Chinese smart bike-sharing service Mobike rides into Singapore

Akiko Fujita and Jessica Wa'u
Bike-sharing service Mobike comes to Singapore
Bike-sharing service Mobike comes to Singapore

A bicycle with airless tires, a solar panelled basket and a GPS tracker isn't your typical mode of transport.

But, Chinese bike-sharing company Mobike is betting the two-wheeled option takes off outside of its home market.

The Beijing-based startup is deploying hundreds of its bikes across Singapore, the first step in an ambitious overseas expansion, as competition in the bike-sharing sector heats up.

"The government [in Singapore] has been very supportive of moving around in more environmentally friendly ways," said Florian Bohnert, head of international expansion for the company.

"We hope to work closely with agencies to put in place a framework for smart bikes to be able to operate safely and securely."

Mobike is just the latest bike-sharing company to launch in an increasingly saturated market.

Chinese Competitor Ofo deployed 1000 bikes in the city-state last month, while home-grown startup Obike rolled out its service earlier this year. All three utilize mobile apps that allow users to book bikes on their smartphones and unlock the wheels with a QR code.

Mobike has attracted big name investors including Tencent, Foxconn, and Temasek Holdings, raising more than $300 million in their latest funding round earlier this year. The company already has one million bikes deployed across 33 Chinese cities, and according to Trustdata took 72.5 percent of market share on the mainland in 2016.


"We are the only player out there with a smart bike so we know exactly where the bikes are," Bohnert said, citing Mobike's GPS capability. "Ultimately we feel that users will choose the bike and app with the best user experience."

Success in Singapore may not come as easily as China, where two million bikes have been deployed in major markets. The city-state has no bike lanes on roads, and few regulations for two-wheelers.

While the government plans to build out more than 700 kilometers (435 miles) of bike paths and park connectors by 2020, just 300 kilometers (186 miles) of that have been completed so far. Mobike is competing to win the tender for a broader bike-sharing project that calls for more than 200 bike docking stations around the island.

Mobike's smart bikes don't get lost
Mobike's smart bikes don't get lost

To help the company scale, Mobike is partnering with major tech companies including Microsoft and Stripe, as well as AXA Insurance. The initial launch will focus on universities, though Bohnert said additional bikes will eventually be deployed near MRT train stations.

In addition to monitoring the bike fleet, Mobike will have to contend with quality control issues that have popped up in its home market.

Stories of vandalism and problems with illegal parking have raised concerns about the growth of bike-sharing, though Bohnert argues Mobike's unique GPS technology allows for better tracking of damage control

Users are also required to sign off on terms and conditions for use in the app to address liability issues.

"It's really about trying to provide a solution for cities that have pollution and traffic congestion," said Bohnert, adding that Mobike is already looking at expansion opportunities in the U.S. and Europe.

"If you look on a more global picture there are a number of urban areas that could use more bikes."

Correction: This article has been changed to accurately reflect Mobike's market share in China.