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Hot pursuit

Cycling as a sport becomes big business in China as industry opens up to increasingly affluent consumers

P1 bikes

October 16-22, 2017
By KARL WILSON
in Sydney
karlwilson@chinadailyapac.com

As the world’s top cyclists descend on South China for the inaugural Tour of Guangxi, there are hopes riding on the event that it will lift the sport’s prestige in a country where bicycles are making a comeback.

Sanctioned by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the Swiss-based world governing body for sports cycling, the six-day race, from Oct 19 to 24, will take riders through some of the most spectacular scenery in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.

Organizers hope that in time, the Tour of Guangxi will become as popular as the iconic Tour de France.

The UCI and Wanda Sports, the sports arm of Chinese conglomerate Wanda Group, are banking on the tour to spark a new passion for the sport in China.

Late last year, the UCI and Wanda Sports announced a groundbreaking agreement aimed at developing elite and grassroots cycling across various disciplines throughout China.

Despite having one of the highest concentrations of bikes in the world, cycling as a sport has only started to gain traction in China, especially among the new middle class.

Cyclists in the 2016 Tour of China I race in Zhuhai, Guangdong province. Credit: Artur Widak / Nur Photo

Although China may not have a household name associated with the sport yet, it does have Ji Cheng — the first Chinese rider to compete in the Tour de France. Ji participated in 2014 with team Giant-Shimano.

Born in 1987 in the northeastern Heilongjiang province, Ji has participated in most major world races, including five Grand Tours.

While competing in Australia’s Tour Down Under last year, Ji told reporters he would retire from competitive racing and help to develop the sport at home.

“I’d like to give the talented 15- or 16-year-olds a chance to reach the pro level,” he said. “I’ve always said there are more talented cyclists than me in China, especially younger ones.”

It is this talent that the UCI and Wanda Sports want to nurture in the coming years.

“This partnership with Wanda Sports will provide a huge boost to cycling in China,” a spokesman for the UCI told China Daily Asia Weekly.

Pivotal to that partnership will be the development of a cycling center to mirror the UCI’s World Cycling Centre in Aigle, Switzerland.

Opened in 2002, the Swiss center is an elite coaching and training hub that provides support to developing nations from all around the world, the UCI spokesman said.

It offers training and development for around 100 cyclists every year in all Olympic disciplines — road, track, BMX and mountain bike — as well as para-cycling and cyclo-cross.

More than 1,000 trainees from over 100 countries have participated in training programs at the Swiss center.

These include Guo Shuang of China, winner of four Olympic medals and nine UCI World Championship medals; Stefany Hernandez of Venezuela, an Olympic BMX bronze medallist; and Daniel Teklehaimanot from Eritrea, the first black African rider to wear the polka-dot jersey for “best climber” in the Tour de France, in 2015.

“The opening of a satellite center in China, where promising athletes will be supported and funded by Wanda Sports, represents an enormous boost to cycling,” the UCI spokesman said.

A recent survey by consultancy Nielsen Sports showed cycling as a sport is starting to take off in China. According to the survey, interest in cycling in the Chinese mainland jumped from 19 percent in 2013 to 25 percent today.

Of all the markets measured, the biggest rise was in Hong Kong, where interest in cycling grew from 39 percent to 48 percent. Japan came in second, rising from 14 percent to 21 percent and the Chinese mainland’s growth ranked third.

The sport is quickly gathering pace throughout Asia as the middle class grows.

Claude Ringuet, managing director for Nielsen Sports in China and Southeast Asia, said that while cycling becomes more popular in China, it does need a “national hero”.

“Look at tennis in China. Until Li Na came along it wasn’t all that popular a sport. Today it is,” Ringuet told China Daily Asia Weekly.

Although now retired, Li captured headlines when she achieved a career ranking of world No 2 on the Women’s Tennis Association Tour in 2014.

Another Chinese hero is basketball player Yao Ming, who made a name for himself in the National Basketball Association, or NBA, in the United States. Now retired, his fame made him a sporting icon.

There has never been a major push to promote cycling as a sport in China until now. Showcasing Tour de France-style events may open the door to a sport that can generate billions of dollars.

