Jhong: Bicycle Culture Revolution

“Chinese Bike Culture” once meant millions of Chinese cruising wide bike boulevards on black and basic commuter bikes equipped with fenders, chaincases, heavy duty racks, and sturdy double kickstands. The bicycle was the preferred mode of urban transportation nationwide, with right of way at intersections and ample parking on wide sidewalks. These days, though, public space for bikes shrinks as prosperous Chinese abandon the poor peasant’s pedalcycle in favor of the rich man’s car at a rate of more than on million new cars and SUVs each month.

Some Chinese have gone upscale with their bikes by buying multispeed mountain and road models. Another cadre of Chinese youth take their bike culture cues, perhaps a little ironically, from American urban centers by adopting fixed gear bike style as their own.

Western expatriates and their local friends began organizing alleycat races and bike polo games in Beijing in 2008. While event organizers seek and receive corporate sponsorship from the likes of Adidas, Oakley and Microsoft, their promotions hearken back to an anti-capitalist Cultural Revolution of an earlier era.


beijing_fixedgearrevolution_webflyer

Some cycling advocates in America want to Sinofy American cycling by transforming it into a plain, utilitarian form of mere transportation with little room for individuality. Tyler Bowa and his gang of avid cyclists at People’s Bikes in Shanghai, however, do the opposite: injecting flair and fun into this traditionally collective activity. “We seek to promote the idea that cycling is not merely a form of transportation, but also an exciting activity and a tool of cultural exchange,” says their about page. “We hope to expand on an already growing network of cycling enthusiasts throughout China through direct contact, mutual interaction, and, of course, bike rides. We hope to present to the community not only places, but a genuine look into the culture of an area and its people.”

To that end, People’s Bikes are working on “Jhong”, a video celebrating “cultural exchange” and social interaction through bikes. I have no idea what Jhong means (but see comments below), but here’s a short trailer featuring the People’s Bike gang Shanghai night cycling.

To older Chinese, the bicycle symbolizes decades of poverty and the auto represents progress and modernity. While the younger generations followed their lead, the trend has started to reverse over the past year with more youth beginning to adopt the hip coolness of bikes for their transportation. If they can look good while good while biking to work or just hanging, then all the better for them.

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7 Comments

  • April 6, 2010 - 1:34 pm | Permalink

    “Some cycling advocates in America want to Sinofy American cycling by turning it into a plain, utilitarian form of mere transportation with little room for individuality.”

    How do you mean?

  • drwxrxrx
    April 6, 2010 - 2:16 pm | Permalink

    Can anyone familiar with the scene over there explain why they chose “death flying” as the translation of “fixed gear”?

    “Jhong” (really “zhong” in Pinyin) means “middle” or “center”, and is also a short word for China itself (whose name means “middle kingdom”).

  • April 6, 2010 - 2:25 pm | Permalink

    It's my slightly cranky commentary on this.

  • drwxrxrx
    April 6, 2010 - 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Bah, just answered my own question. It's short for 死飞轮, “rigid flywheel”.

    http://chinafixedgear.ning.com/forum/topics/yin

  • April 6, 2010 - 2:28 pm | Permalink

    I know *nothing* of idiomatic Chinese, so thank you so much for the intel on zhong/jhong/.

    The fixed gear explanation I saw somewhere was that the “fly” portion of 死飞 is for flywheel.

  • April 6, 2010 - 2:33 pm | Permalink

    Thanks again! That makes sense.

  • Nom
    April 7, 2010 - 1:05 pm | Permalink

    “Some cycling advocates in America want to Sinofy American cycling by turning it into a plain, utilitarian form of mere transportation…”

    While others want to make it the generic hipster version of the fixed gear bike. Safety first coolness second?

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