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Blog - Boss of new ‘dockless’ bike firm: Cycling in London will be as big as in Amsterdam

Cycling in London could reach Amsterdam levels with almost one in three journeys made by bike, the boss of one of the “dockless” firms launching in the capital predicted today.

Zhang Yanqi, 30, co-founder of ofo, set out a vision where cycling became commonplace as millions of commuters used the so-called “Uber for bikes” to complete their journeys.

Founded by Mr Zhang and four fellow Peking University students in 2014, it has eight million bikes in 170 cities and has earmarked London for major expansion.

ofo is one of four dockless bike hire firms – alongside Mobike, Urbo and oBike – that have targeted London. The bikes are cheaper than Boris bikes and aim to expand across the city from pilot schemes in selected boroughs.

Speaking to the Standard during a visit to the capital, Mr Zhang said he wanted to mirror the success of Beijing, where three-quarters of the 20 million population are registered ofo users. “We bring people back to the bike,” he said.

About two per cent of trips in London are cycled. Asked if the capital could emulate Amsterdam, where about 30 per cent of trips are by bike, he said: “I don’t know – maybe even higher?
“If people love us.. I think we have a chance to bring more people back to bikes in London. Less cars on the streets and better air, and the cost is lower. It makes people live an easier life in London.”

ofo has several hundred bikes in Hackney and Islington but its aim is for up to 150,000 bikes across the capital. These will include the first fleet of e-bikes – battery-powered electric bikes – next year. “We want to do it fast, but we do not want to rush,” Mr Zhang said of his company’s expansion plans.

“The most important thing is not about the number of bikes in the city, but are we really helping the city to solve the problem… congestion, pollution, the commuting problem in London?

“The UK is probably one of the most bike-friendly markets in the world. We have a huge expectation for the UK. We are investing a large amount of our resource in the UK to make sure it grows healthily.

“I think there is an important trend that is happening. It’s not brought by us, but we are part of it – micromobility. People who live in the city are migrating from the car to bikes, e-bikes and scooters. We need to find an environmentally sustainable way to live in the city.”
Mr Zhang claimed dockless bikes would act as as a “catalyst” to also attract people to use docked schemes such as the Boris bike. He promised a “very collaborative” approach, and said ofo would only launch in boroughs where the council had given permission.

“Right now, we are not making money on paper, but the important thing for us is our business model is profitable,” he said.

The firm is trialling e-bikes in two Chinese cities. This has extended the average journey length from up to two miles to six miles.

“A lot of those travelling by car will be migrated on to a more sustainable way of travelling, which is cheaper and faster and better for the city and people’s health,” he said. “This is something that is happening. We are there to try and promote this.”

He said the firm had two measures of success. The first was whether it solved the “last mile commuted” problem – whether Londoners use the bikes to complete the last leg of their journey.

The second is a figure known as the cycling penetration rate. “In Paris, in all transportation methods, cycling only counts for three per cent,” he said. “That number is the cycling penetration rate.

“In Amsterdam it’s 30 per cent plus. I think in London we also need to look at that number. Before us, what is the cycling penetration rate? After us, what is the cycling penetration rate? We expect it to increase a lot.”