Back in the summer of 1965, a group of self-styled anarchists whitewashed 50 bicycles and stationed them in the centre of Amsterdam. “We wanted to save the city,” says Luud Schimmelpennink, 79, who invented the “White Bicycle Plan” as a member of the anti-establishment Provo movement. “The idea was that with free bikes and no locks, people would stop using the car.” The plan backfired – the bikes were confiscated by the police – but it offered a glimpse of the future. Now that playful act of defiance has gone mainstream.
With the bike-sharing boom still in its first decade, Asia is already outpacing European towns that started the phenomenon. The Chinese cities of Hangzhou and Wuhan are the global leaders; India’s megacities are struggling to take off; the United States is playing catch-up; Africa hasn’t even started thinking this, and yet it could have been the best right place to actually have this mode of transport instituted with the accompanying policies and investment frameworks.
From flat Astana, Kazakhstan, to Quito, Ecuador – with an altitude of 2,800 metres above sea level – bike-sharing programmes exist in more than 600 cities in 52 countries, says Russell Meddin, who maintains and updates The Bike-Sharing World Map, a website that surveys cycle plans around the globe. As new regulations threaten to throttle China’s ride-hailing industry, the country’s bike sharing industry is taking off. Tencent, the largest company in Asia and the Chinese tech giant behind WeChat, is joining the fray.
On Friday, Beijing-based bike sharing startup Mobike announced a new round of funding. It didn’t disclose the amount, but the list of participating investors includes Tencent, Sequoia Capital, and Wang Xing, CEO of daily deals company Meituan-Dianping, which raised arecord-breaking US$3.3 billion round earlier this year. Mobike raised US$100 million in series C funding less than a month ago.
Beyond “improving their product and service,” the startup hasn’t released any details on where it plans to spend its fresh capital. However, Tencent’s investment might signal a future integration of Mobike’s services into WeChat, something Mobike’s PR would neither confirm nor deny. Wechat has become a complete lifestyle App with anything, yes almost anything available, accessible or addressable on the platform. I pay my bills, hail rides, shop, order food and beverages and so much more from this platform.
Mobike’s funding news comes just a few days after Ofo, another bike sharing startup based in China’s capital, disclosed its own US$130 million series C round of funding. In its press release, Ofo said it planned to partner with one of its main investors, ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing, on integrating its services into Didi’s app.
Interestingly, Tencent is one of Didi’s investors. WeChat users can access Didi’s ride-hailing services through the social messaging app, which means that perhaps Mobike may be integrated into Wechat soon.