Bike-sharing services

Fit for a princess - Chinese sharing app Ofo woos women riders with made-for-female bikes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 June, 2017, 3:40pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 June, 2017, 10:58pm

It seems that carpeting China’s city streets with as many colourful bikes as possible is no longer enough to stand out in the country’s ultra-competitive bicycle-sharing market.

Chinese start-up Ofo has taken the game to the next level by not only letting people rent bikes anytime via its app, but also ensuring they can ride in style.

Beijing-based Ofo, which boasts a US$2 billion valuation, introduced on Friday its first “female-only” bikes as a way to differentiate itself from rivals.

China’s bike-sharing battle ratchets up a notch as Didi Chuxing enters the fray

Targeting female riders, Ofo’s so-called princess bikes, which are still painted its signature yellow colour, have a classic retro-style look, featuring leather seats and cane baskets. In terms of functionality, the company has also taken female riders’ needs into consideration as the new bikes are “much lighter and easier to ride even for women who wear dresses”, said Ofo in a statement.

The move has made Ofo the first in China’s crowded bike-sharing market to tailor-make products for a particular group of users. It will first introduce 10,000 princess bikes in Shanghai and Beijing and expand the offering to more cities in the future.

“We have seen more and more personalised demands from users with the development of China’s bike-sharing industry,” said Dai Wei, Ofo’s 26-year-old founder.

“We will use our platform and advantages in R&D to connect people with different kinds of bikes, providing different user groups with a diversified bike-riding experience,” he said.

Ofo may have just opened a new chapter for the competition in bike-sharing
Wang Xiaofeng, Forrester Research

Founded in 2014, Ofo and its cross-town rival Mobike are leading a pack of more than 30 bike-sharing start-ups.

Fuelled by venture capital funding, they are betting on bike-sharing as the next big thing in China’s booming internet economy of 700 million people who use smartphones to do everything from shopping and game playing to watching videos and ride hailing.

“By tailor-making bikes for different groups of users, Ofo may have just opened a new chapter for the competition in bike-sharing ... a chapter that focuses on providing quality products to different users rather than luring users with lower and lower prices,” said Wang Xiaofeng, senior analyst with Forrester Research.

Bicycles are eating the lunch of China’s dominant car-sharing app

To rapidly gain market share, companies including Ofo have been flooding Chinese pavements with millions of bikes in different colours and offering free rides or even cash back for users. The strategy has worked so far as both Ofo and Mobike said their daily orders exceed more than 20 million. But there are rising concerns that market consolidation will occur soon if investors stop pumping money into the sector.

By renting bikes at one yuan (14 US cents) per hour, Ofo has already been able to raise US$650 million from investors including Didi Chuxing, DST and Ant Financial, the internet finance major controlled by Alibaba Group’s Jack Ma Yun. Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post. Rival Mobike has also landed big name investors, such as Temasek Holdings and Hillhouse Capital.

“The scale advantage will play a bigger and bigger role as the competition continues. Market leaders, such as Ofo and Mobike, have inked several partnership agreements with bike manufacturers in China so that they can have better quality control over the bikes they provide to the market and lower production cost at the same time,” said Zhang Xu, an analyst with Beijing-based internet consultancy Analysys.