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Home Biking Guide The Past and the Future – Cycling Facts in China

The Past and the Future – Cycling Facts in China

The Bikes Popular in the Past in China

Earlier than the 1980s, when planned economy system still domain the market, a bike ( phoenix / forever were the most popular brands at that moment) costs people RMB173. However, it is not cheap at all under the salary and purchasing power. A normal worker in the factory only earned RMB36-38 per month, and even after collecting enough amount buying a bike needs, you had to get a special ticket which allows people to buy a bicycle (same things happened to lot things, meat, TV, etc. Only the government assigned the scarce resources and decided where they should go and who they should belonged to). People had to bribe or have special identity to own those ‘fancy’ things ahead. They are envied by the rest people.

Popular Bikes and How People Cycle in the 1980s

Commute with bicycles was widely accepted in China.  

Although no one treated cycling as a good way to explore local lives and to keep healthy, cars weren’t popular either. They were not affordable by most Chinese during that period. Therefore owning a 28’ inch bikes made by steel were one of the 3 things to proof you are rich and capable. The other two were Television and Sewing Machine. family living in 60’ and 70’ tend to make a proposal to those young men who own them. Those large-framed bikes were used by most people for their daily lives (commuting, carrying things, transferring kids, etc.) Western tourist who visited China 35 years ago and then returned today will find amazing changes – a China crowded with single-geared bicycles has gone.

Bicycles used in the 1980s

Bikes and Buses in Beijing, 1980s

What Kind of Bike is Preferred by the Chinese Nowadays?

According the conversion based on the currency purchasing power, RMB200 in Dec. of 1985 equals to RMB63288 in 2018 (around USD9070)! The most popular two ways for commuting are driving private cars or ‘E-bikes’. The owning rate of cars today is the same to the bicycle owning rate in 1980s, causing traffic jams and parking problems everywhere in China.

The E-bikes mentioned are not the one in the mind of westerners.  ‘E-bike’ spoken by Chinese means E-scooters, they are much heavier. A standard electronic multispeed bicycle (MTB, E-road bike, etc.) is around USD4000 or more in Europe while a normal branded E scooter in China costs only around USD400! The funny thing is,they are used and loved by most Chinese because they are very convenient and very cheap to maintain; Anyone who paid can get a legal driving plate,there are no cost for insurance needed for those scooters and very little detailed traffic rules are restricting them.Most Chinese changed their bicycles into E scooters or cars, as they are faster, much less labored and most importantly – even cheaper than a sporty bicycle! They are equipped with mud-guard, easy and cheap to charge, comfortable with both suspensions, and allows you to carry kid or adult. Chinese has lost the reason pedaling slowly and spent 1 hour commuting, transferring kids to school in the rain.

Different E-bike in the east and the west

E-bike in the West    VS    'E-bike' in the East

How Many People Still Cycle the Real Bicycles? What Bikes Chinese Usually Use for Touring?

Unlike the 1980s, China had lost its title of ‘Bicycle Kingdom’ to others (maybe the Dutch people wins now). The urbanization of rural areas in China is rapid due to the road constructions and bullet train projects, less farm land are found in the cities, the real-estate companies had occupied most valuable areas and built houses for selling. The farmers were happy to sell their land too as they can get billions of money right away – which is impossible to earn only have a normal job.

For a certain while, the lack of practical reason continuing using bicycles caused the fact that more people think that only extremely poor people are still using them. Although the people joining cycling more often and knowing cycling is one of the hobbies, the speed of bike-related industry growths compared with car industry is still too slow. We guess less than 1% of Chinese are still using bicycle and treat bikes as an useful and honorable sports, the traffic in cities and towns is getting worse now when people didn’t even notice.

E-scooters in China, E-bike cycling in China

They are convenient and practical, isn't it!? (Breaking the traffic rules though)

The understanding of bicycle and cycling are still very basic in China. People who never treated cycling as a real sport tend to be astonished that a bike sold USD2000 is not equipped with the mudguard nor a kickstand, they wondered why you are such an idiot paying so much for a bike instead of 2 or 3 very nice E –scooter or a second-hand car .

