Shanghai is one of the most well-developed and historically rich cities in all of China. It is home to a lot of old architecture, cultural diversity and exploration options. Coming to a cosmopolitan city that holds all its old values close to heart is a very unique experience. This demands that you forget the modern amenities and go a little old school when touring a place like this. And for Shanghai, there is nothing better than simply taking off on a bicycle! Let the wind through your hair as you go winding through the narrow and old streets of the city. Cycling in Shanghai is truly a one-off experience and we will be sharing everything that you need to know to go around with ease.
Shanghai has recently become a very popular spot for services like bike-sharing. Therefore, that is what the primary focus of this article will be. Different big companies are offering ride-sharing services on bicycles in Shanghai. Among these, the two most popular Shanghai bike rental names are Ofo and Mobike. These companies, even though they are primarily Chinese services, are busy taking over the global market, and fast. The level of expansion you see from them, especially in Shanghai, is simply astounding. Each company has its own set of bikes that you can see all around the city. So, let us see how you can benefit from them and go about cycling in Shanghai the right way.
Considerations before Cycling in Shanghai
Before you flick out your phone and start typing app names, let us go through a bit of a reality check. Shanghai is a big city, and we mean really big. The huge size and the equally large population mean you will always find a lot of people everywhere including a lot of traffic on the roads. Shanghai probably has one of the busiest roads in the world and that means going around a place like this means you need to stay alert at all times. Walking down a street may not be a big deal but cycling in Shanghai means you are putting yourself on the road.
There used to be a time when Shanghai was full of cyclists all around but the growing size of the city and business boom led to a preference for cars. As a result, there are a lot of fewer cycles on the roads of Shanghai nowadays. However, from a tourist perspective, there are still a lot of opportunities as people still prefer exploring many parts of the old city on bicycles. This is especially true for areas like the Former French Connection, the Bund and some other historical locations as well.
If you are going to go about cycling in Shanghai, whether it is on your own bike or through a Shanghai bike rental, make sure you are up for the task. The incredibly huge amount of traffic is not for everyone and accidents do happen if you are not careful. With that said, we are pretty sure that if you are still reading this then you are committed. And we are glad to tell you that you are going to have an incredible time.
In summer, it is usually very hot and humid in Shanghai. So, cycling won’t be much fun and is not advisable.
How to rent a bike in Shanghai
As far as bike rentals go, the only two options you need to think of are Mobike and Ofo. There are some other local options as well but none of them will compare to the convenience of these two platforms. Each has its perks and style of operation so let’s see what each has to offer.
Shanghai saw a large-scale bike-sharing system for the very first time with Mobike. The company is an offspring of Beijing Mobike and the funding to get it working in Shanghai came from Tencent. Tencent is one of China’s biggest tech brands and you can easily see how that is a match made in heaven for the company. The result, a huge network of bicycles that come with a silver body with the signature white text on an orange background. The baskets and rims are also orange in color. Up until 2017, Mobike was present in 160 Chinese cities and in that year, they also started aggressive expansion. Several major cities around the world were added to the coverage including London, Berlin, Fukuoka, and Washington D.C.
The app itself is very good and the most important part, the GPS, is highly accurate. You can easily see where your bike is, where you started from, and how many kilometers you covered on it. Registering on the app is quite easy and you can start using it immediately after downloading. For payments, you have to add a credit card to the app but if you have a wechat or Alipay account then you can use that as well.
To start using this Shanghai bike rental service, all you have to do is scan the QR code on it and it will automatically unlock it and start your usage. Once you have explored the city, take the bike to any designated spot (you can’t just leave it anywhere) and lock it in place with the lever. As soon as you do that, your ride will end.
To download the app, you can use the links provided for both ios and Android.
The only real alternative to Mobike for Shanghai bike rental is Ofo. This company is the result of a collaboration between two huge tech giants of China. One of them is Xiaomi, a company that sells incredibly aesthetic (basically copied from Apple design) and affordable electronics, primarily cell phones. The other one is the ride-hailing company didi Chuxing, the company that Uber could not compete against in China. Ofo is also a globally operating platform and in just six years it has created a network of 7.5 million bikes across the globe! With over half a billion rides in its history, it is certainly a great option to explore Shanghai.
The registration process for Ofo is pretty much the same as that of Mobike. The payment options are also the same and Ofo too has bike stands all across the city. To take a ride, all you need to do is unlock the bike using the QR code and take it for a ride across the city’s main cycling routes. Once done, all you have to do is take it to a designated stand and lock it. Unlike Mobike, you have to end the ride on your phone and then lock the bike manually.