Analysts say China’s expanding middle class means that cars are replacing the bicycle for many — but an increase in wealth and leisure time means the idea of cycling for sport is catching on.

In Japan, criterium or circuit racing events attract crowds of up to 200,000 people. Organizers are hoping to repeat that in Shanghai.

China has already provided some world champions in track disciplines. The women’s sprint team of Gong Jinjie and Zhong Tianshi set a new world record and first-ever gold medal for China in cycling at the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil.

China is still at the beginning of the journey in terms of structure and finding talent, but the long-term ambition is to have a Chinese rider crossing the finish line on the Champs Elysees in the coveted yellow jersey.

The upsurge in cycling is not only confined to China. The sport is quickly gathering pace throughout Asia as the middle class grows.

“The middle class has arrived in Asia, and with it significant disposable income,” said Ringuet from Nielsen Sports. “Some now even have more than enough (cash) to throw on the roads of Asia and hit the streets on road bikes and the trails on serious mountain bikes.

“As recently as a decade ago, for example, you would not have seen people riding around cities like Singapore, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur with the full cycling kit and a bike worth upwards of between S$10,000 ($7,400) and S$30,000.”

Marcus John, CEO of Sports Capital Advisors, a private equity advisory business focused on sports and entertainment investment in Singapore, said: “Cycling as a sport here in Asia is coming from a low base. It needs to be promoted and it needs local heroes.”

Bike ownership in China has reached 600 million and the country is widely regarded as having huge growth potential for both recreational and competitive cycling.

The world’s most populous country also has 10 million active cycling fans, 20,000 cycling clubs, 100 cycling events and 15,000 bike stores, according to the UCI.

Top online media platform players like Tencent and LeEco are competing for premium international sports rights.

Additionally, the size of the Chinese cycling sports market is valued at $1.5 billion, with the industry expecting to reach a growth rate of 20 percent by 2023.

“The innovative new concept is designed to inspire a whole new generation of urban cycling fans,” said Wanda Sports in a statement.

Brian Cookson, former president of the UCI, said last December that the body’s main role is to “grow and develop cycling globally” and “China provides us with a wonderful opportunity to engage with literally hundreds of millions more people”.

Wang Jianlin, chairman of Dalian Wanda Group, said: “We know that China has a tremendous potential in cycling and we are proud that Wanda Sports will be instrumental in realizing that potential, with the support of great partners.”

Much of this push for greater participation in sport, including cycling, comes from the government’s plan to develop the sports industry and raise the sector’s annual output to 5 trillion yuan ($760 billion) by 2025.

A host of new facilities and initiatives are under way to help increase participation and create fans who engage in the sport.

Technology is central to the growth opportunity for both domestic and international rights holders and brands. China’s media landscape is transforming rapidly to address this opportunity.

Indeed, the country is leading the way in over-the-top technology — apps and services delivered via the Internet — and the integration of big data.

Several top online media platform players like Tencent and LeEco are competing for premium international sports rights to build subscriber and audience bases, according to Ringuet.

“But even in a market with over 400 million sports fans where such huge opportunities for growth beckon for sports such as cycling, the fundamentals are still vital: Accurate valuation of property rights and then real measurement of the value being created through sponsorship and investment by brands, in all its forms,” Ringuet said.

It is also essential that those in the sports industry have “a real understanding of the Chinese market”, he added.

Such areas include “the continued rise of the middle class and their consumption habits, the way the country is structured and the wide divergence between its cities and the unique opportunities that the different tiers present”, he said.

Pedaling back to the future Bike-sharing platforms offer commuters a green and efficient way to travel around Asia’s congested cities

October 16-22, 2017
By KARL WILSON
 in Sydney
karlwilson@chinadailyapac.com

In what is perhaps an ironic twist to China’s social and economic development, the humble bicycle is making a comeback and is doing so in a big way.

Over the past two years, bike sharing has exploded across China — through entrepreneurs such as Dai Wei who turned $20,000 into a multibillion-dollar business, ofo.

His firm takes its name from the notion that the word looks like a bicycle — and today more than three million of the bright yellow ofo machines can be found in cities around China, Singapore and London.

