Saturday 25 February 2017 07.00 GMT
This year is the 10th anniversary of the world’s first large-scale bike-sharing scheme, the Velib in Paris, whose immediate success – 20 million users in its first year – prompted cities across the world to wheel out their own copies. A decade later there are 1,000 of these schemes, from Milton Keynes to the medina in Marrakech, with 17 across the UK and more opening this year.
Some have back-pedalled: Seattle will shut its Pronto scheme in March, a victim of hills, rain, budget cuts and the city’s mandatory helmet law, while in Spain cash-strapped local authorities have put the brakes on half of the country’s 130 schemes.
And just as city dwellers have got used to the sight of rows of docking stations – often jammed-full or empty – the Chinese are promising a ride-anywhere, anytime Uber-style revolution that will make docking stations a thing of the past – and possibly kick-start an explosion of bike usage.
Beijing entrepreneur Dai Wei, just 25, is already flooding Shanghai and Singapore with his trademark Ofo yellow bicycles, where users tap an app to find a bike, jump on it, then leave it where they like. No more are users tied to finding a docking station and hoping a bike is available – and, crucially, that there is a docking space at their destination. What’s more, the Chinese have very deep pockets.