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Reliving bicycle kingdom

China Daily | Updated: 2013-10-10 01:40

Dressing up in retro style, bicycle enthusiasts ride their two wheels to show their support for Car-Free Day. Xu Junqian joins the fun event in Shanghai.

On a breezy September Shanghai dusk, Elvis Presley, Charlie Chaplin, Audrey Hepburn and a bunch of bow-tied gentlemen and qipao-wrapped ladies grabbed their bicycles, or tricycles, and set out from the city's century-old Shiliupu Dock to join their first Shanghai Vintage Ride.

Reliving bicycle kingdom

Participants of the first Shanghai Vintage Ride dress up the century-old Shiliupu Dock like a film set of the 1920s. Photo by Gao Erqiang / China Daily

Of course, these legendary figures are long gone. Those seen in September were housewives, businessmen, engineers and not surprisingly, fashion designers, who dressed up like the famous stars. They share a common interest in two-wheels amid the nation's general craze for automobiles, and decide to "take some real action" days before the World Car-Free Day on Sept 22.

Reliving bicycle kingdom

Cyclists wear anything they consider retro and ride two hours to promote bicycle culture. Photos by Gao Erqiang / China Daily

The event was inspired by London Tweed Run, a stylish bike ride that started in 2009, in which participants dressed up in tweeds in Britain.

Shanghai Vintage Ride is a copycat of the London version except for the looser dress code: cyclists can put on anything that is considered retro. The Shanghai version includes an 8-kilometer ride through the city's most historical parts and a catwalk show prior to the ride. The "best-dressed cyclist", based on votes by all participants, receives an Italian hand-made bicycle worth 10,000-yuan ($1,634).

The two-hour event, according to its organizers, 700bike.com, a "bicycle culture promoting" website, is aimed at bringing back bicycles to the "bicycle kingdom".

"Considering the population of cyclists on Chinese streets, we may still be the kingdom," says Bian Fujun, co-founder of the Beijing-based website. "But bikes have been downgraded from the most sought-after family property decades ago, to a cheap traffic tool ridden mainly by the elderly and poor, leaving young people interested in the vehicle in a rather embarrassing situation.

"Young people are boring these days, all of them focusing on either houses or cars, or both. I am not saying that's bad, but there's got to be something more fun than that," Bian says.

The 32-year-old Shandong native founded 700bike.com a year ago in Beijing with two of his friends because of their common interest in bicycles. They also believe the revival of bicycles is an inevitable trend that has already materialized in Europe, where the craze for automobiles has been "put out" by heavy pollution and traffic jams.

"I am not an anti-automobile activist. I drive in Beijing because it's too big a city. But whenever possible, I choose the bicycle," he adds.

The Vintage Ride attracted more than 400 people of all ages when it debuted in Beijing in April, four times the original registered participants, to take a ride donning costumes.

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