Cycling enthusiasm sweeps China’s cities

As spring and summer roll around, outdoor activities are in full swing and cycling has taken the lead as one of the favorite pastimes. 

A “cycling craze” is sweeping through China, with more people embracing this green, healthy mode of transportation. 

Cyclists from China and other countries ride bikes in Zhoushan, East China's Zhejiang Province. Photos: VCG

Cyclists from China and other countries ride bikes in Zhoushan, East China’s Zhejiang Province. Photo: VCG

In the scenic city of Hangzhou, East China’s Zhejiang Province, Li Yuan, who was never much of a sports enthusiast, found herself inspired after her hometown hosted the Asian Games in 2023. 

Feeling a newfound motivation to get active, she chose to start cycling around the Asian Games Park near her home. 

“The enthusiasm for fitness has definitely increased after the Asian Games,” Li told the Global Times. “Although I usually cycle around the park due to work constraints and a reluctance to venture too far alone, I often meet many fellow cyclists along the way.”

This sense of community and shared purpose is not limited to Hangzhou. 

In Chengdu, Southwest China’s Sichuan Province, the extensive Tianfu Greenway, stretching over 100 kilometers surrounding the city, has become a haven for cyclists.

This network of paths not only offers a scenic route for leisurely rides, but has also become a practical alternative for daily commuting. 

Liao Hongying, a cyclist in Chengdu, told the Global Times that she had to choose midnight to enjoy cycling as she wants to avoid the crowd on the greenway.

“In the daytime, it is extremely crowded on the greenway as more and more people exercise there,” Liao said. 

Liao noted that some cyclists have even sidelined their cars in favor of the two-wheeled option. To avoid congestion, many enthusiasts opt for nighttime rides, enjoying the tranquility of the greenway under the stars.

“I understand it may sound very nerdy to ride at midnight, but as temperatures grow higher toward the summer, riding a bike at night can cool one off,” Liao said. 

“There’s a sense of freedom and peace when you ride at night. The world seems to slow down, and you feel connected to everything around you,” she added.

Liao has set her sights on a long-distance journey: riding from central Chengdu to suburb Dujiangyan, a 140-kilometer ride. 

The capital Beijing also has its cycling hot spots. One notable destination is the iconic New Shougang Bridge, located about 25 kilometers west of the Tian’anmen Square. 

“Every weekend, cyclists from the city center embark on a journey to the bridge, capturing photos and creating lasting memories,” frequent weekend cycler Qian Cheng told the Global Times. “This blend of exercise and exploration has enriched many lives.”

In April, four university students made headlines by embarking on an arduous ride from the Liangxiang campus of the Beijing Institute of Technology to the iconic Tianjin Eye ferris wheel in Beijing’s neighboring metropolis Tianjin. Their trip took nearly 10.5 hours, covering 125.5 kilometers. 

Growing business

The surge in popularity of cycling has also driven up bicycle sales. 

According to the latest data from the China Bicycle Association, in 2023, the production of bicycles priced over 1,000 yuan ($138) reached 12.15 million units, marking a 15.1 percent increase year-on-year. Retailers and manufacturers are seizing this opportunity, offering a wide array of bicycles and accessories. 

From mountain bikes and road bikes to electric bikes, the market caters to a diverse range of needs and preferences. High-tech gear, such as GPS-enabled helmets and smart locks, is also becoming increasingly popular, enhancing the overall cycling experience.

The cycling craze also benefited outdoor gear industry, as outdoor clothing firm Beneunder attributed cycling to one of the major reasons for its recent increase in sales.

Safety first

While the cycling boom is largely positive, it does come with challenges as safety remains a paramount concern. 

“Proper attire is essential; helmets, goggles, and sunscreen are nonnegotiable to prevent sunstroke and injuries,” Qian told the Global Times. “It is also mandatory to keep regular maintenance checks on bicycles to ensure a smooth and safe ride.” 

Additionally, adhering to traffic regulations is crucial. 

Qian advises cyclists to stick to bike lanes and, whenever possible, to ride in groups and ensure mutual support in case of emergencies.

“The cycling craze in China is more than a fleeting trend, it signifies a shift toward a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle,” Mao Jiale, a Chengdu-based sports commentator, told the Global Times. 

People ride around and enjoy the beautiful flowers in the Mingjingdang Water Conservancy Scenic Spot in Kunshan, East China's Jiangsu Province, on May 18, 2024.Photo: VCG

People ride around and enjoy the beautiful flowers in the Mingjingdang Water Conservancy Scenic Spot in Kunshan, East China’s Jiangsu Province, on May 18, 2024.Photo: VCG

‘More than exercise’

Liao believed that cycling has offered her an opportunity to increase her fitness as well as a new way to explore the country. 

“Cycling is an excellent form of cardiovascular exercise that strengthens the heart, lungs, and muscles. It also promotes mental well-being, and reduces stress and anxiety, which makes me feel at peace,” Liao told the Global Times.

“Cycling allows me to connect with nature and experience the beauty of China in a unique way,” she said, recalling her riding experience on the ancient city walls of Xi’an [in Sichuan’s neighboring province Shaanxi] and cycling through the terraced rice fields in south Sichuan, each journey leaves me with memories that will last for a lifetime.”

Events like group rides, cycling marathons, and bike festivals have become commonplace thanks to the recent cycling craze, fostering a sense of community among enthusiasts. 

Meanwhile, social media platforms are abuzz with cycling stories, tips, and experiences, further fueling the craze.

Li’s story in Hangzhou is a microcosm of this broader cultural shift. 

The Asian Games may have sparked her interest, but it is the daily interactions with fellow cyclists and the shared sense of purpose that keep her motivated. 

“It’s more than just exercise; it’s a lifestyle,” Li said. “The friendship among cyclists is incredible. We share tips, routes, and sometimes even meals. It’s like being part of a big family.”