In China, Are Bikes Going the Way of the Dodo?

Matthew Stevenson anticipates the end of the bicycle in China's major cities, now overrun with scooters and scrambling for Western status symbols – in spite of ever-worsening traffic.

In the midst of their near-overnight metamorphosis, cities in China are struggling to make sense of the tug-of-war between old and new ways of living. Increasingly, the experience of exploring these metropolises by bicycle is deeply emblematic of the older generation's losing battle.

Even just a few years ago, as Stevenson puts it, "Beijing was delightful by bike." But facing cultural pressures for status symbols and luxury, Chinese youth have lost their taste for the humble, utilitarian two-wheeler: "With a single gear and heavy steel frame, the [national standard model] is ideal for long rides on flat city streets. At a cost of US $180, it is the bike bargain of the world. Nevertheless, the dream for younger Chinese is a Honda scooter."

Riding a bicycle in Beijing still comes with certain privileges – dedicated lanes, exclusive rights-of-way, special parking spaces at train stations, and of course the convenience of being able to percolate through gridlocked traffic. But in an environment of ever more unenforceable traffic, cars and scooters encroach further and further on cyclists' territory, making cycling more nerve-wracking than delightful. Stevenson describes his observations during a recent tour through the capital:

"After a while, I had my eyes attuned to the demographics of bike riders. They tended to be school kids or the elderly. From this blacktop survey, I judged that middle-aged or prosperous Beijingers have little appetite for riding. Most were moving around on scooters, the kind that have clogged many Asian cities."

Full Story: The Beijing Bicycle: A Requiem

Comments

Book cover of the Guide to Graduate Planning Programs 4th Edition

Thinking about Grad School?

New! 4th Edition of the Planetizen Guide to Graduate Urban Planning Programs just released.
Starting at $24.95

Prepare for the AICP Exam

Join the thousands of students who have utilized the Planetizen AICP* Exam Preparation Class to prepare for the American Planning Association's AICP* exam.
Starting at $209
Wood necklace with city map

City Necklaces

These sweet pendants are engraved on a cedar charm with a mini map of selected cities. The perfect gift for friends and family or yourself!
$28.00

Stay thirsty, urbanists

These sturdy water bottles are eco-friendly and perfect for urbanists on the go.
$19.00