Among the first images I got from China, the thousands of Chinese workers riding bicycles is probably one of the most vivid of my teenage memories. In the 1970's, China was just waking up from the Cultural Revolution and was known in the world as the "Kingdom of bicycles" (自行车王国), representing 60% of the whole world production. Even after Mao's death in 1976, the dream of every family was "san zhuan yi xiang" (三转一响), meaning 3 spins and one sound, to describe a wrist watch, a sewing machine, a bicycle and a radio. In the 1980s, most workers had to pay the equivalent of four months salary to buy one bicycle, among which the 1936 founded brand and leader "Flying Pigeon" or the 1958 Shanghai based "Phoenix". Deng Xiaoping used to define prosperity as "A Flying Pigeon in every household". In 1995 China's fleet peaked at 670 million bicycles (430 today)!
When I got to Shanghai, I wanted to fulfill my vision of Chinese dream by buying me one of the local little queens, a way for me to get closer to Chinese daily life. Shanghai, however, like most big cities, had already fallen into the car era by the time I settled there. Electric bikes had been long preferred to bicycles by Chinese who could not afford a car. Still, I was happy to ride my first bike, a Phoenix, discovering every single corner of Shanghai on it. When waiting at the traffic lights, I enjoyed to see surprise on people's faces at the view of a Westerner riding this traditional Chinese model. Some of them dared to tell me they considered "bicycles are for poor people". Nothing could make me happier however than to overtake one of the pretentious Ferraris when those were stuck by traffic in the narrow roads of the Former French Concession. The next minute, I could disappear into the hazy atmosphere of a local Chinese market. Another source of satisfaction was to change every part of my bike for almost nothing and within a minute at my repair shop in a Shanghai lilong alley. Today, I guess only the frame is original!
However I remained a resistant in a mechanized urban landscape, until recently. Who could indeed anticipate the traffic revolution that started during the last six months in Shanghai. For those who carefully observed, there were a few signs of the coming changes. Official reports on the exploding number of cars in big cities, causing more and more accidents, worsening air pollution and blocking the traffic during peak hours started to come out. The Shanghai Police engaged a tougher policy regarding enforcement of traffic regulations. Bad car drivers were charged heavy fines and electric bikes who had made a habit of using car lines were no exception. One day, I was even surprised to see a bike hanging at two meters high in a tree and I immediately posted a photo on Internet, thinking this was a joke made by a group of friends. I discovered later, when my own bike was turned upside down, that this was a new clever (and humorous) way for the Shanghai Police to indicate that you locked in the wrong place!
Times had definitely started to change, I said to myself. A few months later, there was this message from a good friend in a hurry to join me for a drink (you probably remember that Hugues) who told me he used for the first time a "shared-bike", Mobike, to be on time. He commented on how easy it was to find a bike, localizing it the with his phone from its GPS chip and paying as little as one yuan for the ride. Since this episode, shared-bike services have literally invaded Shanghai, with an even fierce competition between renting companies like Mobike (orange), Ofo (yellow) and Xiaoming (blue), on the same model as Uber (Youbu) and Didi Dache in the field of shared-car service. We now see students and even old Shanghainese riding those colored bicycles all over the city, sending selfie photos on Wechat with their trendy (and very cheap) new means of transportation.
Shared bicycles have become very popular, changing dramatically the scene on Shanghai streets in such a short period of time. Mobike declares 100 000 shared bikes in Shanghai for the end of 2016, Xiaoming 400 000 in Shanghai and Guangzhou, Ofo 200 000 for the whole of China. I am suddenly and surprisingly not considered as a "poor Westerner", but on the contrary, a rare specimen of bike owner. Although I am sorry to tell I have no sewing machine nore wrist watch, I am now part of the new Chinese dream!