Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
For Wealthy Chinese, Bicycles Become Status Symbols (cnbc.com)
50 points by codegeek 1757 days ago | hide | past | web | 51 comments | favorite

In Denmark where I grew up we all grew up using bikes just like in China.

A lot of guys are also now spending ridiculous amount of money on hand made bikes just like the wealthy Chinese in the article.

The interesting thing is that for women the fashion has been more towards going for old wrecks also known as grandma bikes. See http://www.copenhagencyclechic.com

Do you mean the old grandma bicycles are valued over new ones in the same style? Or is it just the style of bicycle that is becoming popular?

It's a very comfortable way to ride (on flat country) and I prefer it for non-hipster reasons (i.e. my back).

It started out with people preferring the old ones. Then the bike manufacturers caught on and started making fake grandma bikes as well.

"Grandma bike" is a pretty derisive term for a practical utility bicycle. It's like a guy in a two-seat sportster with a tiny trunk calling a four-seat sedan a "grandma car."

Here in Chicago, people realized many years ago that road bikes with tiny, crack-seeking wheels, rigid suspension, aggressive posture and delicate derailleurs made horrible utility bikes.

So people first started appropriating mountain bikes, adding fenders, racks, new saddles etc. Then people discovered that old Schwinn three-speeds make perfect utility bikes without any conversion.

Now, yes, bike manufacturers have responded by building purpose-built utility bikes.

If you like road bikes then that's great. I actually love riding a road bike from time to time. 99% of the time I'm on a "granny bike" though, and if I weren't for those trips I'd be in a car.

Grandma bike specifically refers to bikes with retro looks or the original designs that the retro bikes take their inspiration from. It doesn't refer to utility bikes in general, at least I've never heard it used in that way. So it's not derisive at all, just referring to "how bikes used to look 50 years ago."

"Grandma bike" is a pretty derisive term for a practical utility bicycle. It's like a guy in a two-seat sportster with a tiny trunk calling a four-seat sedan a "grandma car."

I call my '96 Camry a "grandpa car". (In part because my grandfather owned it before I did.) I'm not sure it's as derisive as you think.

Grandma bike is just a translation of the Dutch 'oma fiets', which refers to a specific style of bike. If it ever was derogatory then that long been forgotten now.


> "Grandma bike" is a pretty derisive term for a practical utility bicycle. It's like a guy in a two-seat sportster with a tiny trunk calling a four-seat sedan a "grandma car."

Thank you.

It doesn't have to have negative connotations, some of us like our grandmas.

It is just describing a different style, those seeking comfort more than speed. Nothing wrong with that.

Hopefully no bikes were offended ;-)

There's been a similar trend in the US. The Electra Bicycle Company, in particular, makes several lines of sit-up-and-beg styles of bikes, influenced by both old-style beach cruisers (which are considered retro cool) and the city bikes you see in cities like Amsterdam (Electra makes a model called the Amsterdam, in fact). But I've never heard anyone in the US call a bike a "grandma bike", perhaps because we haven't had such a culture of bike riding here.

In the US, we call these Beach Cruisers. They're incredibly common, and Wal Mart sells tons and tons of them.

Now might be a good time to recommend Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class for anyone who hasn't read it:


One of my touchstones for understanding the modern world.

That can also be used as a way to seek profit in the modern world.

Remember the Citibank "plutonomy" papers? Whether authentic or not they basically made the same point. Invest in luxury goods. As the proverbial 1% accumulates more wealth they will want to engage in conspicuous consumption. They will buy Porsches and hand made watches and will pay a pretty penny for it.

It explains much of the ancient world as well: http://www.forumromanum.org/literature/seneca_younger/brev_e...

I'm all for this. China had it right in the first place. What's not to love about bicycles? Low carbon emissions (only CO2), good for the body, you actually get to experience your surroundings, less fatal accidents assuming more people are on bicycles,not noisy

I love my bicycle, but they are:

Slow, one person at a time, low hauling capacity, no protection from the elements, and easily stolen.

