Beijing: Kites and jets

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.

  1. Arrival
  2. Gay shepherds
  3. The controller shop
  4. The motor shop
  5. Kites and jets
  6. Hutong
  7. Zombies, animatrons, and the UNICEF guard
  8. Tiananmen Square demonstration
  9. Getting lost and getting home

4 thoughts on “Beijing: Kites and jets”

  • Caroline

    I like your kite:bike analogy when it comes to relative cost. I wrote about what I’ve spent on cycling since I sold my car on my blog, and the figures shocked me. I just had to remind myself, “This is my car!”

    As passionate and happy a cyclist as I try to come across to puzzled drivers, I know I haven’t created one convert yet. In fact, more and more I forget about the “costs” of cars and fantasize about owning one again.


  • Martina

    It’s the ex-smoker thing…you are always just a thought away from your next cigarette. As a person who only co-owned an old Mazda truck for 6 month of her life I sometimes lust after driving a car…but don’t forget the bike is not the only way to get places, take a bus or train for a change or spring for a cab as a treat.

    PS: Cab sounds weird in this connection — 2 tons of steel driven by one person to transport another person…I wish there would be more Rikshas!!

  • Ted Howard

    As a kiteflier/xtracyclist I liked the kite;bike too!
    Just explain the ramifications of peak oil, bio-diversity collapse, climate change, etc, and
    folks will come around to seeing that bikes are appropriate and great,…..and I don’t need to pay an annual
    road registration/license fee or get a 6 monthly warrant of fitness, or pay extra insurance,
    or squeal at the climbing petrol prices at the pumps, and I stay fit, and……

    Ted Howard
    Nelson New Zealand

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