Ofo hopes to have its bikes on the streets of at least 20 countries by the end of this year.

Just 20 years ago, bicycles still dominated the streets of China. But with its new affluence and rising middle class, the bike gave way to cars and all the problems such as gridlock and pollution that came with them.

Now, many Chinese are going back to the future: They are renting bikes to go to work or just to do the daily shopping.

The concept has taken off in Singapore, too, and is slowly starting to make its presence felt in Australia.

All you need is a smartphone, to download an app, open an account and start pedaling.

Some companies provide docking stations where the rider can leave the bike after using it. Dockless programs use GPS so customers can locate nearby bikes.

However, many people, on reaching their destination, tend to simply dump the bikes, without regard for pedestrians using the footpaths or for people in wheelchairs. As a result, local governments have started impounding the dumped bikes.

A worker checks ofo bicycle frames in Handan, North China’s Hebei province, on April 13. Credit: AFP

There has been a major shift back to bicycles for transport in a number of Asian countries, not only China, said Marcus John, who runs Sports Capital Advisors, a Singapore-based private equity advisory business focused on sports and entertainment investment.

He said that while the sharing model is basically a good idea, too many operators in one place can create a problem of “where to park the bikes”.

“Bike sharing is still a relatively new concept in Asia. Even so, there is a lot of equity going into these companies,” John said.

In Singapore, there are three bike-sharing companies — oBike, ofo and Mobike.

A spokesperson for Mobike in Singapore said the company does not have specific locations for its bikes, and added: “Customers simply check the bike icon on their phones to find a bike and leave it at their destination.”

The spokesperson declined to comment on the company’s expansion plans.

In July, ofo raised over $700 million in funding led by Alibaba Group, Hony Capital and CITIC Private Equity, according to Singapore newspaper The Business Times.

“This is said to be the largest sum raised in the bike-sharing industry to date, fueling an already costly war,” the report said.

Ofo has said that by the end of this year it plans to have more than 20 million of its distinctive yellow bikes in 200 cities in over 20 countries around the world.

Apart from China, the company now serves four overseas markets — Singapore, the United States, the United Kingdom and Kazakhstan — and announced on July 31 that it was adding Thailand.

On Aug 1 the company put more than 6,000 bikes in Bangkok following a successful trial.

“Thailand has a population of nearly 70 million and traffic jams have become a big headache in cities like Bangkok and Chiang Mai,” said Cao Xiao, head of ofo’s Asia-Pacific department, in a report from Xinhua News Agency.

“By offering Thailand users a customized service, we hope the transport system in major Thailand cities can be improved with our shared bikes in the near future.”

Ofo expects the number of users this year to exceed 61 million.

China-based Mobike plans to expand into Italy, its fourth overseas market following Singapore, the UK and Japan.

Since 2015, Mobike has raised $925 million in venture capital and counts Singapore state-owned investment company Temasek and China Internet services giant Tencent among its investors.

According to global company Research and Markets, the sharing economy, including bicycle sharing, has flourished in China along with the spread of smartphones and a surge in mobile users.

“As an important part of (the) urban slow/shared transport system, the bicycle-sharing industry, characterized by being green, convenient and efficient, economical and environment-friendly, has boomed,” the research company said in its China Bicycle Sharing Industry Report, 2017-2021.

The report said that last year saw 20.3 million users of bike-sharing services in China, with an “operation market” across the country of 1.15 billion yuan ($176 million).

The company expects the number of users this year to exceed 61 million and the operation market to reach 8.86 billion yuan.

“The figures will hit 198 million and RMB 29.05 billion (respectively) in 2021,” the report predicted.

“A booming market brings fierce competition. No less than 30 operators have plunged into the industry since the second half of 2016, according to incomplete statistics.”

In the Australian state of Victoria, Singapore-based oBike has begun a pilot bike-sharing program in the city of Melbourne.

Launched in April this year, oBike already operates in Malaysia and Taiwan, and has plans to expand across Southeast Asia.

A spokesperson for the company said it was not concerned about the competition in Singapore’s booming bike-sharing market, saying oBike had the advantage of being a local company with local knowledge. The spokesperson would not comment on the company’s future plans.

