Trying to Save Beijing's Iconic Bikes

Debra Bruno laments the "de-bikification" of Beijing and profiles the efforts of one NGO to stem the tide.
April 9, 2012, 1pm PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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The rise in China's living standards and its attendant car culture, have brought a precipitous decline in bicycle use. This transformation can be acutely felt in Beijing, a city once renowned for streets clogged with bicycles, where their use has dropped from about 60 percent in 1986 to 17 percent in 2010.

As cars become symbols of newfound status, bicycle riding has acquired an ignoble reputation. "To many Chinese, bikes are now for losers. The iconic Beijing bicycle is a sorry one-gear affair with a metal basket on the front which breaks so regularly that every street corner seems to have a makeshift fix-it stand," writes Bruno.

Enter Shannon Bufton, the Australian-born founder of an NGO called Smarter Than Car, which is trying to revive the lowly bicycle's reputation by fostering a hip bike culture in the city.

"Bufton's solution? Transform the bicycle into a luxury item, like the Chanel bag, the Gucci shoes, and the Maserati car. That way, the Chinese would want to own and ride them to show they've reached the middle class."

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Published on Monday, April 9, 2012 in The Atlantic Cities
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