Continuing my exposé on biking in Shanghai, this text will be about an oddity I’ve noticed all around the city. That of QR code theft. When trying to rent a bike in Shanghai, you pull out your phone, go onto its respective app, and scan the individual QR code in order to unlock it. If all goes well, you will hear a click. The bike will make a noise, and you’ll be on your way! However, the vast majority of bikes you will ride are worn down: maybe a little broken or rusted. This introduces the question, why aren’t there more new bikes or clean bikes? Well, there are some around, but the sad truth is what I call ‘Bikegate.’ People, oftentimes workers or nearby residents, will either place stickers on the QR code or scratch it off entirely. Most apps can scan images you save, so if you save a photo of the QR code, you can very easily scan it. This gives whoever does this control over the bike’s movements, giving them not ownership but something close to that over the bike. By hoarding the QR code only they can activate the bike itself, if there’s nothing to scan, and no one else uses it, it stays in much nicer condition than any normal rentable bike. If you combine this with a Hello Bike pass for 25 Yuan a month, it’s not a bad price for a bike you can use whenever you’d like. I’ve encountered large rows of brand new bikes, only to find that every last one of them was blacked out or scratched out, and thus inaccessible. 

Now, this happens to be a particularly frustrating event, and it begs the question, what can you really do about it? Well, unfortunately, not very much. Most bikes cannot be accessed without the QR code, and until the companies themselves do something about this issue, it’s likely you will keep having to ride subpar or worn down bikes. You could always scratch one off for yourself if you’re lucky enough to find a good quality bike, but that is rare.

This is a very inconvenient reality, the disappointment of seeing a nice bike and finding it blacked out is crushing. I do not believe there is any effort to combat it at the moment. As long as these QR codes can be taken away, we will be left with poorer quality bikes. However, if you do see one of these bikes without a QR code, maybe do Shanghai a favor and move it a block away. Until these bike lenders introduce some new form of renting them, it is likely these thefts will continue and the bikes the common people have will degrade in quality.