How to use Ofo shared bikes

A step-by-step guide to unlocking your very own yellow steed

By now you've probably caught sight of the sea of yellow bikes gathered on the city's sidewalks, mingling with their orange Mobike rivals and the various other shared cycles popping up each week. But what are they?

They're Ofo bikes. They're a startup backed by the deep pockets of tech company Xiaomi and the ride-hailing behemoth Didi Chuxing, which recently engulfed Uber in that mega buyout. The eye-catching rides were originally restricted to school campuses before receiving huge funding and making their way out onto the streets.

Similar to Mobike, users locate a bicycle and pay via their smartphones. However, there's a slight difference to how the user unlocks the bike – the automatic impulse to scan a QR code doesn't apply here. Once you find a bike, you input the corresponding bike number into the app, and it will give you a four-digit code to unlock that particular bike. Get a load of that retro numerical lock.

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As with Mobike, after your journey you can leave the bike wherever you want. No docking stations; no fear. Without an expensive integrated GPS chip in the bike, Ofo tracks the bikes through the rider's GPS location via the app.

Deposit for the Ofo bikes starts at 99RMB (a good third of what Mobike charges) and you can pay through Alipay or WeChat. And if you’re a student here in China, you can ride the bikes around campus without a deposit – all you need to do is to upload a photo of your student ID. As with Mobike real name authentication applies (you'll need to send a photo of your passport or Chinese ID card). And at 1RMB per hour, it's similarly great value.

The bad news for English speakers is that the app is Chinese only at this time. But if you've got some basic hanzi, you can download the Ofo app through your phone's app store.

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