Turn­ing full cir­cle, chang­ing lanes

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

Last year, he quit his job and made an ini­tial in­vest­ment of 200,000 yuan ($32,250) with three friends to start a bike work­shop. Now his team of four full-time and two part­time staff fo­cused on cre­at­ing the per­fect bike for com­mut­ing in busy cities.

Their first mod­els for men and women were in­tro­duced in March in a choice of two colors: black and grey. The Bauhaus-in­spired bikes are mainly made of alu­minum al­loy while the frame de­sign com­prises straight lines at an­gles of 73 de­grees.

They re­tail for 2,399 yuan in­clud­ing de­liv­ery, or about 1/40 the cost of a reg­is­tra­tion plate in Shang­hai, which are sold via auc­tion.

“Sales have been bet­ter than we ex­pected, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing that we have just started and how bikes are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly marginal­ized in Chi­nese cities,” said Gao.

Scores of units have been sold so far from their one and only store on Taobao.com, China’s largest on­line shop­ping bazaar. The team could yet af­ford to run a brick-and-mor­tar store. Most of his cus­tomers al­ready have a car, he said.

“Bi­cy­cles of­fer an al­ter­na­tive. They speak for a re­spon­si­ble, en­er­getic and peace­ful life­style, but are no longer es­sen­tial in daily life,” he added.

When Gao was a child in the 1980s, bi­cy­cles, to­gether with sewing ma­chines, watches and ra­dios were con­sid­ered the four most valu­able goods a house­hold could own. They were sta­tus sym­bols in­di­cat­ing a wellto-do house­hold. The cost of a bi­cy­cle, around 150 yuan, was equiv­a­lent to up to two months’ in­come for many fam­i­lies.

The av­er­age price of the 30 mil­lion bikes bought each year in China stands at around 300 yuan, ac­cord­ing to in­dus­try in­sid­ers. The me­dian an­nual in­come of a house­hold in Shang­hai was 47,710 yuan in 2014, up 300-fold from 1985.

All of which makes them highly af­ford­able but also fairly low in qual­ity. Some are in such bad shape that util­ity cy­clists treat them as dis­pos­able goods to be chucked away and re­placed each year.

To­gether with his team, which in­cludes two ar­chi­tects, one diehard fan of fixed-gear bikes and a vet­eran tech­ni­cian from one of the coun­try’s largest bike fac­to­ries, Gao wants to help change the shabby im­age that bi­cy­cles in China have picked up.

Their bikes have closer and fit­ter mud­guards, so that the user’s pants won’t get dirty on rainy days. More­over, the seat height is lower than that of a moun­tain bike while the sit­ting pos­ture is semi-up­right. Gao said this was done in­ten­tion­ally to help tired com­muters wake up in the morn­ing.

The re­vi­tal­ized in­ter­est in bikes, largely re­sult­ing from the wors­en­ing traf­fic con­di­tions in mega-cities like Shang­hai and peo­ple’s grow­ing de­sire to keep fit, has given rise to many sim­i­lar busi­nesses.

In Shang­hai alone, bi­cy­cles stores are sprout­ing up with of­fer­ings rang­ing from vin­tage mod­els to cut­ting-edge high­tech ma­chines.

Ital­ian brand ABICI re­cently set up a 6-me­ter-high all-white show­room in the city’s down­town to pro­mote its bikes and how the mod­els are hand­made in Italy and then ex­ported to China.

Lon­don’s Bromp­ton Junc­tion, which makes fold­ing bikes, warns its Shang­hai cus­tomers that its mod­els might be­come “an ob­ses­sion”, as well as “a so­lu­tion to ur­ban living prob­lems”. When folded, they are about the size of a suit­case.

ABICI charges 6,000 yuan for its bi­cy­cles. The start­ing price of a Bromp­ton Junc­tion model is dou­bling this.

“For me, bikes were an in­te­gral part of my teenage years,” said Gao, adding that it can be sig­nif­i­cantly quicker to get around a grid­locked city on two wheels th­ese days than if trav­el­ing by car or bus.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Gao Shu­san

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