Zhao Huizhen, a Beijing resident who has worked as a civil servant next to Sanlihe Road for almost 25 years, never imagined that bicycles, which people used to ride to work every day, would actually become in-demand luxury items sought after by China’s nouveau riche.
From Ferrari to Lamborghini, bicycles now manufactured by some of the world’s first-class automakers are gradually gaining in popularity as industry experts have predicted a return to the bicycle since cars have experienced booming development in recent years.
During the 21st China and International Bicycle and Motor Fair in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province this May, UCC bicycles, which are made in Taiwan, sold out even though they cost 50,000 yuan ($7,730) each, according to the Beijing magazine Oriental Outlook.
Xie Jian is the eastern China director for the Qida Trade Corporation, which is the same company that sells Ferrari in China. He told the magazine that at least one Lamborghini bicycle, which costs 345,000 yuan ($5,334), the most expensive kind found in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, is sold every one or two months. A young Ferrari car owner came to him specifically to buy a Ferrari bicycle, which goes for 20,000 yuan ($3,092), Xia said.
As Zhao recalls, some 20 years ago here in the capital, when a traffic light would turn green at an intersection, rows of bicycles would swarm out into the street, and the scene would always look somewhat “grand.”
For people like Zhao, riding a bike back then was anything but a showcase of a person’s wealth.
“We never rode expensive bikes, most of our bikes cost just 100 or 200 yuan ($15.5 to $31), like the Shanghai brands Forever or Phoenix,” she told the Global Times.
China has long been referred to as the “kingdom of the bicycle” simply because of its large bicycling population. In 1979, the country produced over 10 million bicycles, which made it the largest bicycle manufacturer in the world at that time.
According to a report by Statistical Research, a magazine published under the statistical science research institution of the National Bureau of Statistics, the number of bicycles made in the country reached 44.74 million in 1995.
However, the number declined in the following years due to a drop in demand, which fell to only 20 million in 2000, said the report.
“It is a trend that the demand for the bicycle would strongly rebound 10 years after the great development of the auto industry. The US and Europe experienced this process ten years earlier than China, and we believe the high-end bicycles here have seen rapid development since 2010,” Zhou Jiannong, the manager of the Qida Trade Corporation said, adding that the annual increase of the total bicycle number might not exceed 10 percent, but the annual increase of high-end bikes has already seen an increase of 30 to 40 percent.
Zhou said that China’s luxury market needs to be stimulated since handbags, cosmetics, fashion, and cars have already been pursued for years.
He said that low carbon emissions and other environment protection concerns are no longer only slogans for the environmental organizations.
The image that successful wealthy people want to possess is essential, so a new style of luxury has been cultivated in China that goes along with environment and even animal protection concerns.
Return to nature
As a healthier lifestyle is being promoted, the bicycle has also become a tool that keeps people on the go.
Cyclists are now traveling further, as the bicycles of today are more functional, professional, and of course expensive.
Gui Hua, a 30-year-old riding enthusiast in Beijing, bikes over 100 kilometers a week.
Gui said that his variable-speed bicycle costs at least 4,000 yuan ($154.6), which is a basic-level price.
Wang Tianyu is a college senior in Xi’an, Northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, who heads the Qiji bicycle club at her university.
Wang told the Global Times that the club only had around 10 members in 2009 when it was first established, but now it boasts a membership of 200, where dozens of their members embark on weekly bicycle trips to places away from the city.
Wang Yun, a salesman at the Wanke bike shop in Beijing, said that most people who buy an expensive bike enjoy riding a bike more for sport rather than for transportation.
“Some families buy several sport bicycles here in order to take weekend journeys. They put their bikes on top of their cars, drive to a suburban area, and take them down to ride when they arrive.”