Central Dongguan has finally evolved—or perhaps, devolved?—into its own metropolis where bikes turn out to be the fastest way to get around. Gridlocks, horrible drivers and the loss of appealing taxi-alternatives make getting into a car less and less practical.
Today, one out of every four people now has a car in Dongguan and ownership is already hitting 2 million vehicles. Congestion problems are becoming increasingly unbearable, especially before, during and after national holidays, special occasions and ceaseless rains.
For daily commuters around Dongcheng and Nancheng, there seems to be fewer and fewer options to reliably arrive to any destination on time. So, is it time to flat-out walk to work? For now, that depends if you still know how to ride a bike.
With the rise of rumors that police are picking up arbitrarily deigned illegal bikes, less and less people seem to be riding around Dongguan. As taxi prices begin to also rapidly climb, are we meant to walk the streets? Not in this life. It’s time to get back on the horse.
The recent launch of not one, but two (plus, one to come) independent public biking systems seems to prove the market is in grave need of alternative transit options. Both the Dongguan government and a private company, called Mobike, seem to be heavily vying for our attention and since we can’t ignore anything that glitters, we took a few rides. Here’s what we found.
Getting acquainted with a new kind of gas pedal
These pleasantly low-carbon transport systems should greatly ease any annoying daily commute for bus and metro users, pedestrians and even car owners. Using the bikes to catch a bus or train will certainly shorten the time to your office, and will probably reduce your overall expenses, as well.
Let’s say you parked your car in a free, but far away spot. No problem, now you can easily ride to your space. These bikes literally give us less excuse to be hairless sloths. Still, short distance trips are key with these vehicles. While neither design is especially uncomfortable, they certainly aren’t as plush as the seats in your Lexus.
Both programs have coincidentally established their pilot projects in the city center this past month, but technically Mobike’s cycles can exist anywhere. Almost certainly, you’ve already noticed the mod-style designed bikes randomly strewn across the CBD, and also, right outside your garden.
Let’s say you parked your car in a free, but far away spot. No problem, now you can easily ride to your space. These bikes literally give us less excuse to be hairless sloths.
For all of their convenience, the two bikes do come with a few downsides that are generally easily overcome. Intended merely for short trips, long-distance travel can be quite tiring and riding at night or in the rain can be somewhat dangerous or inconvenient. No gears or lights exist on either model, and no splash guards or basket on the Mobikes might be something to consider. The Mobikes, which seems to be designed for smaller Asian frames, also cannot be adjusted.
Looking at the options
The public solution
The government-backed Dongguan Public Bicycle (call them “DPBs”) began operation with 23 rental stops around the Dongcheng, Qifeng Park and Hongfu Road metro station that offers roughly 1,200 bikes. Because the locations strategically surround both Qifeng and Huying Park, it has never been easier to spend a lazy Sunday gliding through serene jungle landscapes. Plans are already underway to enlarge the system, with next steps probably going to the Greenway routes and varying parks throughout the city.
Jack Wang, who lives on Bar Street and will soon move to Hyphen Commercial Center on Tiyu Road for work, is considering to rent DPBs because of the convenience of the biking system. “The slow transit system is the trend of Dongguan considering the congestion situation now,” he commented. “And sooner or later Dongguan will be the back yard of Shenzhen, half of Shenzhen people will live in Dongguan.”
Renting DPBs is pretty easy using the same card you already have for the bus and metro. You do know we have a metro, right? Interestingly, these bikes make the subway far more useful when traveling around the downtown. An app is expected in the coming months, which can also be used to rent the bikes and to make sure there are free wheels at your desired stop.
The private solution
The corporate answer to the city is called Mobike, which is fitting because there literally are more bikes. What’s unique about this system is how you rent and return the cycle: almost anywhere. The only restriction when abandoning these ponies is that they must be left in a public and open space. Taking them into buildings or gardens will leave you with a fairly steep penalty.
For some time now, Mobike has already been operating in 11 cities around China, including Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Kunming, Xiamen and Nanjing. This means that Dongguan can enjoy a rather mature product that brings along a fairly robust application. With an effective real-time bicycle location map (geographical details in Chinese), the otherwise fully English interface means foreigners will have an easy time signing up and using the bikes.
With a rented bike, you can pick one up when you need it, hop on the bus or metro and grab another one after transit for the final trek to work. Never worry about theft or low tire pressure again.
The biggest clusters of the 5,000 cycles were first laid out in densely populated areas and business districts, but have already been gradually spreading out to other parts of the city.
Previous bike owners might not think this latest novelty is practical for them, but it’s not entirely true. Perhaps, the biggest concern about riding your own bike is safety. It’s not always possible to know whether or not a destination will have a secure parking area. Most of the time locking up on the street should be fine, but even that’s sometimes not enough. Talk to anyone and you’re likely to hear about how they themselves or a friend has seen their property nicked in broad daylight.
Besides that, you might worry about things like maintenance and distance riding. With a rented bike, you can pick one up when you need it, hop on the bus or metro and grab another one after transit for the final trek to work. Never worry about theft or low tire pressure again.