Like it or not, cars have their place. People who are so proud of not needing a car? They do a lot of mooching off car-having friends.

Allow me to introduce you to Portland's Emily Finch.


Also of possible interest is the lead story in this month's issue of Portland Afoot, which is about making a $200 grocery store trip by bike.


These are extreme examples, perhaps, but the point is that there are plenty of bikes out there with hauling capacity for both people and stuff (Extracycles, bakfiets, etc), there's also plenty of equipment that can be added to a regular bike to increase hauling capacity (racks, baskets, oyster bucket panniers, trailers, etc), and a little creativity can go a long way, as my second link shows.

Also, in this day and age of bike racks on public transportation and multiple carsharing providers in many major US cities, there is little excuse for mooching rides off of car-owning friends, and I question the validity of your claim that the carfree are ride moochers. I lived car-free in Oakland/Emeryville for almost a year after my car was stolen twice and then totaled for mold, and I was a happy user of both. It never occured to me to mooch rides off of friends, because it wasn't necessary.

Somehow, I don't think this represents the future of transportation.

Bicycles that have significant carrying capacity cost more than cars.

Emily Finch is all cool and shit, but that's about $3500 of bicycle that she's pedaling.

Someday that'll probably change.

It's arguably a better ride for her and her kids than $3500 for car + insurance + maintenance + gas could buy her.

> Slow

For various values of slow, in cities they aren't necessarily slower than cars especially door-to-door when the need for parking is included.

> one person at a time, low hauling capacity

Cargo bikes neatly solve both issues. They are both traditional and widely used in the Netherlands and Denmark.

> People who are so proud of not needing a car? They do a lot of mooching off car-having friends.

Yeah, who's ever heard of mass transport, deliveries and car rental?

Well yes, cars are do have their advantages. No mode of transportation is perfect. Mooching off == carpooling == good :) If roads and cities were planned so that bicycling is easier then it will create incentives for more people to use pedal power. Easily accessible mass transit can solve the hauling capacity problem and long-distances problem. Honestly, if I could bicycle on roads (without having to worry about being run over by an SUV) and take the bike on a train/subway, I would do that 99% of the time. And, if I only need a car for the 1%, then I might as well rent one when I need it.

> Slow, one person at a time, low hauling capacity, no protection from the elements, and easily stolen.


> Like it or not, cars have their place. People who are so proud of not needing a car?

well, considering that 70% of car rides are less than 10km, I don't need much mooching off...

If you believe a bike is one person only, you've obviously never been to china. A family of three on a bike is not an uncommon sight.

Atta love how all the responses to your statement are either weird bike designs or "nobody does this / this is hugely inconvenient, but theoretically you could..." :-)

It's not 100% good for the body because you're inhale more exhaust gas. By the way let's not forget that the US cyclists wear masks at the Beijing 2008 Olympiad [1].

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/06/sports/olympics/06masks.ht...

My girlfriend runs a small (~30 employee) full-custom* folding bike manufacturer in Oregon. Asia makes up almost half of their market--and the number is growing, especially the Chinese segment.

* they start with steel and build custom-fit bikes to order

This story is the future of journalism.

Instead of being subjected to fake-news fad stories about rich people in the U.S., now we'll be subjected to fake-news fad stories about rich people in China.

Could probably track the prevalence of China-rich-fad vs. U.S.-rich-fad stories as a good marker of the changeover in superpower status.

They don't mention that in many crowded cities (many of those in China I would imagine) a bicycle is faster than a car.

Oh so just like in San Francisco :-)

I always thought that in the US as well, having a bike is cool. We even have "bike to work" day once a year. Not sure if i will call that a status symbol but definitely cool and hip.

Bike to Work day is not about being cool, it's about promoting healthy commuting alternatives.

When you can hardly get a new bike for $600 any more, and it's not considered abnormal to spend well over $1000, I would say it is a bit of a status symbol

I don't really think that's true. Walmart for example has a very large selection of bikes around the $150-200 price. Are they great bikes? