have begun services in America and Singapore. I’m very excited to see how these shared bicycles change the world.



Apple’s Tim Cook visiting OFO



So, what do you think? I think that these bicycles are going to continue to spread through Shanghai and make the city even more colorful ^^


That’s all for this essay. I’ll make sure to write again next time I find something interesting!




Just for everyone’s information, I’ll leave you with some instructions for how to use these bike sharing applications.

1. Download the app.

2. Sign up, pay the 299 yuan deposit (about 4800 yen), and charge your account with money through Alipay or WeChat.

3. Walk to the nearest bicycle on the map inside the application.

4. Scan the QR code on the bicycle with your phone and the lock will automatically be released.

5. Once you reach your destination, put the bike in a bicycle parking spot and set the lock. Your account will be charged immediately after the lock is set.




Mobike and OFO’s apps.        Mobike app showing bike locations.