Chris Robb, an independent analyst, said bike sharing is an interesting concept.

“I was in Singapore a couple of weeks ago and was amazed by how many bikes were literally dumped all over the place. People getting off bikes outside of office buildings and just leaving them,” he said.

“I think there has to be some sort of reality check.”

Singapore media have reported bikes ending up in canals, and in June a teenager was arrested for allegedly throwing one from an apartment block.

Perhaps, not surprisingly, not everyone in Singapore is happy about bike sharing. Already the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has begun to crack down on dumped bikes, impounding over 600 since the start of the operation in July.

In parliament, on July 3, Senior Minister of State for Health and Transport Lam Pin Min said bike-sharing firms will have to moderate the growth of their fleets, according to a report in The Straits Times.

According to the LTA, Singapore’s three bike-sharing operators have 30,000 bikes between them.

The government, with the cooperation of the bike-sharing companies, is busy setting up bike zones where people can leave the bikes when finished with them.

The dumping problem has not been restricted to footpaths and open spaces. Singapore media have reported bikes ending up in canals, and in June a teenager was arrested for allegedly throwing one from an apartment block.

The bike-sharing companies are also examining their operations.

“These companies have good business models and employ very few staff,” said one analyst, who asked not to be named. “Their business model is driven by social media.

“Already cities like London have many bike-share companies. It provides an easy way to get around the city rather than being caught up in a traffic jam,” the analyst said.

“There is a question mark over the health aspect of riding a bike in cities full of cars and road-level air pollution — but that doesn’t seem to bother the users.”

Shared bikes change lives and cities Investor-funded ofo’s dockless system is attractive to planners because it costs governments nothing and is cheap for users

October 16-22, 2017
By DAVID BLAIR
davidblair@chinadaily.com.cn

It took 1,000 years for paper to reach Europe after it was invented in China around 150 AD. Fortunately, the rest of the world has not had to wait so long to use the dockless shared bicycle systems that are creating new transportation options in China’s cities.

After starting at Peking University (PKU) in 2014, ofo is already operating in eight countries — the United States, the United Kingdom, Kazakhstan, Japan, Malaysia, Austria, Singapore and Thailand — and it plans to be in 20 by the end of the year.

Zhang Yanqi, chief operating officer at ofo, said: “Going abroad has been ofo’s vision from day one. Internationalization allows us to turn our brand from a China brand to a global brand. We also get a competitive advantage because we can attract global talent and see a lot of technologies around the world.”

Customers of dockless bike-sharing platforms use GPS to find the nearest bicycle.

People use ofo bikes in the US city of Seattle. Photos provided to China Daily

Asked why China was the first to develop dockless shared bikes, he replied: “In China, we have this huge problem of congestion and pollution. That is where the founding team at PKU started. China still has plenty of bike lanes, so city planners can save money by encouraging people to bike. Five or 10 years ago, China was still the kingdom of the bicycle, so we still have a culture of biking.”

He added: “China has world-class bike manufacturers in terms of quantity and quality. Also, China’s Internet startups have been booming in the past five years. So, both manufacturing expertise and software innovation is available.”

Ofo has partnered with singer Rihanna and the Clara Lionel Foundation in a program to give bikes to girls in poor rural areas of the central African country of Malawi, where only 8 percent of girls finish secondary school. For them, getting to school has been a long and sometimes dangerous trip. Now, ofo’s donated bikes are changing their lives by giving them educational opportunities.

Joseph Seal-Driver, ofo’s UK operations director, discussed how the system has been adapted for local conditions in London’s Hackney area, where ofo launched recently.

“We have been engaging with the relevant authorities in London, including the mayor’s office and the Greater London Authority, as well as Transport for London,” he said.

“We have been encouraged by their openness to innovative ideas to help tackle some of London’s perennial transport problems, like congestion and air pollution. We are always in full consultation with the local government wherever we go and constantly responding to the needs and concerns of the local community.”

How do people get from their home or office to mass transit stations or to nearby stores? Zhang stressed that the core capability of ofo is to solve this last-mile problem, which exists everywhere in the world.

