Ofo, the Beijing-based business often referred to as ‘Uber for Bikes’ has put its first bikes onto the streets of Cambridge, under a three-week trial.
If successful, more of the yellow bikes, which can be hired using an app – there are versions for iOS and Android devices – and which do not require a docking station will follow.
20 bicycles have been deployed in Cambridge under its initial trial, and the company says it will launch in other cities in the UK later this year.
Cambridge has been chosen specifically because it is the British city with the highest proportion of cyclists.
The business said that while the trial is underway, it will be developing a rollout plan working alongside residents of the city as well as the local authorities.
So how does it work? First, you find a bike that’s free and which has been left parked by the previous rider. Using the app, key in the bike number, which will give you an access code. Ride off and when you’re finished, park it, lock it, and leave it for the next person.
The first month is free and then costs from 50 pence for up to 30 minutes’ rental.
Ofo has sought to allay concerns about bikes being dumped around the city, saying that during the launch, it will have “an on-the-ground team ensuring the scheme runs smoothly, to ensure bikes are being parked responsibly as well as being on hand to answer any questions from users.”
The business was founded by graduates of Peking University, and launched its first bikes on the campus there in 2014.
Ofo’s growth since then has been astonishing. The business has 2.5 million bikes, with a total of 10 million rides undertaken every day, and 30 million active users.
Mainly targeting university campuses and cities with large student populations, Ofo has begun to expand internationally this year with launches in Singapore and San Francisco.
Claire Chen, head of Ofo UK, said: “The benefits of cycling are endless, from the numerous physical benefits to reducing the number of cars on the road and bringing down air pollution, so we wanted to make it as easy as possible for people to get on two wheels.”
“The added benefit of our sharing scheme is that bikes can be used more effectively, with hundreds of potential users for each bike rather than just one.
“This will reduce the number of bikes needed by a city’s population. We strongly believe that by sharing more and owning less, we can collectively reduce our impact on the planet.
“We want to revolutionise how people view urban transport and position the bicycle as the best way to explore cities.
“Our non-docking system makes Ofo the most flexible and convenient way to get around urban areas, and our international user-base highlights how effective our model can be,” she added.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.