Riding the crest of a wave
Road race showcases China's burgeoning love affair with recreational cycling
Cycling's soaring popularity was much in evidence in Shanghai's Qingpu district over the weekend as thousands of enthusiasts hit the road for the 2020 Giro d'Italia Ride Like A Pro Yangtze River Delta Open.
Christopher Justham and his two kids, aged 5 and 7, were among those in the saddle for the event's opening family-focused rides, with the Englishman impressed by how organizers struck a balance between fun and safety.
"We had to go through a series of training sessions and a health check, including the COVID tests, before having health checks here. So to just get here today, we went through a series of stages, which made us feel safe as parents," said Justham, who has lived in Shanghai for 12 years.
"It's a super great event, the organization is so professional. It's so much fun for the kids, and it makes them feel really special to get the race jersey and see all the professional cyclists around. It's just a nice experience for everybody in the whole family."
As the first open race to be staged at the Demonstration Zone of Green and Integrated Ecological Development of the Yangtze River Delta, the two-day event began at Dianshan Lake Avenue in Qingpu, where cyclists of all ages and levels could participate in either the Circuit Race or more family-oriented Fun Ride.
On Sunday, the pros were in action for the Road Ride, which began at Dianshan Lake Avenue, traversed through the ancient town of Zhujiajiao, then on to Jiaxing and Jiashan in Zhejiang province before finishing in Suzhou, Jiangsu province.
Co-hosted by the Chinese Cycling Association, the Executive Committee of the Demonstration Zone of Green and Integrated Ecological Development of the Yangtze River Delta, and Shanghai Administration of Sports, the race attracted a total of 2,300 riders, with over 2,000 people attending Saturday's cycling carnival.
As well as promoting the sport, the race was an ideal opportunity to showcase the beautiful scenery of the Yangtze River Delta, according to Chen Jianzhong, the deputy director of the executive committee of the demonstration zone.
"The route of the ride across more than 20 rivers in the demonstration zones fully reflects the development of ecological and green areas and the characteristics of a typical Jiangnan water town," he said.
Chen was also keen to stress the importance of the event's "trans-provincial" element, which he said aids the cross-regional flow of high-quality sports resources and construction, boosts the integrated development of the area, drives the transformation and upgrading of the sports industry, and promotes the image of the demonstration area.
"We hope that this kind of event can be copied in similar regions, such as the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei urban agglomeration," Chen added.
Li Jinsong, the runner-up in the 89-kilometer Road Ride, gave the organizers a cyclist's seal of approval: "I loved today's route. The narrow roads and off-the-beaten-track paths improved my performance.
"What impressed me was that the youth group can nurture children's interest in cycling and cultivate talents for the future."
The popularity of the event is indicative of an increasing nationwide interest in cycling.
According to a report published by the Chinese Cycling Association and xinhuanet.com, the number of sports cyclists in China totaled around 4.08 million in 2015, however that figure had surged to 15 million by 2018.
Gao Yiyang is typical of cycling's demographic in China.
After falling in love with the sport in high school, he has been pedaling for over 20 years, with his passion extending to mountain biking. He has endured some pain in the saddle over the years－once breaking his nose while riding in Canada－but such mishaps never deter him from getting back on his bike. He commutes 20 kilometers every day, and fills his free time with cycling trips around Shanghai.
"The concept of cycling as a sport is still relatively new to China, and most people still regard it as a type of transportation. But in recent years, more people view it as a way to exercise, especially the younger generation. But the number of cycling professionals is still relatively small here," said Gao, who works as a media officer for the Canadian Consulate General in Shanghai.
"Although I value cycling as a way of keeping fit, I think the enjoyment element of the sport is actually of greater importance to me."
The number of cycling clubs is also on the rise in China.
Zhang Linyuan began venturing out to the countryside on his mountain bike with like-minded enthusiasts back in 1998. As demand soared for the trips, he founded Prodigy outdoor club in 2003. The club organizes different activities around Zhang's 口罩到港stay every weekend during the summer, sometimes adding water sports into the mix.
"Cycling is a way of life and attitude to me. In addition to the exercise, it also connects me with all kinds of different people with similar interests," he said.
"At first, nearly 90 percent of our members were foreigners. But with the rising awareness of cycling, locals have become the majority."
Due to the risks involved, Zhang requires all participants to sign a liability waiver.
"It is important to follow professional guidance to avoid injury while participating in any outdoor sport," he explained.
"On the training side of things, including first-aid training, Western countries are still much more advanced than us."
With China's cycling population increasing, demand for equipment is inevitably following suit.
According to the 2020 Consumption Trend of Cycling Population, published by Tour of Qinghai Lake and MagicCycling, about 26 percent of Chinese cycling enthusiasts own bikes costing between 8,001 yuan ($1,220) to 15,000 yuan. Overall, a price range of 2,501-30,000 yuan accounts for 83 percent of bike owners.
Another report, published by market-research firm Zhiyan Consulting, found that the average unit price of an imported bike was $610 in 2020, a year-on-year increase of 7.7 percent. That growth trend has continued over the past five years.
Gao said his most expensive purchase was a 40,000 yuan ride.
"In fact, with the improvement in living standards, the market for cycling will continue to grow," he said. "And generally people who are interested in it can afford it."
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