Deals on wheels

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By XU JUNQIAN in Shang­hai xu­jun­qian@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Once the world’s reign­ing bi­cy­cle king­dom, China is re­claim­ing its in­ter­est in the ped­al­ing ve­hi­cle, a mode of trans­port that for decades was con­sid­ered a tool used by the poor.

Since the be­gin­ning of the cen­tury, an emerg­ing Chi­nese mid­dle class has fore­gone the clean and en­ergy-ef­fi­cient ve­hi­cle in fa­vor of au­to­mo­biles, sig­nal­ing the end of its sta­tus as a do­min­ion of two wheels. At one point across China, there was one bi­cy­cle for ev­ery three in­hab­i­tants.

There is a resur­gence of in­ter­est in bi­cy­cles in China, with 20 mil­lion cy­clists logged in the coun­try, ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased by the China Cy­cling As­so­ci­a­tion, which or­ga­nized the an­nual China In­ter­na­tional Bi­cy­cle Fair ear­lier in May in Shang­hai.

The four-day-long fair is much smaller in terms of scale, the num­bers of ex­hibitors and at­ten­dees, com­pared with Shang­hai In­ter­na­tional Au­to­mo­bile In­dus­try Ex­hi­bi­tion. The lat­ter was held two weeks be­fore the bi­cy­cle fair, at­tract­ing a to­tal of 928,000 vis­i­tors within 10 days.

But or­ga­niz­ers of the bi­cy­cle fair be­lieve ev­ery par­tic­i­pant of the au­to­mo­bile ex­hi­bi­tion could be a po­ten­tial vis­i­tor to a fair about “a much cleaner and more en­ergy ef­fi­cient trans­port”, as Ma Zhongchao, chair­man of China Cy­cle As­so­ci­a­tion put it.

Sang Kai, the owner of Club Garage, a bi­cy­cle club in Bei­jing, told China Daily that the new gen­er­a­tion of cy­clists, mostly recre­ational ones, is more gen­er­ous and pro­fes­sional.

“It’s just like the rise of golf or eques­trian sports (played by the coun­try’s nou­veau riche) years ago. But (cy­cling) is more about pure en­joy­ment, rather than show­ing off one’s wealth,” said Sang.

He es­ti­mated that the emerg­ing recre­ational cy­clist in Bei­jing is will­ing to splurge a min­i­mum of 10,000 yuan ($1,608) for a bi­cy­cle, while in Shang­hai, where peo­ple are more gen­er­ous, the bud­get could be even higher.

Ob­servers be­gan to no­tice resurg­ing in­ter­est in bi­cy­cles five years ago, in 2010. That year, 246 coun­tries and in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions took part in the six-month-long Expo 2010 Shang­hai, which show­cased mul­ti­ple ecofriendly life­styles, with bi­cy­cles re­plac­ing au­to­mo­biles. The Den­mark Pav­il­ion shipped 200 of its bi­cy­cles for vis­i­tors to take a ride on its out­door bi­cy­cle track that ringed the pav­il­ion and to have a peek at “Dream City”, the name of the pav­il­ion.

The same year, Shang­hai’s once largest and most his­tor­i­cal bi­cy­cle fac­tory, For­ever Bike, caused quite a splash by in­tro­duc­ing a younger and much more fash­ion­able line, For­ever C bike col­lec­tion. The 69-year-old com­pany has man­u­fac­tured a record high of 110 mil­lion bikes in to­tal, con­tribut­ing to more than one-third of the bikes used in the coun­try.

Its new brightly colored and vin­tage styled bikes are priced, for the first time in his­tory, at more than 600 yuan. Within the first three days of its soft launch, 400 units were sold out.

The re­sumed in­ter­est in bi­cy­cles has given rise to more va­ri­ety, and es­sen­tially in­vest­ment. China’s largest search en­gine, Baidu, and the coun­try’s lead­ing smart­phone designer and dis­trib­u­tor, Xiaomi, have both put big money into the re­search and devel­op­ment of what they call “smart bike” since the end of last year.

“Five years later, it would sound strange if some­one asks you whether your bike is a smart bike, just as now ev­ery­one is us­ing smart­phone,” said Jiang Mincheng, the co-founder of BICI, a Shang­hai-based work­shop designing and re­assem­bling smart bikes.

The 25th China In­ter­na­tional Bi­cy­cle Fair,

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