Will America Embrace Bike Sharing?
The Chinese-based bike sharing company oFo expanded into Seattle in mid-August, marking its first major foray into the United States. While this service has gained massive popularity in the Far East in a very short period of time, making a dent in the American market will be more difficult.
Yes, there’s lot of investment interest in this next generation of smart, app-powered bicycles — and this investment interest now extends to the US (via early funding rounds from Spin and LimeBike). But, the four important factors that will slow consumer adoption in North America are as follows:
1. Lack of a bike culture. There are many bike-friendly cities in the US. But the percentage of riders in these cities are still much much smaller than in China, where two wheels are a much more common mode of transportation for a lot more people.
2. Less urban density. Travel by bike is more realistic in the Far East because of more compact urban populations that often make for shorter distances. Outside of downtown Manhattan, few US locations match this kind of density.
3. More regulations in the United States. Simply depositing dozens and dozens of sharable bikes on any available corner won’t fly in most US municipalities, particularly in the wake of so much disruption over the last few years of ride-hailing apps.
4. No proxy war to push demand. In China, the struggle of yellow (oFo) versus orange (Mobike) is in many ways a physical manifestation of the battle between the virtual payment systems of Alibaba and Tencent. In 2017, there’s no parallel for this battle in the US.
Hugh Forrest serves as Chief Programming Officer at SXSW, the world’s most unique gathering of creative professionals. He also tries to write at least four paragraphs per day on Medium. These posts often cover tech-related trends; other times they focus on books, pop culture, sports and other current events.
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