The Decline of Cycling in China.
In 2005 according to the song by Katie Melua, there are ‘nine million bicycles in Beijing' and 'that’s a fact.’ The title of one of her biggest hits was inspired by those words from her interpreter after a visit to the city.
China has long been associated as being the ‘kingdom of the bicycle’ although in recent years this has dropped as more and more people take to driving cars, motorbikes and even electric bicycles. In 1986 around 63 per cent of the Chinese population used the bicycle as their only mode of transport. By 2010 that figure had dropped to just 18 per cent.
The cultural figure of the Chinese bicycle is on the decline and although almost 30 million bicycles were sold in China during 2009, it was a large drop from the more than 40 million sold in the 12 months previous to that.
In some areas of the country it has been noticed how recreational cycling is popular in many developed countries and a group of students have begun a campaign to promote this activity within China’s busy cities. They are promoting ‘low carbon China’ to make the growing population aware of carbon emissions from city traffic as well as hoping more people take up cycling as a sport or active pastime as well as being effective in keeping fit.
Within many of China’s cities there is a growing need for cycle friendly routes to encourage the growth of cycling. The increase in motorized transport has led to an expansion in the road networks with many elevated highways crossing the cities as they expand and cycling these fast and busy roads is not a safe option.
After the success of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games a bicycle revival plan was initiated in Beijing with plans to increase the number of daily cycling commuters in the capital to 23 per cent by 2013. So far this campaign does not appear to be on track.
Another option that was initiated was the setting up of cycle hire facilities at railway stations to increase the use of the bicycle. The scheme set up in the eastern city of Hangzhou is very successful with rental bicycles operated all across the tourist city.
The first low carbon bicycle ride was held in 2010 with twelve cyclists covering 4,300 kilometres and visiting 125 cities to spread the word about cycling and its benefits to the individual and the environment. China is also hoping to emerge into the world of professional cycling racing hoping that will increase awareness of the bicycle.
Two of Asia’s premier cycling events are the Tour of Qinghai Lake and the Tour of Hainan Island, both are firmly established cycle races and attract some of Asia’s top riders. The Tour of China began in 2010 and organizers are hoping this event can become as big and successful in Asia as the Tour de France has been for that country. To date a Chinese cyclist has never won a major cycling event.