Chinese bicycle manufacturers ride smooth on exports

Associated Press

Shanghai, May 8:

Things looked bleak for China’s bicycle makers as the pedaling masses fell in love with the car.

But after watching sales slump as anyone who could afford it switched to scooters or sedans, makers have bounced back by targeting export markets that they once ignored and improving the quality of bikes that used to come in just one colour — black — and one speed. “China is all about good prices, but quality is also improving very quickly,” said Zhang Lei, vice-manager for bicycle sales at Suzhou Everich Import & Export Co, at a recent trade show in Shanghai.

Zhang and his colleagues were showing off their latest product, the Gold Arrow e-scooter, an electric three-wheeler that Zhang says can run for up to 25 km on one charge. Elsewhere at the show, manufacturers displayed bikes with convex seats and ‘Harley Davidson’ low-rider handlebars and front wheels, chainless bikes, electric bikes, Tonino Lambourghini racing bikes and children’s bikes and trikes of every hue and theme, outfitted with Hello Kitty bells, airplane-shaped lights — you name it.

Chinese own about 450 million bicycles and every year the country produces another 75 million.

More than two-thirds of those are exported, to South America, the Middle East, Europe and the US. More than nine in 10 bikes bought by Americans are made in China.

The northeastern city of Tianjin, home to the Flying Pigeon brand, exported nearly eight million bicycles last year, up by 35.4 per cent over 2003, and aims to boost that to 10 million

by next year, according to state media.

Chinese still rely on bicycles to get around crowded cities. The sight of bikes loaded with appliances or mountains of plastic jugs and cardboard due for recycling is common even in Shanghai. Itinerant bike repairmen can be found on almost every street.

But the country came late to the global market. As late as 2000, makers were struggling and inventories soaring as families switched from their trusty, often rusty, Forevers and Flying

Pigeons to diesel-powered motorscooters and cars.