Bicycle-sharing firm loses 90% of its bikes, shuts down after just 6 months

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All of those vandalised bikes were going to drive one of China’s bike-sharing companies out of business sooner or later. That time has come.

Wukong Bike — one of an estimated 30 bike-sharing startups in China — has closed after a mere six months of operations. It had no choice: it lost nearly 90 percent of its bicycles to mischief and theft.

The company had a fleet of 1,200 bicycles in the city of Chongqing.

Image: Wukong bicycle/Weibo

A rare group photo of the bicycles.

Like many of its competitors, Wukong offered bikes for rent under the Uber model of "sharing" a bike — grab one off the street, unlock it with an app, and simply leave it by the side of the street at your destination.

Wukong charged just 0.5 yuan ($0.07) per half-hour, similar to the market rate set by the competition.

Lei Houyi, Wukong’s founder, blamed the losses on the bikes not having GPS trackers on them. The company placed its bikes around college campuses and office buildings, but couldn’t trace their bikes back if people took them further out, or brought them home.

In contrast, bigger competitor Mobike has said its GPS trackers are so sophisticated that staff can tell, based on elevation, if a bike has been parked in a multistorey building, and go knock on the right door to retrieve it.

Never mind that people shouldn’t even nick these bikes to begin with, of course.

Image: Wukong bicycle/Weibo

And unlike players like Mobike and Ofo, Wukong lacks the deep pockets to be able to maintain thin margins, while churning out hundreds of thousands of bikes and flood the streets with them, to make them readily available.

Wukong had future plans to install GPS trackers in future models, and said in March this year that it planned to release 300,000 bicycles in ten cities by June.

Alas, it ran out of funds before it could reach those goals.

Image: Wukong Bicycle/Weibo

Wukong Bicycle’s shuttering came shortly after Mobike gained over $600 million in its latest funding round, an unprecedented amount in the bicycle-sharing sector.

"For small companies, the shared-bike business is cruel," he said. "Mobike and Ofo have become two giant black holes, and there’s not much space to grow for companies that come after it."

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