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Bicycles, China's Former Love, Get A Second Look

For years, it was common to see images of Chinese people riding bikes in massive packs, coursing along the streets of Beijing or other sprawling metropolises. Then, as the nation's economy took off, bicycles came to be seen as part of the country's past — and cars as a sign of its future.

That was the view of Ambassador Yu Qingtai, who for more than two years was China's "special representative for climate change negotiations." In a 2009 interview with The Nation republished here at NPR, Yu said, "We should not be expected to stay forever as a kingdom of bicycles!"

Indeed, a story published by Channel News Asia today paints a picture of how far the pendulum has swung in the other direction, saying of Beijing, "Once a cyclists' paradise, the Chinese capital is now better known for its snarled traffic jams and unbreathable air."

But the article also suggests that some Chinese citizens are now finding ways to avoid driving cars. In a trend that mirrors one here in the United States, more and more Chinese people are turning to cycling because they're fed up with traffic and hoping to get some exercise.

China's cycling culture reportedly got a boost from the 2008 Summer Olympics, held in Beijing. And the country's top track cyclist, Guo Shuang, competed in the women's sprint at this year's world championships in the Netherlands.

The sport/hobby may get another boost Wednesday, when some of the world's top road racers will ride in the five-day Tour of Beijing — part of the UCI World Tour, which also includes the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia.

The article states that Chinese bike businesses are thriving, too:

Trek China, the local outfit of US bike manufacturer Trek Bicycle Corp, expects to record sales of 100 million yuan ($15.6 million) this year, up from just two million yuan in 2006.

And it should be noted, Trek is still making inroads into China, where the market is dominated by Taiwan's Giant and China's domestic brands Flying Pigeon and Phoenix. In fact, Flying Pigeon models — the famous "city bikes" featuring black paint and a full chain guard — are now being imported for sale in the U.S., Trek's home market.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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