bike sharing in shanghai


Felix Goodbody

What is bike sharing?

Many cities around the world have dipped their toes in bike-sharing schemes, including the much-hyped ‘Boris Bikes’ that appeared in London several years ago. The concept is simple: easy-to-use, hardy bikes that you can hop on and off at your convenience to make urban navigation more efficient. With its miles and miles of concreted-off cycle lanes (where scooters are also permitted) and mostly gentle climate, Shanghai is the perfect city to fall in love with community cycles!

Is it actually good for the environment?

First, it’s important to address the elephant in the room. While the environmental benefits of cycling (instead of using fossil fuel-powered transportation) are undeniable, the life cycle of the bike-sharing explosion in China has been the focus of several cautionary academic studies. The mass production (and destruction) of the bikes, environmentally unfriendly batteries in the remote locking mechanisms, and the industrial scale of bike production should all be taken into account when assessing this fast-paced phenomenon. Nonetheless, the direction of travel of the bike-sharing sector is gradually reducing traffic congestion, increasing healthy lifestyles, and applying pressure on local and national governments to promote cycling infrastructure.

How to use

The various bike sharing platforms can be accessed either through dedicated apps or using Alipay/WeChat. In Shanghai, you can’t go too far wrong with HelloBike, which is a simple Alipay scan away (Ant Group is reputed to own 38 percent of HelloBike) - the blue and white frames also look great! Simply scan the code, click through the ubiquitous privacy and data agreements, and wait for the satisfying ‘click’ as the rear-wheel lock is disabled. HelloBike’s USP is following the unlocking with a cute “Hello-oh!” to perk you up before hitting the street. Once you’re rolling, cycle (safely) to your destination, and don’t forget to lock the wheel again when you’re done – the hidden magic tells the app the journey is over.

When to use

As a cycling-bore in my spare time – and not having bought a bike of my own in China yet – after getting set up with bike sharing I spent a few afternoons just riding around the city. There is no question that the metro is a cheap and convenient way to get from A to B, but you really see things on two wheels: great bike experiences include rescuing an old lady’s hat that blew off in the wind (a truly heroic moment), and the inevitable drag races with the thousands of other commuters after waiting at a crossing! Two weeks into my new post, I discovered that my metro route involved heading into the city and out again on a different line – so I decided to halve my subway time and just blast to my connecting station on the bike. It’s a great way to squeeze some physical exercise into the day, and spares me the horrible feeling of traveling in the opposite direction just to make a connection.


Making the most of the many bike-sharing schemes in Chinese cities is an easy, convenient and cheap way to capture the pure joy of cycling in your new home. Once you get your head around the jump-on, jump-off dynamic of the system, it’s truly liberating to not worry about securely locking up your ‘own’ ride, as you can simply grab another down the road. While riding to work on a drizzly morning may not pack the glamour of the EF Pro Cycling Team rolling up Alpe d’Huez, nothing wakes you up in the morning like blasting your way to the front of the urban peloton under Chinese skies!

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