China’s engine of prosperity forsakes the bicycle

Cyclists in Beijing (photo taken last week) still manage to find their way among cars. More electric bikes are sold in China than anywhere else. But donkey carts are banned. Photo courtesy of Kim Farrell.

Cyclists in Beijing (photo taken last week) still manage to find their way among cars. More electric bikes are sold in China than anywhere else. But donkey carts are banned. Photo courtesy of Kim Farrell.


In the mid-1980s when bike shop owner Bud Hoffacker visited China he said he was nearly run over by bikes. Thousands of bikes, tens of thousands, millions. More bikes than you could imagine plied the streets of Beijing and other mega-cities in this ancient civilization that has weathered more than its share of change.

Today Beijing is choked with cars. Traffic jams can last for days! Smog is so bad in some cities you need a compass to navigate. Bikes have been banned from many streets to make way for cars.

But that may be changing. China is at a tipping point in its rush to embrace all things modern. The Atlantic takes an intriguing look at what’s happening in China as it relates to bikes. The news isn’t all bad. Millions still ride bikes to work and to run errands. Even with all the car traffic, bikes are way more prevalent in their streets than ours. I’ve been criss-crossing Silicon Valley for decades and I rarely see other bikes in any numbers.

Bike share programs are catching on in China. They have enough potential users that bike sharing makes sense. Bike sharing has been tried here with some success in cities already big on bikes, but has failed elsewhere. It’s going to take more than a toe in the water to bring Americans into the fold.

In China there are glimmers of hope as youth see the bike as chic, cool, the in thing to do. I see it among some youth here, especially with the fixy crowd. It may be that economics plays a bigger role in the years ahead as easy dollars fade away in our uncertain future. Whatever the outcome, more people riding bikes will be good for our world, good for the heart, good for the spirit. And for that reason I remain hopeful.

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