You can download the app using the links below.
Bike Tour in Shanghai
You can also take guided bike tour in Shanghai. Taking this tour allows you to not only breathe in the Shanghai atmosphere but also connect with the city.
You start with Culture Shock Tours who serve you with a hot beverage and brief you about the tour before hitting the streets. The first stop on your ride is Fuxing Park, a beautiful location with a lot of local culture and people to interact with. After that, the tour goes to Fazang Temple where you get to see the two different religious beliefs popular in China. The last stop you make is at the Nanshi area of Huangpu district, exploring the real Shanghai Old Town where the city is in its most authentic.
Book This Tour
Payment Option for Foreigners
Foreigners can connect their credit cards with Alipay or Wechat and then can pay for their bike rentals from these apps. Learn how to link foreign Credit cards with Alipay or Wechat.
Rules for Cycling in Shanghai
Before you set off on your adventure around the city, make sure you keep in mind some of the key rules for cycling in Shanghai. The following list should be on your fingertips at all times to ensure your safety on the road.
- Always stop at intersections when the light is red. It is a very common thing for local cyclists to ignore traffic signals and simply speed through. However, it is in your best interest to not take that risk, especially since you do not understand the traffic. Only go through if you are cycling late at night and there is no traffic. The stops can be a great way for a quick look at the city life and enjoying the activity.
- Keep a safe distance. Cars in Shanghai don’t always follow lane discipline, especially when it is a busy part of town. It has its own flow and you may occasionally see yourself getting close to the curbside. Do not be alarmed and simply try to maintain some distance between yourself and the cars.
- Never go in the opposite direction of the traffic. Some roads do not have bike lanes on both sides so that does not mean you should go in the wrong direction. Try to find an alternative route instead of taking your chances with a collision
- Do not go on roads where bicycles are not allowed. There are many busy roads in Shanghai where taking bikes is prohibited and the reason is your own safety. With an already jam-packed road, you do not want to take chances with your life so stick to bike routes only.
- As we said earlier, keep some distance from the cars and the best way to do that is to travel only in bike lanes. While you could go into the traffic, it just increases your chances of getting into trouble so it is best to avoid that. Find out about all roads where bike lanes are present on your route and map your route accordingly.
- Always wear a protective mask. Wearing a helmet is a no-brainer but keeping your face covered is also very important. There is a lot of smoke, fumes, and smell on the road and you do not want to take all that in. So it is best to always keep a mask on your face. The protection from dust, pollution, and odors will make your trip a lot more pleasant.
Popular Bike Routes
There are several great places that you can explore in Shanghai on a bike. We are sharing some that will be a great way of spending your time while cycling in Shanghai.
- The Former French Connection is probably the most popular spot in Shanghai for exploration on bikes. The stoned streets and the old architecture is enjoyed the most when you can slowly pass by, observing all the small details. You can also take breaks wherever you like and perhaps enjoy the local cuisine and observe the activity.
- The Bund area is one of the best places in Shanghai if you want to enjoy beautiful scenes and old architecture. One place in particular that you should keep in mind is the Beisuzhou Lu. There are many beautiful buildings and bridges here and you can also see the views of Lujiazui and the famous Garden Bridge.
- Fuxing Lu leading to a ferry ride (bikes are allowed on board)
- Xiangyang Lu to Xintiandi via Nanchang Lu
- Pudong Visit via the Nanpu Bridge Ferry. You can see the Mercedes-Benz Arena and the China Pavilion in the old expo site there. Aquatic Centers is also a place you can explore while you are in that area.
It is best to familiarize yourself with the maps of the city and you can even chart your own course if you want. We highly recommend keeping some manual maps at hand since Google Maps doesn’t always work well. Installing the app for Baidu Maps is also a good alternative.
The simple answer is that you cannot drive a motorbike in Shanghai. It requires a driving license and foreign visitors do not have a local license. International licenses are not valid in China so it is best to stay away from this option. Quite a few tourists have found themselves stuck in difficult situations because they were arrested for driving motorbikes illegally around Shanghai.
Stick instead with cycling, and why wouldn’t you anyway? It can take you to some great areas of the city that you may not be able to enjoy while on a motorbike or a car. And let us not forget the health benefits that you can get from cycling in Shanghai.
Have Fun Cycling in Shanghai
There are some amazing opportunities for exploring Shanghai that you can only enjoy on a bicycle. If you are visiting Shanghai, do try to put cycling in Shanghai in your itinerary as well. It is a way of seeing this magnificent city from a whole new perspective, one that you will always remember. In addition to that, always remember all the rules we have shared and stay vigilant when on the road!