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China’s Mobike lands in its first U.S. city as bike-sharing battle heats up

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Chinese bike-sharing startup Mobike has arrived in Washington D.C., its first U.S. city. The launch comes as myriad bike-sharing companies launch similar services across the country.

To recap, Mobike provides cities with the bikes and the technology platform, including mobile apps, allowing riders to unlock a bike by scanning a QR code with their phone. For longevity, the Mobike bikes are chainless, have puncture-proof airless tyres, and are supported by an anti-rust aluminium frame.

Importantly, the bikes are “dockless” meaning they don’t rely on docking stations — users can padlock the bicycles anywhere once they’re finished. It’s easy to find them again due to their built-in GPS functionality.

Above: Mobike bike share in China.

Image Credit: Mobike

Launched in Shanghai back in 2016, Mobike started out in dozens of cities across China before landing in Singapore in March, followed by the U.K., Japan, and a number of other markets. Mobike is now available in 180 cities, though well over half of those are in China.

Its arrival in the U.S. is notable, as it comes just a month after Chinese rival Ofo launched in its first U.S. city, Seattle, while U.S.-based competitor LimeBike just this week announced it was rolling out in a handful of cities across the U.S.

Show me the money

Mobike announced a whopping $600 million funding round back in June, with big-name backers including Tencent, Sequoia, TPG, and Hillhouse Capital, among others. This took Mobike’s total funding to date to more than $900 million. Likewise, Ofo recently raised $700 million from Alibaba and Didi Chuxing (the Uber of China), among others, taking its total funding past the $1.2 billion mark.

San Mateo-based LimeBike has raised a more modest $12 million in funding, though its focus on the U.S. market could stand it in good stead domestically as Mobike and Ofo battle it out for mindshare in hundreds of cities around the world.

Mobike will kick off its U.S. foray by placing bikes “in key downtown locations” in Washington D.C., and the company said it made some tweaks to the bikes specifically for the local market. These include a new design and, crucially, adding three gears to the mix — Mobikes are normally gearless.

Above: Mobike in Washington D.C.

It’s clear that a bike-sharing battle is being waged in the U.S. and first mover advantage is key in terms of establishing mindshare. But when multiple companies are making their “first moves” around the same time, things start to get interesting. One outcome could be that certain bike-sharing brands manage to corner specific cities where they happen to launch first, but what is more likely to happen is a number of fierce battles and one-upmanship initiatives when the companies’ respective launch plans begin to overlap significantly.

LimeBike has already said it plans to be available in up to 40 U.S. markets by the end of the year, and Ofo and Mobike won’t be content with just one or two cities either.

“We are working with a number of cities across the country and are confident this successful pilot will be the first of many partnerships, allowing us to make cycling the most convenient and affordable choice for transportation all around America,” noted Mobike U.S. manager Rachel Song.

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