In Beijing, many times as I was folding the Brompton, crowds would gather to watch. Usually somebody knew enough English to ask me how much it cost. I lied and said $400. Some translational murmuring spread through the crowd like a shock wave: “too much!” I’d say “this is my car!” Incomprehension. “I don’t own a car, so $400 for a quality bicycle is not much.” They weren’t having any of it; imagine telling Americans that you spent $5,000 on a kite because you don’t have a fighter jet: that’s the picture. Meanwhile, I have little doubt that most bicyclists in those crowds will leap at the chance to make monthly payments on a car far exceeding the cost of their beastly bikes and trikes just as soon as willing creditors appear.
Let’s hope this Reuters story marks more than a blip: Urban young ride demand for bicycle innovation. I was talking with Xtracycle’s Kipchoge Spencer about how depressing it was to see China in such a rush to “develop” away from its huge and effective but punishingly crude bike and trike transportation fleet to cars. Where ever did they get the idea that bikes were backwards and cars were cool? Uh-huh. Kipchoge’s dream scenario is that quality practical bikes become so hip in “developed” countries that the majority of the world begins to see bikes as part of the good life, not a grim embarrassment to endure until cars can replace them.