When I first arrived in Beijing in 2010, my biggest surprise was the lack of bicycles. As a young lad, gaping over sepia prints of China, it was the hordes of bicycles on Beijing’s streets that made the biggest impression. These days, China’s bicycle situation is one of the most noticeable indicators of the changes China has made over the past three decades.
Beijing has many great things, but its diminishing bike culture isn’t one of them. Just 10 years ago, 60% of Beijingers used peddle power to get to work. But with increasing wealth, sprawling suburbs, bigger roads and lessening bike lanes, that figure now languishes below many European cities, at 20%. For someone who enjoys powering two wheels from a hard seat, I was disappointed.
Six months later and a 1,200 kilometre move south to Shanghai, my faith was restored. Shanghai is China’s original home of cycling and it still reigns as a dreamland for those who enjoy a little excitement when they play on their peddles.
While most of the world’s major economies splutter along, China’s blistering economic growth has businesses everywhere salivating for a piece of China’s increasingly wealthy middle class.
Everyone peddling something from adventures down the Nile River to skin-whitening face cream are redefining their strategies to get a piece of the Chinese pie. Even Porsche chose Shanghai for their world debut of the 4-door family wagon Porsche Panamera – its biggest launch in years.
But it seems ads with backdrops of Chinese skylines are for beginners, when you see the lengths the world’s biggest auto manufacturer is going to get their cars on Chinese roads…
In days gone by, talk of China would conjure up sepia images of streets crowded with men on bicycles. Times have changed.
During the swinging 60’s and 70’s, the must-have items for a marriage in China were a wrist watch, sewing machine and bicycle. Now there are cheap rip-off watches everywhere, someone else does the sewing and almost everyone wants an automobile. Yes, the monarchy of the ‘Kingdom of Bicycles’ has been overthrown.
Back in 1949 when The People’s Republic of China was formed, the party in Beijing opted for the bicycle as the people’s vehicle and started a massive production drive, making two wheels and a chain a big part of their first Five-Year plan. Pedal power took off.