These photos of dockless bike graveyards should serve as omens for Chinese cities

A Chinese mechanic works amongst damaged bicycles from the bike share company Ofo Inc. as they are piled up at a repair depot for the company on March 29, 2017 in Beijing, China.

caption
A Chinese mechanic works amongst damaged bicycles from the bike share company Ofo Inc. as they are piled up at a repair depot for the company on March 29, 2017 in Beijing, China.
source
Getty Images

In recent years, several dockless-bike startups have popped up in Chinese cities. Often billed as “Uber for bikes,” the companies allow users to unlock GPS-enabled bikes with their smartphones, and then park them anywhere when they’re done.

But too many of these startups have launched, and there’s not enough demand. As The Guardian notes, after three Chinese bike-share companies -Mobike, Ofo, and Bluegogo – went bankrupt in late 2017, many of the bikes were abandoned in lots in cities across China, including Beijing, Wuhan, and Xiamen.

These bike graveyards, pictured below, should serve as omens for Chinese cities that want to heavily invest in bikeshares:


Chinese cities have experienced a rapid rise in dockless bikes in recent years.

caption
Bicycles of various bike-sharing services are seen at an urban village in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China September 7, 2017.
source
Reuters

Riders are charged a few pennies per 30-minute ride, a very low price compared to similar bike-sharing programs in other countries. New York’s docked bikes, for example, cost $3 for a 30-minute ride.

caption
A worker untangles a rope amid piled-up shared bicycles at a vacant lot in Xiamen, Fujian province, China December 13, 2017.
source
Reuters

To make sure the bikes would always be available, Chinese bike-sharing startups placed thousands of them in cities across the country.

caption
A worker rides a shared bicycle past piled-up shared bikes at a vacant lot in Xiamen, Fujian province, China December 13, 2017.
source
Reuters

But due largely to a lack of demand, several bike-sharing startups have gone bankrupt in China.

caption
Bicycles of various bike-sharing services are seen in Shanghai, China, November 21, 2017.
source
Reuters

In an open letter last year following Bluegogo’s bankruptcy, the company’s CEO apologized for expanding too quickly, and admitted that he had been “filled with arrogance.”


Many of the bikes — casualties of the boom and bust of the country’s bike-sharing industry — now lie abandoned in piles.

caption
Bicycles of various bike-sharing services are seen at a vacant lot in Wuhan, Hubei province, China April 7, 2018.
source
Reuters

The declining industry raises questions about the future of bike sharing in China.

caption
Chinese commuters ride bike shares during rush hour on March 27, 2017 in Beijing, China.
source
Getty Images

But not long ago, bikes were a common form of transportation in the country.

caption
A building covered with dazebao (posters with large characters) at Canton during the Cultural Revolution, circa 1966.
source
Getty Images

By the mid-1990s, China had up to 523 million bike owners. Bikes were especially popular in Beijing, where there were 72 bikes for every 100 people.

caption
Local residents spotted riding through town on their bicycles, an efficient form of transport given the amount of traffic congestion in Shanghai, China, October 1993.
source
Getty Images

Source: CityLab


But as cars became a status symbol around the turn of the 21st century, China started instituting anti-biking policies. Guangzhou repurposed bike lanes for cars, and Dalian declared itself a “non-bicycle city.”

caption
Ofo shared bicycles are seen piled up at a vacant lot in Xiamen, Fujian province, China December 13, 2017.
source
Reuters

Bike use plummeted, and personal-vehicle use — and CO2 levels — rose.

caption
Bicycles of various bike-sharing services are seen in Shanghai, China, November 21, 2017.
source
Reuters

In an effort to make bikes popular again, around 30 bike-sharing startups launched in the past few years — to varying success.

caption
Chinese workers from the ride share bicycle company Ofo prepare to unload new bikes from a truck during rush hour on March 28, 2017 in Beijing, China.
source
Getty Images

Since the bikes can be dropped off anywhere, riders sometimes leave them in front yards, parks, shops, and other inconvenient place. The photo below shows a pile of bikes some 10 feet high in a Shenzhen plaza.

caption
A bike graveyard in a Shenzhen plaza, China.
source
Getty Images

In March 2017, China mandated that companies must hire one maintenance worker for every 200 bikes. That meant the industry needed to add as many as 15,000 employees, which likely hurt their bottom lines.

caption
Bicycles of various bike-sharing services are seen in Shanghai, China, November 21, 2017.
source
Reuters

The bike graveyards now serve as reminders of a declining industry that grew too quickly.

caption
A Chinese mechanic from bike share company Ofo Inc. leans over a pile of thousands of damaged bicycles that were pulled off the streets where they are kept at a repair depot for the company on March 29, 2017 in Beijing, China.
source
Getty Images