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China has 8 cities with bigger bike share systems than all of America

A Beijing bike share station.
A Beijing bike share station.
(AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

The growth of bike share programs is gaining momentum in the US.

But this growth is absolutely dwarfed by the explosion of bike share programs in China over the last couple of years.

The country now has more than 400,000 bike share bikes in operation across dozens of cities with programs, with the vast majority installed since 2012. To put this in perspective, there are an estimated 822,00 bikes in operation around the world — so China has more bikes than all other countries combined. The individual country with the next-highest number of bikes, France, has just 45,000.

Here are the 15 countries with more than 3,000 bikes in operation, with data coming from the Bike-sharing World Map, a database maintained by Russell Meddin and Paul DeMaio.

bike share countries

Early on, most bike share programs were in Europe. The French town of Rennes pioneered the first computerized system in 1998, and as late as 2008, only a single system existed outside of Europe (Washington DC's). For years, Paris had the largest system.

But over the last couple of years, China has lapped the field several times over. As its private bicycle fleet has declined — largely because more and more people can afford cars — officials have implemented bike share programs to give residents a transportation option that cuts down on traffic.

Nowadays, dozens of Chinese cities have truly enormous programs, bigger than most other countries' systems. All told, China has eight cities with more bike share bikes than the entire United States does.

Here's a chart of the 30 cities worldwide that have more than 5,000 bikes in their systems (note: for cities with multiple programs, the number reflects the total number of bikes across all of them). Of these 30 top cities, 24 are in China.

bike share chart 3

It's not a huge mystery why China would want to invest so heavily in bike share: it has the world's largest population, is rapidly urbanizing, and is trying to cut down on traffic and pollution. What's impressive is how quickly the country has implemented enormous programs in so many different cities.

But if you're a fan of bike share, what is a little disheartening is how many other places that are going through the same challenges of urbanization haven't even gotten started with the programs. Both India and the entire continent of Africa have only conducted a handful of pilot studies, with zero active systems in place.

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