Chinese bike-sharing giant Mobike is making big plans for India

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Chinese bike-sharing startup Mobike, which was recently acquired in a $3 billion deal, was already present in India. The company went on an aggressive global expansion spree in 2017; India wasn’t on the radar then, but that’ll soon be rectified with a launch expected in early June.

Mobike has bold plans for India, where it freely admits there isn’t currently a strong culture of biking. The goal is to work with municipal governments and town planners to do what Mobike (and rival Ofo) did in China, which is to help cut down city congestion and provide new last-mile transit options.

“We’ve had great responses from many cities around how they see bike sharing in general and Mobike specifically,” Sujith Nair, Mobike India’s chief business officer, told TechCrunch in an interview.

Ofo landed in India earlier this year and local Uber rival Ola started a service on a small scale last year, so Mobike isn’t the first mover here. Nair said the company plans to launch its service in early June — or potentially before the end of May — but for now he isn’t saying which cities will be first.

“We’re talking to all the big cities, such as Bangalore and Delhi,” he added. “Our intent is to grow rapidly and we’re looking at partnerships to help accelerate that.”

While there have been infamous photos of piles of bikes in China, and stories of bikes dumped in trees or canals in other parts of the world, Nair said that the government agencies he’s spoken to haven’t expressed concern at a deluge of cycles. Instead, he said, conversations have focused around the practical potential of easing congestion and enabling short trips.

“It’s a great way to jump-start a sustainable transport ecosystem,” he said. “With the local government throwing in advocacy and communication to drive awareness, they’re investing in cycling tracks and infrastructure… we can always deal with excess later, it’s not a huge concern.”

Nair suggested that Mobike will look to grow to 10-12 cities in India over the next 18 months but the company “aspires” to grow even more rapidly than that because there are more than 25 cities with a population of over one million people.

Initially, the focus is on the core dockless bike service, which — in most countries — lets a customer get a ride for around $1 after they scan a vacant bike’s QR code via the Mobike app. Mobike has spoken very publicly about its desire to get into other verticals, based around its bike fleet and adjacent transportation verticals too, and Nair said he expects to have “opportunities to look at other options” for the India-based business once that core service is up and running at some scale.

To help grease the wheels, Mobike is aiming to strike partnerships with major payment players. Typically, Mobike users worldwide bind a credit or debit card to their app to enable payment, but Nair suggested Mobike will have deals to integrate India’s mobile wallet services and the government-backed UPI payment initiative to help make its bikes open to as many of the population as possible.

Ofo, Mobike’s key competitor, tied up with Paytm to go beyond payments and help drive users to its service, but it doesn’t seem like Mobike has a similar strategy in mind.