China’s on-demand bicycles have now become advertising space

Here’s a fitting Friday anecdote to illustrate the growing ubiquity of bike-sharing startups, and their rides, in China. One of the largest companies in the space is now using some of its bikes as an advertising canvas.

Ofo, one of two billion-dollar startups that supplies dock-less bicycles across China, has been spotted offering a number of bikes that are customized with Minions characters to promote the launch of Universal Pictures’ ‘Despicable Me 3’ film in China.

That’s according to photos taken by China-based tech watcher Edmond Lococo, who told TechCrunch that he came across the themed cycles in Beijing’s central business district today. As the pics show, the bikes are decked out with in-wheel advertising and feature Minions goggles on the crossbar. Ofo bikes are already yellow, so the changes aren’t at all drastic.

With Ofo claiming to handle 10 million rides a day, its bikes certainly represent an interesting new method for advertisers to get their message out. While, with the cost of rental less than $1 per ride, it isn’t hard to see how valuable an additional revenue stream such as themed bikes could be for the company’s bottom line.

At our TechCrunch China event last week in Shenzhen, we heard from executives from both Ofo and its close rival Mobike who explained how their respective services are using rider data to help improve city planning, reduce congestion and do much more.

Monetization has been a contentious issue given the low prices. After raising hundreds of millions of dollars, and signing up tens of millions of users, the companies certainly have the scale to dive into very different segments behind merely enabling bike rides should they choose to.

Mobike, which claims to handle as many as 25 million riders on peak days, is looking to monetize in new areas such as on-demand deliveries, retail discounts and data services in the future, CTO Joe Xia said at our Shenzhen event. Advertising was not one area mentioned, however.

We contacted Ofo for comment about these bikes, and its advertising plans more generally, and will update this post with any new information we’re given.