The problem can be expensive both for individuals and governments. Zhang noted that Brazilians on average spend 30 percent of their household income on transportation. In the US, lower-income households spend 16 percent and middle-income people spend 11 percent.

Ofo is attractive to planners because it costs the government nothing and it is cheap for users. The company is completely privately funded by investors.

Children ride donated ofo bikes to school in Salima district, in Salima City, Malawi in August.

Dai Wei, ofo’s CEO, has said the company will break even in 2017 and be profitable in 2018, with almost all of its revenue coming from the small fee people pay each time they use the bike. Most tech startups take much longer to become profitable.

Zhang said there is a lot more room to expand cycling. He noted that in Amsterdam, 30 percent of trips are taken by bike, but in nearby Paris only 3 percent are.

The docked bike share system that Paris pioneered, called Velib, did not dramatically increase bike riding. But, because dockless shared bikes solve the last-mile problem, they have the capability to transform cities.

The city of Manchester in northern England recently appointed former cycling world champion Chris Boardman as its “walking and cycling czar”, aiming to improve the safety of the city and to move away from its car-dependent infrastructure. Boardman is often seen riding a bike from ofo’s competitor Mobike, which launched there in August.

Seal-Driver said: “We are reshaping how we travel in cities. Bike sharing has the potential to make cycling more accessible for the whole community and make traveling in cities greener, quicker, and more fun. Ofo can help solve some of the perennial transport problems, such as congestion and pollution.”

Zhang emphasized that the product is “accessible, reliable, and affordable”.

Healthy hobby brings bike fans together Messaging apps make it even easier for lovers of cycling to meet with like-minded enthusiasts

October 16-22, 2017
By YAN DONGJIE

yandongjie@chinadaily.com.cn

In Beijing’s heavy traffic, Lin Hongcheng traveled 10 kilometers to meet friends in less than half an hour. Instead of taking a taxi or bus, he rode his 80,000 yuan ($13,000) bike.

After living in Japan for most of the past 23 years, Lin came back to China with his family three years ago. Now he is a graduate student at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences — and a lover of road bikes.

As a hobby and a way of exercising, cycling is not as popular in China as it is in Europe or the United States. Only a few thousand people are active in about 10 online cycling groups, according to Lin.

In Beijing, people use the messaging app WeChat to find like-minded bike lovers, regardless of age or gender. Lin said his life has become more fulfilling because of the friends he has made.

Cyclists gather before a riding event in Beijing. Photo provided to China Daily

For example, his friend Tian Changqing is also a road bike lover. He is 64 years old, and if it weren’t for cycling they might never have become friends.

Tian has diabetes and 10 years ago was in bad shape. He has a picture of himself from that time — lying in bed with a straggly beard, eyes half closed, receiving an intravenous drip.

“I had to take almost 10 types of pills every day and had to inject insulin to survive,” Tian said.

Thankfully, he discovered road biking. At first, he could barely manage 10 kilometers per day, but now he bikes around China with friends. He not only improved his health but now enjoys life much more.

Tian said he has cycled 160,000 kilometers in total, reaching areas such as Southwest China’s Yunnan province and Tibet autonomous region, South China’s Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, and Heilongjiang province in the northeast. “I will go farther and farther,” he said.

People have reasons to love cycling, but some also have reasons for not doing it.

“School schedules are tight in China and homework can be stressful for the kids. Parents don’t often support their kids’ hobbies, thinking they are a waste of time,” Lin said.

Chang’an Avenue, a major thoroughfare in Beijing that runs east-to-west between Tian’anmen Square and the Forbidden City, is a popular street for road bike lovers. A wide bike lane goes 12 kilometers through the heart of the city.

Lin said people regularly meet at one end of the path for a group ride.

“I often go at about 7:30 pm, because it’s cooler and the traffic is better,” he said. However, Lin, who rides about 400 kilometers per month, said he and his friends now prefer the separated bike paths near Olympic Park, in the northern part of the city.

Some skilled cyclists like to go fast. Lin said he can ride at 40 km/h in a protected lane and has reached a top speed of 60 km/h on flat routes, which is hard to do in the city.

