Bicycles have long been used for transportation in China. But recently, cycling - the activity or sport of riding a bicycle for exercise - has become popular among the country’s urban middle class. The popularity is, in part, a result of restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Chinese Cycling Association says at least 20 million people in the country participate in cycling. Qiyi, a Beijing cycling club, organized biking events that had about 10,000 participants over the past year.
The pandemic has played a part in cycling’s growing popularity as officials moved quickly to close some businesses, including gymnasiums - or places for exercise.
Cycling, which can be done individually as well as in groups, has largely been free from restrictions.
Lindsay Mo could not exercise indoors after Beijing officials closed gymnasiums in May because of a coronavirus outbreak. So she started cycling — and soon fell in love with the sport. “I realized a racing bicycle was quite different than a regular bike,” she said, adding, “It’s very fast and exciting...”
For cyclist Yang Lan, the sport also provides an escape from the daily difficulties of life. “With the pandemic ... it seems to be the only way for us to run away from the terrible city life ...” she said.
Cycling’s growth in China is a result of the growing popularity of outdoor activities in general, said Feng Baozhong, vice president of the Chinese Cycling Association.
“Especially after the pandemic, people have a desire to walk out of rooms and buildings to do sports outdoors,” Feng added.
Naturally, the growth in cycling has increased the demand for bicycles.
American bicycle brand Specialized says its Beijing stores’ sales rose 20 to 30 percent from March to June, compared to the same period a year earlier. The increase would have been twice as large if not for a shortage of bike products, said He Dong, who is in charge of the Beijing dealer of Specialized.
Zhou Fuyuan is the founder of Magic Cycling, an online bicycle information provider in China. Zhou said China’s bicycle market was a $12 to $15 billion industry in 2021. Research and Markets, a research group, estimates sales could reach $16.5 billion by 2026.
Increasing demand and worldwide supply chain problems mean that people wanting to buy bicycles must wait weeks or months to get one. For every Specialized bicycle sold in Beijing at least 10 customers are waiting for their bicycles to arrive, He said.
Some people choose to pay more for whatever bicycle is available. Joanna Lei spent $8,900 on her first racing bicycle. She said the money was better spent than on a luxury bag.
“What you are investing in is your own body and a very good workout habit,” she said. Lei added, “I think it’s more valuable than clothes that you wear or handbags that you use.”
People will have more choices for sports and entertainment when the pandemic is over. But Feng says he expects cycling to remain popular because it is driven by China’s growing wealth and people’s increased health concerns.
The sport’s popularity is also a sign of the public’s growing awareness of environmental protection.
“Such a lifestyle is probably healthier and is more beneficial to society,” Yang said. She added, “I think people now have a good sense of environmental protection and hope to do good for society.”
I’m Ashley Thompson.
John Russell adapted this story from an Associated Press report.
Words in This Story
urban – adj. : of or relating to cities and the people who live in them
participate – v. to be involved with others in doing something : to take part in an activity or event with others
bike – n. short for bicycle
luxury -- n. something that is expensive and not necessary
habit – n. a usual way of behaving : something that a person does often in a regular and repeated way
beneficial – adj. producing good or helpful results or effects : producing benefits