If you haven’t been living under a rock in the past few months, you have probably heard of the bike-sharing craze that has taken over China. Chinese and Expats alike have embraced this cheap or often free, easy to use and fast new way of getting from A to B - especially in cities that are traffic-ridden and congested.
Research suggests that using a shared bike for distances under 5 km is not only faster than using the car or public transport, but also more economical - whether it is healthier though is debatable, and dependent on each cities’ air quality index. However, the benefits far outweigh any concerns, and we see everyone from teenager to grandpa happily pedaling away on colorful bikes.
It is not surprising that it didn’t take long for someone to come up with a genius idea to make even better use of China’s beloved shared bikes. I met Artem, originally born in the Ukraine and living in China since 2015, at a charity cycling event where he told me about his Mobike Cycling Group. Being a bike-share supporter myself, our conversation was off to an interesting rout
From Necessity to Passion
Artem's family moved to the German countryside when he was about five years old. Without much access to public transport, Artem quickly had to learn cycling in order to get around. He remembers being a bad cyclist at first, but his father teaching him again and again eventually saw him improve his skills. Having to use the bicycle every day, and often for long distances, slowly increased his passion for his sport.
Fast forward to Shanghai 2017, and Artem evolved from being a leisure cyclist out of necessity, to the purposeful leader of Shanghai’s Eco-Cycling Movement.
When he first arrived in Shanghai after living and traveling different countries all throughout Asia, Artem made a friend who told him to “just get on a bike and explore the city”. It took him another 6 months though before he finally hopped on a bike and realized that cycling in Shanghai is much safer than expected.
A first cycling trip between Artem and two of his friends was organized, starting at Hengshan Road all the way to Huangpu River, through many of the little communities and alleyways. After posting trip photos to their WeChat Moments, more and more people became interested in exploring the city together with them.
A Bigger and Greener Mission
Over 50 new members quickly joined the group and a second trip was organized, starting at Shanghai Library and alongside the river to Pudong. This was also the trip that a few fellas from the Green Initiative participated in, and soon the idea of Eco-Cycling Shanghai was born.
After a good dinner and a few beers, the group came up with a bigger mission than just doing leisurely trips on shared bikes. They wanted to get more people excited about their movement by showing them exactly how easy and safe cycling in Shanghai is, by for example making use of under-utilized or empty side roads, and riding through low traffic local communities.
Apart from that, the community should also allow for each member to develop their leadership skills and other skills in areas such as map reading, route planning, and organization. Artem, experienced in Leadership through his involvement in Toastmaster Sessions and a youth organization, wanted to see his community step up and learn. It wasn't enough for him to merely create the community and keep it going, but he wanted his members to grow with him.
A Reluctant Leader
These days, Artem sees himself more as a facilitator, and welcomes every member to take part in decision making and idea generation. The group has certainly learned from their biggest success and failure at the same time - an overnight trip to Chongming Island where everything that possibly could go wrong went wrong.
The trip was to be organized as a community project with tasks delegated amongst the members. However, as there wasn't enough communication and planning beforehand, lots of logistical challenges arose, such as the hotel not being anywhere close to the booked restaurants. The learning curve was incredible though, and in the end members became even closer and built long lasting friendships due to the struggles they experienced together.
Sometimes the community plans out their trips. Sometimes they don't know where it takes them. Being able to use the shared bike system, especially Mobike with its easy to use GPS tracker, has been tremendously helpful for their mission. Eco-Cycling Shanghai is a non-profit community, and they want to make eco-friendly and cheap trips available. Without the help of Mobike it would be much more difficult to fulfill this mission.
A More Meaningful Future Ahead
New trips to Wuxi, Xiamen and other areas are currently in the planning and they will follow Artem’s mentality of figuring out the necessary things beforehand, and exploring the rest in an unbiased on-the-go fashion. He himself seldomly reads travel books before a trip, but just goes where the bike or his feet lead him.
This trip mentality has for example led to the discovery of a small electronic recycling area in Shanghai led by locals. Coming across usually hidden areas is not only interesting for the participants, but also opens up new discussions about eco-friendliness and mindful living.
Hence, Artem is already working on creating trips that are more meaningful and go beyond using the bike-share system, such as volunteering to clean up the streets, and making connections with organizations and individuals that can help propel this vision further.
What started as a leisure time idea between Artem and two of his friends, has now become one of the biggest and greenest cycling communities in Shanghai. Combining fun and meaning, Artem likes to think back to the day that the group discovered an idle six-lane road in the outskirts of Shanghai, and used this once in a lifetime chance to take a group photo showcasing the bonds they have created and the possibilities that still lie ahead.