Spending one or two months’ salary on a sporty bike doesn’t sound very smart for Chinese who has only a normal 8am-6pm job. The price matters a lot when people choose what bike to buy, the heavier but cheaper mountain bikes with more durable tires has domain most bike shops, only because Chinese would like to spend USD500 or less and try their new hobby – cycling MTB on paved roads (it is very popular to hold a MTB race competing speed on paved roads, therefore a lot cyclists in China changed their hard tail mountain bikes into a bike of no suspension and changed the tires into narrower ones or change the crank and cassette from standard mountain bike ones into road bike ones). 

Unlike the developed countries, the road condition in many Chinese cities are worse, even most of them are paved. The roads and streets are used by everybody and all kinds of vehicles, it usually goes bad easier and quicker – in short, road bike lost its natural growing possibilities in China because of two reasons: more expensive prices and poorer roads. People who don’t understand sporty bikes tend to call them ‘racing bike’ and say ‘Wow, you get a new racing bike’. Sad but true that most Chinese (even some cyclists with several years of biking experiences) tend to think that all the drop bar bikes are not suitable for long-distance cycling, they are fragile and hard to control. They have never heard about any bikes called touring bike/adventure bike/cycle cross/gravel bike, because the bike sellers keep saying things like ‘the MTB is the most suitable bike for touring as they can ride on the off road mountains, as well as the roads for road bikers, they are perfect!’

Popular Bikes in China

Cycle on the road with MTB in China is popular

山马党 Shanma Bikers and races (means a mountain bike supposed to be used for off road mountains but mostly used on roads) are popular in China.  -- Yes that's true they are safer than a standard road bike!

The Future of Cycling and Bike Industry in China

Low End Market: The sharing bikes industry was quite a storm for the past 2 years and caused lot changes of the bike industry and cycling trend in China. The impatient investments went into the sharing bike manufacturing caused certain famous local Chinese bike brands went out the business and market. The appearance of cheap sharing bikes has brought lot benefits for low budget tourists but also ruined lot bicycle shops. No one would like to pay CNY50 to rent a bike as they are having options now - scaning their phone anytime on the street and use the sharing bikes for couple hours and only pay less than 15 Yuan. Sharing bikes are less durable and suitable for long distance riding and climbing because the battery runs out quickly and they are single geared, but people don’t care! They spend much less and for most of the time what they need is just a cheap private way to the countryside or a short commute between schools, stations and their downtown nightlife.

Popular Sharing Bike in China

Popular sharing bikes are devided into man power and electronic ones now. 

The low end bike manufacturing is still surviving in China, some featured representative brands are – Phoenix, Battle. Their bikes are usually less than RMB1500 for adult and no more than 500 for kid.

Mid-Market: Lot bike brands still popular in China for the mid-market, Giant, Merida are the most well-known two. In the towns and smaller cities, Giant is more popular than Merida or it is the other way around. The number of cyclists is still too little but the rental fee for houses and bike shops has decided that sellers will not give you a good discount .More and more bicycle shops had to close their business and quit the market or renting a cheap garage far away from the downtown, continue selling bikes or bike parts online. Although some local Chinese bike brand like XDS, Cronus makes same or better quality bikes, they cannot compete with Giant or Merida in certain areas. Most foreign bike brands will never get popular among bikers in this market, the reason is quite simple – local cyclists can have a better 30 speed Giant / Merida bike by paying the same/lower, why has to be Trek/Specialized who gives you a logo but 24 speed rubbish. The mid-market buyers domains very high percentage of bike market in China, that’s why seller who tried to sell Norco, GT, or Cannondale, etc. were easier to fail if the clients they targeted are not generally highly paid.

