Milan Urban On two wheels

Ofo: impressions of my first ride in Milan

I like yellow. I also like these yellow bikes. This time, the app could need some work.

Exactly, the title is a plagiarism of another post that I wrote just two weeks ago. Back then, I had used a Mobike for the first time. But Mobike got new competition. Milan allowed another entrant from Asia to place a large flotilla of bikes for a free-floating bike-sharing system. Add 4,000 more bikes to the 8,000 already brought by Mobike.

I was very much unimpressed with the Mobikes. I then used them another few times, and I disliked everything about riding them except the comfort of the saddle and the fact that I could park it just anywhere. The Ofo bikes look strikingly similar at first glance, but I’m genuinely much more positive about them.

See, my main complaints with the Mobikes are the weird gear ratio (which doesn’t allow to get to speed) and the limited adjustability of the saddle height. The latter was even worse, because I figured that with the majority of the Mobikes, the saddle actually slowly but steadily sinks in while sitting on it. The fixation is not tight enough. Terrible.

Then comes Ofo.

Ofo bikes have three gears. The highest gear is maybe a bit too heavy for a bike of this weight. I don’t see myself using it a lot. The lowest gear corresponds with Mobike’s default-and-only option. The center gear is a comfortable gear ratio for me, allowing me to get away rather fast without sweating.

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Saddle height on Ofo bikes is also limited, but less than on the Mobike. For me, I can pull it out enough to just be fine. Ideally, I’d want it a bit higher, and taller people will feel this issue more pronounced, but at least it gets into a usable range. What’s more: the saddle is fixed tightly. No issue whatsoever.

I’m wondering if it’s possible to lock these bikes with a special pin. At least Ofo’s lock has a number of buttons of unclear use.

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Furthermore, the build quality is not excellent. I don’t get the zip tie, the reflector is mounted in a weird position, but more importantly, the basket, stem, and wheel each are not really well aligned with each other. This specific example won’t impact usability, but I wonder about the durability of components with more wear-and-tear if this is to be taken as an example of manufacturing accuracy.

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Finally, I find the app inferior to Mobike. It was a bit of a hassle to set up my payment method, since the labels to be clicked were ambiguous. Fine, that’s a one-day thing mostly. The app loads bike positions faster, which I appreciate, but then the actual locations of bikes are as inconsistent with reality as with Mobike. For this bike, I actually was first in the wrong street. I may also not reserve a bike. Hence, if I see a bike on the map, there’s a chance it’s not there anymore by the time I reach the place. This makes it difficult to plan reliably. As a minor issue, I’ve noticed that the GPS tracking of my ride did not work very well: It lost me after 200m and only found me again when I arrived, understating my cycled distance.

What this means in the grand scheme of things

Ofo is my new favorite bike sharing in Milan. It helps that the bikes have a beautiful yellow color, but what really matters to me is the superior usability as compared with Mobike. The bikes don’t get me excited, but they are solid bikes for adults, not just for kids. I’m more critical about the app, and notably that a feature to reserve a bike is missing, but this is easier to be fixed than the hardware.

Mid-term, we will have to see how the gears on the Ofo bikes withstand abuse and weather. For the time being, I think that Mobike will prevail, if only for the fact that they were allowed to place twice as many bikes. I expect this to be a fight between Ofo and BikeMi for the second position. But for BikeMi, this will likely be a tougher fight for survival than the one against Mobike. BikeMi’s standard bikes are technically identical to Ofo bikes, but they have to be placed in stations. Their asset is their growing fleet of e-bikes. Just that those are not always working very well. Who will survive, however, needs to get maintenance working in order for people to keep riding once the honeymoon period ends.

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