“The bike lane on Chang’an Avenue is truly wide and flat. However, there are too many tourists who bike slowly without respecting the rules and sometimes even stop for pictures,” Lin said, adding that it can be dangerous for high-speed riding. Scooters and cars on side roads can also be hazards.

In group chats, people share news about riders getting injured, and sometimes killed, when cycling on the street. In early August, a rider shared a video in which a young man on a bike was knocked over and killed by a car. Group chat members mourned the unknown man and raised the safety issue again.

“It seems like car drivers are not aware of how fragile we riders are, so it’s important for us to improve the safety consciousness of drivers and protect ourselves and our bikes,” Lin said.

Keeping their hands on the wheel Specially adapted cycles help paraplegics conquer athletic challenges and improve confidence

October 16-22, 2017
By DAVID BLAIR
and YAN DONGJIE

Riding a bike from the city of Xishuangbanna, in Southwest China’s Yunnan province, on the border with Laos, to Beijing, 5,800 kilometers away, is quite a challenge.

Even more so when doing it without the use of your legs.

Wang Feng and Pan Yifei from China, along with with Domonic Corridan and Josh Dominick from the United States, left Xishuangbanna in April and arrived in Beijing 106 days later. Except for Dominick, they are paraplegics — they cannot use their lower bodies. They rode hand cycles — tricycles propelled entirely by hand-powered cranks.

Wang, who is from Zaozhuang in East China’s Shandong province, developed acute myelitis, an infection of the spinal cord, when he was 15 years old.

He has been paraplegic ever since, but that has not stopped him getting on with his life. He works as a baby masseuse and has proved he can accomplish things few fully able people dare.

“The trip from Xishuangbanna to Beijing was my longest ride and my biggest challenge ever. Finishing it gave me more confidence, as well as a better-built body. I won the 5,800 km, and won myself,” he said.

“For me, the biggest meaning is that I came to know that nothing could beat me down. This is a milestone in my life. It’s encouraging and exciting to know that I can travel far, like normal people. I made it, and made my life.”

Wang Feng and Domonic Corridan en route from Xishuangbanna, near the Laos border in Southwest China, to Beijing. Provided to China Daily

Pan Yifei was injured in 2015 in a car crash in the mountains near the Great Wall in Beijing. He can feel nothing below chest level. But he has always been optimistic. When telling his story, he talks with hands waving, as if the incident was a normal part of his life.

On the third day after leaving Xishuangbanna, coming down a mountain in the rain, his trike turned over and he flipped several times. He was stopped from sailing off a cliff only because he hit an abandoned truck. His right arm had a deep gash and he had to be taken to a hospital.

But Pan did not entirely give up, and he followed the group in a van all the way to Beijing. He said: “I hope more disabled people can come out of their rooms and overcome obstacles — not only physical but also in their hearts — and live a normal life.”

Dominick is an able-bodied American who has lived in China for 16 years. He became interested in helping people with disabilities after meeting his friend and fellow rider Corridan. Four years ago, he set up a group, Krankin Thru China, to introduce hand cycles to disabled people.

The group does not just focus on epic adventures. It often meets in Beijing to allow local people with disabilities to learn about hand cycling.

On a recent afternoon, near Olympic Forest Park, two women, Lyu Xianglan and Guan Shilian, had huge smiles as they took their first hand cycle rides.

Guan, who had polio, said: “It’s my first time experiencing this kind of bike. I never rode a bike before — never even walked like a normal person. It feels great when I can move in the direction that I want to go and make my own way.”

Dominick said he is hoping to develop a variety of adaptive sports that can be enjoyed by all people with disabilities. For example, he and Pan were planning to go paragliding in Central China’s Henan province.

He said that the goal is not really cycling.

“It’s hard for disabled people to move around and exercise, but I want to help them with that. When people have disabilities they tend to lose confidence, feeling that they can do nothing. But when they ride a bike, they will feel better and gain back the confidence to do more. They can live a confident, happy and free life.”

He recounted an episode when the group stopped at a waterfall in Guizhou province in Southwest China. The woman who attended the gate there did not want to let them in. She said: “Why are you out? Why don’t you just stay home?”

“A big problem is that the general public does not encourage disabled people to take part in normal activities,” Dominick said. “It needs to be normal to see a person in a wheelchair doing ordinary things — buying groceries, earning a living, playing with their children.”

