According to Shane Connaughton, dockless bike sharing will shake up the cycle industry, transform urban transport and, ultimately, reshape cities. The bike industry veteran is the CEO of Full Speed Bikes of Dublin, and he and his team are aiming to grab a slice of the dockless bike share industry. This new sector is taking China by storm and is being showered with cash from venture capitalists. Chinese companies such as Mobike and Ofo are spending big to flood Chinese cities with cheap-to-use release-by-app GPS-trackable bikes that young people, in particular, are flocking to use. And the Chinese companies will soon be massive here, believes Connaughton.
“This is the most disruptive thing that’s happened to our industry for a long time,” he said from his company’s stand at the Velo-city conference which finished on Friday. “The cash that is being pumped into the sector is unprecedented in the bike world.”
A 30-year veteran of cycle retail, Connaughton isn’t planning on directly competing with Mobike and Ofo – these Chinese start-ups are fighting to become the Amazon of the dockless bike sharing space – but he believes there will be a niche for a nimble, smaller Euro-based company to bag deals with hotels, towns, and smaller cities that might not initially interest the Chinese companies. (As the name suggests, dockless bike share schemes do not require expensive docks, which usually have to be installed with public subsidies.)
Mobike was recently linked to a takeover offer of Giant Bicycles of Taiwan, but even though such talk is little more than hot air the very fact that a two-year-old bike company (which also had a strong presence at Velo-city) could even be mentioned in the same breath as an industry-dominating 45-year-old one is notable.
The dockless bike share scene is attracting serious amounts of venture capital because of how the bikes are booked and paid for – they require smartphone apps linked to credit cards. Apple invested billions of dollars on iTunes not just to make money from selling music but also to capture credit-card details. And now that Apple Pay – and its Android equivalents – have become commonplace Google and Apple have become more than just computer companies they are now major financial transaction players. Similarly, Uber is worth billions because it has become an essential app on peoples’ smartphones and it too only works when linked to a credit card. Some transport-share apps track users for a few minutes either side of their journeys, and this will be information that could one day be monetised, believe tech experts.