AP PHOTOS: Bike-sharing rivalry crowds Beijing's sidewalks

In this Thursday, March 16, 2017 photo, a woman rides a bicycle from bike-sharing company Ofo past a billboard with the slogan "Environment protection starts from you and me" displayed near a construction site at the Central Business District of Beijing, China. As many as 2.2 million of these two-wheelers have been deployed, which are available for rent for as little as U.S. 7 cents for half an hour, in the latest symbol of heavy spending in China's internet sector where startups are in a race to attract more users to their services. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
In this Thursday, March 23, 2017 photo, residents ride bicycles from bike-sharing company Ofo try to pedal through a sidewalk crowded with bicycles from the bike-sharing companies Ofo, Mobike and Bluegogo, near a bus stand in Beijing, China. As many as 2.2 million of these two-wheelers have been deployed, which are available for rent for as little as U.S. 7 cents for half an hour, in the latest symbol of heavy spending in China's internet sector where startups are in a race to attract more users to their services. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
In this Tuesday, March 21, 2017 photo, a woman walks past a bicycle of bike-sharing company Ofo with its seat removed parked near a bicycle from its competitor Bluegogo on the sidewalk in Beijing, China. As many as 2.2 million of these two-wheelers have been deployed, which are available for rent for as little as 7 cents a ride, in the latest symbol of heavy spending in China's internet sector where startups are in a race to attract more users to their services. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
In this Friday, March 17, 2017 photo, a woman rides a bicycle from bike-sharing company Ofo past office buildings during the morning rush hour in the Central Business District of Beijing, China. As many as 2.2 million of these two-wheelers have been deployed, which are available for rent for as little as U.S. 7 cents for half an hour, in the latest symbol of heavy spending in China's internet sector where startups are in a race to attract more users to their services. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
In this Tuesday, March 21, 2017 photo, damaged bicycles from bike-sharing companies Ofo and Bluegogo are placed near garbage bags on the sidewalk in Beijing, China. As many as 2.2 million of these two-wheelers have been deployed, which are available for rent for as little as U.S. 7 cents for half an hour, in the latest symbol of heavy spending in China's internet sector where startups are in a race to attract more users to their services. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
In this Tuesday, March 21, 2017 photo, a man rides a bicycle from bike-sharing company Ofo past bicycles from competitors like Mobike and Bluegogo parked side-by side along a road in Beijing, China. As many as 2.2 million of these two-wheelers have been deployed, which are available for rent for as little as U.S. 7 cents for half an hour, in the latest symbol of heavy spending in China's internet sector where startups are in a race to attract more users to their services. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
In this Tuesday, March 21, 2017 photo, commuters ride bicycles of bike-sharing companies near a bus stand in Beijing, China. As many as 2.2 million of these two-wheelers have been deployed, which are available for rent for as little as U.S. 7 cents for half an hour,, in the latest symbol of heavy spending in China's internet sector where startups are in a race to attract more users to their services. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
In this Tuesday, March 21, 2017 photo, women ride bicycles from bike-sharing company Mobike past an advertisement promoting the service on a street in Beijing, China. As many as 2.2 million of these two-wheelers have been deployed, which are available for rent for as little as U.S. 7 cents for half an hour, in the latest symbol of heavy spending in China's internet sector where startups are in a race to attract more users to their services. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
In this Tuesday, March 21, 2017 photo, a staffer at right from the bike-sharing company Ofo demonstrates to a man the use of the bike-sharing application on his phone as other workers unload bicycles to a sidewalk in Beijing, China. As many as 2.2 million of these two-wheelers have been deployed, which are available for rent for as little as U.S. 7 cents for half an hour, in the latest symbol of heavy spending in China's internet sector where startups are in a race to attract more users to their services. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
In this Wednesday, March 29, 2017 photo, a commuter uses a bike-sharing app to unlock a bicycle from bike-sharing company Mobike in Beijing, China. As many as 2.2 million of these two-wheelers have been deployed, which are available for rent for as little as U.S. 7 cents for half an hour, in the latest symbol of heavy spending in China's internet sector where startups are in a race to attract more users to their services. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
In this Wednesday, March 22, 2017 photo, visitors ride bicycles from bike-sharing company Mobile in Beijing, China. As many as 2.2 million of these two-wheelers have been deployed, which are available for rent for as little as U.S. 7 cents for half an hour, in the latest symbol of heavy spending in China's internet sector where startups are in a race to attract more users to their services. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
In this Wednesday, March 22, 2017 photo, people ride bicycles of bike-sharing companies Ofo, left, and Mobike, right, past a corner tower of the Forbidden City in Beijing, China. As many as 2.2 million of these two-wheelers have been deployed, which are available for rent for as little as U.S. 7 cents for half an hour, in the latest symbol of heavy spending in China's internet sector where startups are in a race to attract more users to their services. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
In this Tuesday, March 21, 2017 photo, a bicycle of bike-sharing company Ofo parked in a residential building compound in Beijing, China. As many as 2.2 million of these two-wheelers have been deployed, which are available for rent for as little as U.S. 7 cents for half an hour, in the latest symbol of heavy spending in China's internet sector where startups are in a race to attract more users to their services. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
In this Sunday, March 19, 2017 photo, a worker fixes a bicycle's tyre at the repair station for the bike-sharing company Ofo in Beijing, China. As many as 2.2 million of these two-wheelers have been deployed, which are available for rent for as little as U.S. 7 cents for half an hour, in the latest symbol of heavy spending in China's internet sector where startups are in a race to attract more users to their services. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
In this Thursday, March 16, 2017 photo, a man the bike-sharing application on his smartphone to unlock the bicycle from bike-sharing company Ofo parked on the sidewalk in Beijing, China. As many as 2.2 million of these two-wheelers have been deployed, which are available for rent for as little as U.S. 7 cents for half an hour, in the latest symbol of heavy spending in China's internet sector where startups are in a race to attract more users to their services. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
In this Tuesday, March 21, 2017 photo, commuters use bicycles from bike-sharing company Ofo placed on the sidewalk in Beijing, China. As many as 2.2 million of these two-wheelers have been deployed, which are available for rent for as little as U.S. 7 cents for half an hour, in the latest symbol of heavy spending in China's internet sector where startups are in a race to attract more users to their services. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
In this Tuesday, March 21, 2017 photo, commuters ride bicycles from bike-sharing companies Ofo and Mobike past a traffic light junction during the morning rush hour in Beijing, China. As many as 2.2 million of these two-wheelers have been deployed, which are available for rent for as little as U.S. 7 cents for half an hour, in the latest symbol of heavy spending in China's internet sector where startups are in a race to attract more users to their services. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

