China falls back in love with the bicycle

By News Editor / Updated: 01 Aug 2014
The bicycle is once again back in vogue for a new generation of Chinese, who are choosing to jump back on the saddle after a two decade love affair with the car.
In the 1950s China was dubbed the Kingdom of Bicycles by the Communist party, which saw bikes as a low-cost solution to crammed public transport and made them one of the three must-haves of every household, alongside a sewing machine and watch. However, the 1990s saw a dramatic increase in car ownership and large-scale abandonment of cycling as a transport mode. For the next two decades China became a nation of drivers, embracing the car to the point of gridlock and even outlawing bicycles from key thoroughfares in Shanghai.

But for a new generation of Chinese, inspired by the West and Japan, the bicycle is once again in vogue and this year’s fashion accessory. Colourful custom-made bikes adorn the shop windows of Shanghai's trendiest boutiques and have featured in advertising campaigns for brands like Lee and Levi's.

Groups of Chinese bike enthusiasts have also begun to organise midnight rides through the country's cities, when there is little traffic.

In the last six months, if you look at all the Chinese lifestyle magazines, at least half of them have featured a bike on their front cover, or had a main feature about cycling, said Tyler Bowa, a Canadian who custom builds fixed gear bikes in Shanghai.

For men, owning a cool bike is the same as a woman owning a designer handbag. It completes their outfit. And there are lots of people who post pictures of themselves and their bikes on their web pages. Luxury bicycles made by Ferrari and Lamborghini have also proven popular. Xie Jian, a regional sales manager for Qida, the Chinese importer of the two brands, said at least one €39,000 Lamborghini bike sells each month in the wealthy south eastern city of Wenzhou.

UCC, a high-end Taiwanese company whose bikes sell for between €575 and €5,750, also sold out its consignment at a recent trade show. We started in 2008 and sold 3,000 bikes, said Wu Yamou, the general manager of Rapid Trading, the importer.

So far this year we have sold 50,000. They have become popular presents. In the future, people will stop thinking of bicycles as cheap and start thinking of them as a healthy and fashionable option.

In the south, there are already several thousand miles of green bike paths, connecting cities, making it good for weekend cycling.

Green campaigners are hoping that this surge in popularity for the bicycle will not be a passing fashion fad and that it will lead to long-term changes in cycling infrastructure and policies.

Source: ACT Travelwise Bulletin
Walking and cycling