Contact the writers at davidblair@chinadaily.com.cn
and yandongjie@chinadaily.com.cn

Designing safer alternatives Cities must take the opportunity to create a comfortable commuting experience for cyclists

October 16-22, 2017
By KIM LUA and WEI LI

Orange, yellow, blue, green, rainbow … bike lanes in Chinese cities are quite colorful these days.

Thanks to the new bike-sharing business, one of the greenest and healthiest ways to travel is experiencing a surprising renaissance in China. The new bike-sharing companies, such as Mobike and ofo, have placed more than 16 million shared bikes in at least 150 cities. They are changing the way people commute.

While cycling is becoming more fashionable than at any time in the recent past, there are more fundamental improvements in infrastructure that cities should make to create a safe, convenient and enjoyable cycling experience.

According to the World Health Organization, about 8 percent of traffic deaths in China are cyclists (excluding motorized two- and three-wheelers).

Another survey in 2013 found that 85 percent of Chinese residents are not satisfied with their cycling environment. The reasons can be attributed to traffic safety, bike-lane design and network coverage.

The World Resources Institute has conducted research on the relationship between vehicle speed and crashes. It found that higher speed contributes to more traffic incidents. Moreover, a crash speed of 50 kilometers per hour could put the fatality rate of vulnerable road users as high as 80 percent.

For cycling, a systematic approach is the best way to improve safety and comfort.

Cyclists are exposed to greater dangers when they share the roads with heavier, high-speed vehicles. Wide intersections are the blackspots for traffic safety in China, because the complex traffic and conflict points create a hostile environment for cyclists to cross and turn.

Another safety issue occurs at bus stops, especially when cyclists find themselves obstructed and trapped by approaching buses.

Lowering the speed limit of vehicles where bike users are present, narrowing the width of intersections and installing protected bicycle lanes with traffic-calming measures — especially in suburban or peripheral areas where heavy vehicles roam the streets and cars travel at high speeds — can improve safety for cyclists.

Moreover, designing more friendly cycling spaces is important. Cyclists are forced to share limited space with parked cars, mopeds and delivery vehicles in many places.

Those vehicles block the bike lane and force cyclists to ride in the traffic lane or on sidewalks. This creates conflicts between bicycles, vehicles and pedestrians and has negative impacts on safety and comfort.

Cities have yet to formulate proper regulations and enforcement to manage these issues.

For cycling, a systematic approach is the best way to improve safety and comfort. For example, although Chinese cities are building extensive bike lanes, some are one-way bikeways that end abruptly without connecting to other transport networks.

Piecemeal interventions can improve a section of road or an intersection but will not have much impact on the safety and further development of cycling. This suggests that cities should create cycling network plans linked with greater transportation infrastructure.

Some innovative cities have already proposed such strategies. Shanghai, for example, is working on plans that will improve the safety of its cycling network.

Such networks, sometimes called greenways, not only connect bike lanes on urban roads, but also integrate them with recreation areas and multiple modes of transportation, such as subways and buses.

In addition to bike lane design, other bike facilities are also important to a safe and enjoyable cycling experience. Because of the overwhelming popularity of bike sharing, existing facilities cannot meet the demand.

As a result, sidewalks are clogged with parked bicycles, especially around transit stations. This has created conflicts between cyclists, pedestrians and transit users.

Some policymakers have begun to think bike sharing is a nuisance. However, the issues can be mitigated by careful planning. Dedicated bike parking should be carefully designed to meet the needs of bicycle users.

Moreover, other facilities can help create a safe and enjoyable cycling environment — bicycle traffic lights, street lighting, bike lane pavement and shade, for example.

It is exciting to see that cycling is making a comeback in China. However, the growing demand has put a strain on the system.

The decision-makers should respond to the increasing demand by providing new cycling facilities and upgrade the existing infrastructure to provide safe, convenient and enjoyable facilities for cyclists.

However, it is still common to see policies that prioritize motor vehicles over bicycles. The decision-makers should put people at the heart of the process and use this opportunity to improve the livability of cities.

The writers are researchers with the World Resources Institute. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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