June 30, 2017 9:30 am JST

Mobike starts to roll around the world

China’s ‘Uber of bikes’ is offering its popular e-bike sharing in UK, Japan

MITSURU OBE, Nikkei staff writer

Mobike's e-bike sharing is a huge hit in Shanghai and other Chinese cities.

TOKYO -- Chinese bike-sharing startup Mobike began operating in Europe on Thursday, betting that its innovative sharing system will catch on outside its home market.

The bike-sharing pioneer said the service was launched in Manchester, England on Thursday with 1,000 bikes, charging 50 pence (60 cents) per half-hour.

Known as "Uber of bikes," Mobike is one of China's most promising startups and is backed by deep-pocketed investors, including Chinese Internet company Tencent and Taiwan's Foxconn Technology Group.

The bicycles are equipped with GPS, allowing users find a nearby bike with a smartphone app. Customers also use the app to unlock the bike by scanning its QR code, as well as to pay for the service.

At the end of the ride, the customer slides the lock into place and leaves the bike at any public parking spot.

The bikes have no chains and sport airless tires, eliminating the risk of flats and minimizing the need for maintenance.

The service has been a huge success in China, with its rental bikes found on every street corner in big cities. Mobike has more than 100 million users and a fleet of 5 million bikes in all.

After launching its service in Shanghai in April 2016, Mobike expanded into Singapore in March. Once the U.K. business is off the ground, the company plans to start service in Japan by the end of the year.

In May, Mobike Japan opened an office in Fukuoka, southern Japan. The prefecture is close to China and a popular destination for Chinese tourists.

Mobike could face tougher going in Continental Europe and the U.S., where bike sharing is already common and there is resistance to Mobike's philosophy of dropping off bikes anywhere, which opponents fear will lead to clogged sidewalks.

Mobike, however, is confident it can win over customers in foreign markets, pointing to the convenience, reliability and affordability of the service.

"It's a different model. It's a technology-enabled smart solution," said Xue Huang, a Mobike spokesperson. The user only needs a smartphone to locate, borrow and pay for a ride. "It's convenient."

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