Gina Liang, a 27-year-old pilates coach living near Donghua Hospital, also has a high opinion of Mobike. “It’s super convenient, light, environmental friendly, it can be parked anywhere and looks cool,” she said. “People say it’s uncomfortable to ride on but I think it’s fine. If 10 is very comfortable, I will give it a 7. I can ride it to Guancheng from Dongcheng no problem.”
Getting started with Mobike
Using Mobike is very easy. Begin by first downloading the English-friendly app (search “Mobike” in various app stores). Then, by connecting the app to WeChat (or Alipay), pay the 299 RMB deposit and enter your Chinese ID number (foreigners must take photos of their passports to register).
Once successful, it’s time to find a bike by browsing the map according to your current location. If you’re, say, on the metro and want to make sure a bike is available when you arrive, use the reservation system to book a cycle for a maximum of 15 minutes.
After finding the bike of your destiny, scan either of the QR codes located on the frame and a message will appear on your smartphone to unlock. Listen for the click and presto, it’s all yours.
Returning the bike is a piece of cake. Either click “lock” on your phone or slide the lock that’s resting over the rear wheel and you’re done.
Price: Each hour costs 2 RMB
Getting started with the Dongguan Public Bicycle
First things first, you’ll need to buy a Dongguan Tong card if you don’t already have one. This is the same card used in buses, the metro and some convenience stores (in the future, a smartphone app can be used instead of the card). Be aware that some older versions of the card may not be compatible with the rental system, but it wasn’t exactly clear which cards fall under this category. Only registration staff can confirm the card will work after checking it. New cards can be purchased at the Qifeng Park metro stop for 20 RMB.
After you have the card, head to the still-unmarked registration booth just upstairs at the Qifeng Park station using exit E (business hours: Mon-Fri 13:00-18:00; Sat-Sun 9:00-12:00 and 14:00-18:00). Now, you’ll need to pay a deposit of 300 RMB (in WeChat or cash) and show a Chinese ID card or passport (for foreigners). Also, note that canceling your account requires a call (in Chinese) to request the return of your deposit. Deposits will then be returned within seven days, as long as you still have all your receipts.
After successfully registering, venture over to the waiting bikes and put your transit card into the small slot to the right of the bike. A small sound and dialogue in Chinese will play and an unlocking noise will follow. Remove the bike and feel free to ride off into the Dongguan sunset.
Returning the bike is just as simple. Forcefully put the bike back into the locking mechanism. A tone and more Chinese will be heard. Take this opportunity to make sure the bike is fully locked, if it’s later stolen, you’ll be responsible. We experienced the occasional error when returning the bike, but this can easily be fixed by using the card to first remove the bike, then trying again.
Current locations of DG’s Public Bikes
1. Huakai Tower (Dongguan Exhibition Center, Yulan Theater, Hongfu Road Post Office, Tangbei Market, Shenghe Flower Market)
2. Central Government Tower (Dongguan Sports Center, Haogang Site)
3. Tiyu Road
4. Hyphen Center (office)
5. Haoyu Tower (Ferris wheel)
6. Gong Jian Fa (public security, procuratorate and court, visa)
7. Exit B of Hongfu Road Metro Station (Dongguan Library, Science Museum, First International, TBA Tower)
8. Exit A of Hongfu Road Metro Station (Nancheng Exhibition Center)
9. New Century Villas
10. Exit B of Qifeng Park Metro Station (City Planning Exhibition Gallery)
11. Exit E of Qifeng Park Metro Station
12. Qifeng Park South
13. Dongcheng Market
14. Exit B of Dongcheng Metro Station (Carrefour, China Mobile Headquarters)
15. Exit C of Dongcheng Metro Station (Wal-Mart, Tianyuan Computer Market, Volcano Cinema, Dongcheng Center, Moonbay Garden, Wanda Plaza)
16. Huangqi New Village (Bar Street)
17. Dongcheng Government Building (Dongcheng Library and museum)
18. Qifeng Park North
19. Huying Park West
20. New World Garden
22. City Official Garden
23. Huying Park Bus Stop
(note: Mobike locations cannot be placed on the map, as they are constantly changing)
Just a few of our favorite nearby spots
A. Tangbei Market: A not so out-of-the-
way local market with all the cheap vegetables and meat you could ever want
B. Dongguan Sports Center: One of Dongguan’s oldest sports complexes, with tennis courts, basketball courts, swimming pools and football fields
C. Shenghe Flower Market: A gardener’s supply heaven
D. Haogang Site Museum: Showcasing the earliest resident of the Pearl River Delta from more than 5,000 years ago. With exhibits in clear, professionally-translated English
E. Dongguan Exhibition Center: A gallery displaying the history and modern development of the city that also hosts seasonal exhibitions of art and heritage
F. Batou Village: The hippest night-life scene set in the renovated 100-year-old local-style houses
G. Vanke City Plaza Ferris Wheel: Take a ride on the downtown’s biggest Ferris wheel
H. Dongguan Library: Check out the amazing foreign-language reading room on the 4th floor
I. City Planning Exhibition Gallery: This brand new museum shows off Dongguan’s urban planning development and a look into the future of our city