“You have a car for your long travels, now here’s a cycle for your short trips…at a steal price of Rs 1499 ($21) only, but 2 of them and we give you for Rs 2000 ($28). [sic]”

What, two bicycles for Rs 2000 ($28)? That’s just car rental platform Zoomcar’s latest offer to customers sent over email.

But while it sounds fab, these are used cycles, and used cycles don’t make for an easy sell. Why is it selling them? Well, let’s just say the bicycle-sharing business in India hasn’t taken off very well.

Meet Exhibit A, B, C and D.

  1. Zoomcar itself. In an attempt to sell off the 15,000-plus bicycles that made its fleet of Zoomcar PEDL, a now-suspended cycle-sharing service which operated across nine cities, it is trying just about everything. From emailing customers to making similar offers—one bicycle for Rs 1500 ($21)—to its rival bike-sharing startups and NGOs in the space. The Ken learnt this from two people aware of the development who requested anonymity. Zoomcar CEO Greg Moran, in another email, made it official that PEDL would be put on hold as there’s “work to do on the quality of the cycle itself”.
  2. Mobike. The China-based bike-sharing startup launched in Pune with 3,000 cycles as recently as in May 2018 – with plans to expand. However, the head of India operations, Vibhor Jain, has told The Ken that he’s left the role without elaborating why.
  3. Ofo. Not long after Mobike launched in India, Ofo, which is a similar Chinese startup, decided to dissolve its India operations laying off most of its employees. From a peak valuation of $3 billion to almost going bankrupt in three years (Ofo India launched in January 2018), Ofo learned that hard way that China and India just don’t work the same. The company had installed 2,000 bicycles under its pilot project in Indian cities including Pune and Coimbatore, before shutting shop.
  4. Mobycy. The Gurugram-based bike-sharing startup, as of January 2019, has made an interesting switch—it has ditched bicycles, pivoting in favour of e-scooters. Mobycy’s CEO Akash Gupta told The Ken that it would move to electric scooters in a “big way” because, at a unit level, electric scooters make more sense.

Things clearly aren’t looking so great.

It has taken millions of dollars and multiple pilots for India’s urban mobility startups to wake up to the reality of product-fit: Urban Indians don’t really want to use bicycles for their daily travel—they’d much rather opt for electric scooters or e-bikes.

AUTHOR

Salman SH

Salman has around four years of experience reporting primarily on consumer internet, startups, and the telecom sector. Previously, he worked with the financial newspaper Mint, reporting on startups and consumer internet trends. Prior to this, he worked with MediaNama and NextBigWhat. At The Ken, Salman will look at startups, technology trends, and the government policies shaping up around them. Loud metal, moshpits, and local gigs are he what he lives for.

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