BEIJING — The shiny bicycles in bright orange, yellow or blue are everywhere in China's most prosperous cities, even in places they probably shouldn't be.

The two-wheelers are unlocked and tracked using smartphone apps and can be rented for as little as 7 U.S. cents for half an hour. They are the latest symbol of heavy spending by venture capital firms in China's internet sector, where startups are racing to attract more users, seemingly regardless of the cost.

Around 2.2 million bicycles have been deployed in China by companies that include Ofo, Mobike and Bluegogo, and are most frequently used in cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, according to internet analyst Xue Yu at IDC China.

In their rivalry to be market leader in bike-sharing, the companies have raised hundreds of millions of dollars and are offering discounts and free rides to attract more users. It's unclear if the business model is sustainable or how it might change if a winner emerges.

China was long known as the "bicycle kingdom," but that moniker has become outdated as more and more Chinese buy cars amid the country's economic boom. China overtook the United States in 2009 as the world's biggest auto market, but authorities have encouraged bicycle use to reduce pollution and congestion.

Shared bicycles are now ubiquitous in Beijing, where Xue estimates more than 200,000 have been deployed.

They're pedaled on the roads by commuters getting from subway stops to their workplaces, homes or other destinations. On weekends, tourists use them to wander along traditional alleyways in the city's historic center, near the Forbidden City.

But as more and more bikes hit the streets, they add to the urban chaos, as riders leave them basically anywhere.

Rush-hour users park them in public-bus lanes, leaving them for street attendants to pick up and move aside. Rows of bikes, some of them toppled, crowd the sidewalks, leaving pedestrians little space to walk.

Vandalism has become common, and repairs can be costly.

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