Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Bicycle Built for Two... Hundred Thousand RMB

Out with the old...

In with the new.

Gone are the days when the humble but steadfast Flying Pigeon was the symbol of Chinese two-wheeled transportation, suitable for all. Now that four-wheel vehicles are the standard means of mobility across the land, buying a bike is more choice than necessity. And as with so many other material things, no one knows how to turn a utilitarian object into a high end, high flying status symbol better than the wealthy Chinese.

How much would you pay for a high end bike? As an avid cyclist and stumbling, bumbling triathlete, I know a thing or two about the topic. Professional bike racers – those dope-injected masters of arcane race routes through the mountains and plains of Europe -  can spend up to $20,000 on experimental ultra wind-cheating time trial bikes in order to shave seconds (not minutes) off their times over a 50 km race. More pedestrian endurance athletes such as this humble blogger are commonly known to spend $5,000 – $8,000 on their ride. This amount of money will get you a spiffy and featherweight 6 kg set-up that features carbon fiber components everywhere possible – including the wheel rims and hubs, saddle and levers. Rigs like this are the pride and joy of international level triathlons. For 99.999% of bike riders, anything more expensive will not help them go any faster, since ultimately, the engine is the rider’s legs and lungs, which has nothing to do with money.

However, like cars, status symbol bikes are not meant to be ridden quickly. They are meant to be gawked at, poked and prodded, none of which can be done zooming around the roads at their design speeds. As the linked article [http://www.cnbc.com/id/100338066/For_Wealthy_Chinese_Bicycles_Become_Status_Symbols] details, high end custom bikes that can run to US$30,000 (my god, what are they made of, rare earth elements mined on Mars??) are growing in popularity as a prize possession of China’s well-heeled who are already overstocked with wine, cigars, and other high end goodies. To them, owning a custom Colnago or Look that costs (a) 100 times more than the Flying Pigeon, (b) three years’ average workers' salary, or (c) as much as a really nice car is a way to showcase “uniqueness in taste and healthy lifestyle.” Of course, that’s assuming the owner doesn’t also have a prosperous waistline and a looming battle with diabetes.

Still, when it comes to bicycles, the more the merrier. There is no mode of transportation that beats it for all-around benefits to body, soul and the environment. So, let’s hope the trend of bike ownership continues to filter back down to the masses, just like in the good ol’ days. The Pigeon is dead. Long live the Pigeon.

1 comment:

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