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Chinese executives are buying bicycles with price tags of almost Dh60,000. Above, a man walks his bike at Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Carlos Barria / Reuters
Chinese executives are buying bicycles with price tags of almost Dh60,000. Above, a man walks his bike at Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Carlos Barria / Reuters

China's new status symbol

The Life: Rich Chinese are buying bicycles that cost more than the average citizen makes in three years, motivated by nostalgia for the days when two wheels were the primary means of transport.

Rich Chinese are buying bicycles that cost more than the average citizen makes in three years, motivated by nostalgia for the days when two wheels were the primary means of transport.

China is now the world's biggest auto market, but high-end bike sales are expected to grow by 10 per cent a year as they become a status symbol for wealthy executives.

Yu Yiqun, the creative director at an advertising company in the Chinese capital, cycles to work on his favourite bike - a 100,000 yuan (Dh58,900) handmade Alex Moulton.

"It might be the only one in Beijing. It's like the Rolls-Royce of bicycles. Very classical, purely handmade," said the 40-year-old, who has about 35 high-end bikes.

"I remember my father used to ride me to the city in the winter - about 40 kilometres and minus 30C. Back then, it was a means of transport that fulfilled your dream of travelling afar, which was relatively cheap but required brawn."

Mr Yu symbolises a new bike culture in China, where wealthy, health-conscious executives are upgrading their lifestyle, in some cases abandoning flashy cars and taking to the road on high-end bicycles that can cost more than a car.

"Demand for mainstream luxury items such as premium cars and watches has come to a point of saturation. High-income groups now turn to high-end bikes to show off the uniqueness in taste and healthy lifestyle," said Zhou Jiannong, the general manager of Rbike Networks in China.

Analysts are forecasting annual growth of about 10 per cent in the Chinese bicycle market over the next few years.

For the high-end segment, they are forecasting a faster growth rate of 15 per cent.

Companies are also getting in on the act, with a Hong Kong-based supplier taking an order for 1,000 pricey bikes from a Chinese financial company as a year-end bonus for employees.

"People are sick of conventional gifts such as wines and tobacco. For mainlanders, a bike is a great gift that shows your unique lifestyle," said Adam Wong, the managing director at Hong Kong's Komda Bicycles.

Mr Wong declined to name the bank that had ordered the bikes, but he said they had an average price tag of 3,000 yuan.

The fashion label Shanghai Tang, eager for a slice of this growing pie, teamed up with the Dutch bike maker Colossi Cycling to make bicycles aimed specifically at China, where bike demand is estimated at about 28 million units a year

"The high-end sector is going to be the major source of growth in the Chinese market. In China, bikes are more than just a means of transportation. It has become a fashion," said Terry Liu, an analyst at Fubon Research in Taiwan.

It can cost up to HK$300,000 (Dh142,000) for an imported limited edition of expensive brands such as Italy's Colnago or France's Look, nearly 100 times the price of a Flying Pigeon, China's official bike since its debut in 1950.

But cost is no object for many high-income Chinese looking for the best two-wheeled vehicle.

"For businessmen, they are not looking at the price. They are looking at the quality. They assemble their bike with import components in accordance to their taste and needs," said Zhang Lei, a director of a Zhuhai paper products supplier who plans to spend 10,000 yuan to upgrade his current bike.

Mr Yu has orders in for four more handmade bikes, expanding his collection, which includes brands such as Trek, Bianchi and Colnago.

Mr Yu and his wife have two cars but he does not drive.

"I always bring my bike when I go on a business trip," he said. "When I go to Harbin, I bring a small, folding bicycle since it's easier for me to get around the city. When I go to Dalian, I bring a bigger bike since it's a mountainous city."

* Reuters

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