Weekend Cycling for Chinese

As to the mid-market bikers, over 80% may not change their bike or do any updating after paying. They are not available to learn more about bikes and cycling itself due to two reasons: 1. Google and information is blocked, what they can only see and hear is the very limited information found online via some cycle blogs or forums or the truth/lies coming from the bike shop and sellers. Sellers would like to lie anything targeting your pocket and find possible business chances from you (the 'stuipid' owner) and your ‘broken old’ bike. 2. Most cyclists not retired will not have such a long holiday like 10 or 20 days to do any long-distance trip with their bikes, so they can only cycle during weekends near the place they live, therefore, their bike knowledge and real tour experiences on how good/bad are their bikes is really something they couldn’t understand quite well – especially when they don’t want to spend time and money trying new ideas and bike parts. Those people will tell you that his 10 years old V-brake MTB is one of the most suitable bikes for long distance cycling, or they will use the biggest gear on their crankset then shift the rear derailleur to the smallest gear while the speed is only less than 12 mile/h (20kms/h).

High-End Market: They are real group of cyclists who know the bikes, at least more or less knowing what they need. Some of them keep buying and updating without too much real outdoors cycling, while some do both – shopping and hard cycles. Cyclists who afford to buy and update bikes are usually with stable jobs, highly paid, or retired, some students addicted to cycle in the university also sells everything they have, wishing to update a carbon fancy road bike and carbon wheels.

High-end Bicycles

Road Condition in China:

Some richest areas like Shanghai, Beijing, or Shangdong province have the best roads in China and road bikes are popular there too. Although roads are widely paved due to the anti-poverty project, the quality will not be satisfied by road bikers. They are paved but quite bumpy or still with a lot broken sections, this is terrible even it only covers 1/5 of your whole planned trip, they are inevitable most of the time and annoying. Another fact that China is not road bike friendly because most roads are being re-paved or planned to be damaged, the local government and road contractors always have good reasons to start new project, in the name of better economical growing for the future or on behalf of the people living nearby. The waste of money and endless of constructions makes an illusion to local bikers that roads in China are being built FOREVER!

Road condition for cyclitst in China, Cycling Destinations in China.

Popular Bike Routes in China

The positive thing is in order to show how well the government cares and wishing more people starting cycling (driving less cars), more really good bike paths are paved in the downtown, or between two towns. Rulers also wish to increase the income of the local farmers living in areas where less tourist will go. The most popular cycling route for Chinese is Chengdu to Lhasa, via G318 road – which was a good example how people get richer with the help of local cyclists. Not only the people living along the road but also some wild distinguishing animals is almost over spoiled now, sadly. However, infrastructures make the future for cyclists in China better and better, although we don’t have special train carriage for bikers so far.

Wild animals ruined by tourists and cyclists.

Wild marmots in the west of Sichuan province  spoiled by the tourists

Due to the uncertainty and endless constructions, all types of touring bikes (flat bar or drop bar) – cycro cross, gravel, adventure bike, etc. are priority to be chosen for your possible bike tour in China. Don’t bring your enduro / All mountain bikes as in some of the places, you can’t even find a road without asphalt / concrete. Roads and tracks on the mountains are not bike friendly for downhill riders in certain areas because there are too much bushes or too rocky.

About the Future:

With the influence of some UCI importance bike races (Tour of China, Tour of Qinghai Lake, Tour of Guangxi, etc.) It is no doubt that there will be more people joining into the cycling family in China in the future, and people are getting to know what is cycling and their health condition is getting worse with eating and drinking too much, one day they will know (from their friends who cycles) there are so many benefits if becoming a serious biker and they will follow before they die.

Tour of Guangxi, Cyclists in Guilin

Chinese are smart enough to create E-bikes under cheaper costs (e.g there are a lot local engine and battery manufactory in China who are capable producing less fancier Electronic sporty bicycles parts), you don’t have to paid USD4000 to have a Spanish/American E-bike as you can set up your own E-bike now buy just paying a normal bike and another USD500 for the engine and battery! Again, if Bafang (one engine’s brand for example) works well, why have to be Yamaha!?

Tour of Guangxi, Cyclists in Guilin

(Tour of Guangxi -  pictures from Internet)

Blog written by Robert Liu, January, 2020.