The following is a guest post by Randy – AlleyCat
The Shanghai Forever Co., Ltd was founded in 1940, and has established a world wide reputation for producing the Forever brand traditional bicycle. It is a State-run company, and has made significant contributions to Shanghai’s rolling populace of over 10 million bikes.
Giant Manufacturing Co. Ltd. (捷安特) is a big name in the word of cycling. It bills itself as the world’s largest bicycle manufacturer. Giant has manufacturing facilities in Taiwan, Netherlands and mainland China.
As the Chinese fall in love with cars, and westerners fall out of love with them – China is once again a winner. According to the Earth Policy Institute (a Washington-based environmental think tank) of the 130 million bikes manufactured worldwide last year, China made 90 million, and exported two-thirds of them. About nine out of ten bikes bought by Americans are made in China…
On top of that: around 120 million electronic bicycles are driving around in China. Ten years ago, there were only 50 000. The Chinese e-cycling industry was established under Mao in China in the 1960s. The early bicycles were not a success due to bad batteries. At the beginnings of a free market economy, many businesses emerged around e-cycling when public concern about the pollution of mopeds and scooters began to increase. In Chinese cities the e-bikes are considered a good alternative to the polluting motor scooters. But the environmentally-friendly bicycles have a big drawback: they are too quick, and they are too quiet. You hardly hear them arrive, leading to many unsafe situations in traffic, according to the Wall Street Journal. The increase of e-bikes also effected the number of victims of these ‘silent killers’. In 2007, 2.469 People died due to a collision with an electric bicycle, about 3% of the total number of deaths. A blogger on the Beijing News Web site complained: "these e-bike riders have no sense of awareness or respect for the law." Comments as such led to concern with the authorities. In Beijing and Fuzhou, the e-bike was forbidden in 2002. Yet in 2006, in Beijing this ban was lifted again. Now the industry itself is suggesting measures to bring a safer means of transport.
In 2008, Shanghai began testing a bike-sharing system. The programme was launched to coincide with World Car Free Day and is part of the city’s preparations to host the 2010 World Expo, whose theme is ‘Better City, Better Life’. If successful, the programme will be expanded to 800 stands outside metro station exits, and on 2,700 other sites in business and residential areas by 2012. To use the system, riders must pay a 200 yuan (29 dollars) deposit and are charged one to three yuan an hour on a progressive system designed to encourage short rents and quick turnover. The first half hour is free. The bicycles are being supplied by the Shanghai Forever Bicycle Company, one of Shanghai’s oldest bicycle brands. Shanghai-made Forever, Phoenix and Flying Pigeon brand bicycles used to dominate the city’s roads, but as China has become more affluent, cars have taken over. The city recently banned bicycles from travelling on select major roads to prevent them from slowing down motorists. However, the potential for bike-sharing in China is huge. According to People’s Daily Online, China "had more than 660 cities by the end of 2002 of which 10 had populations of more than 4 million each in the urban area; 23, between 2 and 4 million; 138, between 1 and 2 million; 279, between 500,000 and 1 million; 171, between 200,000 and 500,000; and 39, less than 200,000." Cities with all these sizes, as well as those smaller than 200,000 residents, are capable of supporting bike-sharing. So with 660 cities plus likely a few more since 2002, governments have a clean slate to implement programs in a country that is known for once having one of, if not THE world’s greatest cycle culture.
The problems we are facing nowadays are enormous and there are no simple solutions. Yet one of the questions which Earth’s climate may very well depend on is: can China bring back it’s former glory as being a leader in bicycle use?
Ai Weiwei (艾未未) is a Chinese conceptual artist, dubbed an ‘agent provocateur of contemporary Chinese art’. Born in 1957, he was raised in a labour camp in China’s remote northwestern region of Xinjiang, his family having been exiled there from Beijing after his father was denounced ‘an enemy of the state’. Ai’s father was a poet, and he himself clearly follows in the footsteps of the tormented artist, sculpting with wires as opposed to words. ‘Forever’ Bicycles, 2003 is formed from 42 conjoined Chinese bicycles. But these are no ordinary Chinese bicycles. These bicycles are meant to stay. They are ‘Forever bicycles’…