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Pandemic boosts sports bike boom in cycling superpower China

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BEIJING (AP) — Lindsey Mo couldn’t go to the gym after Beijing closed its indoor sports facilities in May due to the coronavirus epidemic. There she took up cycling and she quickly fell in love with the sport.

“I realized that racing bikes are a lot different than regular bikes,” she said. “It was so fast and exciting that I couldn’t stop.”

Bicycles have long been a mode of transportation in China, once outnumbering cars on city streets. Cycling is increasingly seen as a sport among the urban middle class who have benefited from China, which has now grown into the second largest economy in the world. What began as a niche sport about ten years ago has turned into a mini boom.

A cycling event organized by Beijing cycling club Qiyi has attracted nearly 10,000 participants over the past year, of whom about 50% are regulars. According to the Chinese Cycling Association, nationwide he has at least 20 million people participating in the sport.

The pandemic is playing a role, with authorities moving quickly to close non-essential businesses, including gyms, during the outbreak under a strict zero COVID approach. Cycling, which can be done individually or in groups, is largely free of restrictions that limit indoor gatherings in particular.

Organized by cycling clubs and individual cyclists in Beijing, rides take enthusiasts to the mountainous countryside and city landmarks such as Tiananmen Square.

For cyclist Yang Lan, the sport is also a way to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life in the age of coronavirus. “With the pandemic, it seems like the only way to escape the dreaded city life and pace,” she said.

On a recent summer morning, Yang and 14 other cyclists rode along the Baihe Gorge in the countryside north of Beijing, despite the heat and humidity.

Equipped with full cycling gear, they paddled their race bikes hard on both flat and hilly terrain, sweating through over 70 kilometers (45 miles) while enjoying stunning scenery.

Pedaling forward under your own power gives Jan a joy that cannot be compared to driving a motorcycle or a car.

“I find it more interesting because it makes me feel more connected to the natural environment around me,” said Jan, who started cycling in the dead of winter in February and was looking for something new.

The boom in cycling reflects the growing popularity of outdoor activities, said Feng Baozhong, vice president of the China Cycling Association.

“Especially after the pandemic, people have a desire to get out of their rooms and buildings to play sports outdoors,” said Feng.

Naturally, this trend has boosted the demand for bicycles.

American bike brand Specialized said sales at its Beijing store grew 20% to 30% from the same period last year from March to June. According to He Dong, who is in charge of Specialized’s Beijing franchise dealer, the increase would double if there were no shortage of bicycle products.

According to Zhou Fuyuan, founder of Magic Cycling, a Chinese online cycling information platform, China’s bicycle market will reach RMB 80-100 billion ($12-15 billion) in 2021. According to online data published by market analysis firm Research and Markets, sales are expected to reach $16.5 billion by 2026.

With soaring demand and global supply chain issues, bike buyers, especially beginner and intermediate cyclists, have to wait weeks or months to get their hands on a new bike. For each Specialized model sold in Beijing, at least 10 of his customers are waiting for the bikes to arrive, he said.

Some choose to pay more for whatever the bike is in stock. Joanna Lei doubled her budget, spending her 60,000 yuan ($8,900) on her first racing bike. She said she would rather spend the money than buy a luxury bag.

“What you’re investing in is your own body and very good exercise habits,” she said.

People will have more options for sports and entertainment once the pandemic is over, but Feng said that China’s wealthy population, the growth of the sports industry, and COVID-19’s rise in health concerns are driving cycling’s popularity. is expected to continue.

“I think[cycling]has good prospects for sustainability because the pursuit of health is not going away,” Feng said.

The sport’s popularity is also a reflection of the growing public awareness of environmental protection and the pursuit of a low-carbon lifestyle.

“Such a lifestyle is probably healthier and more beneficial to society,” Yang said. “I think people now have a good sense of environmental protection and want to do good things for society.”

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Contributed by Caroline Chen, Video Producer at Associate Press.

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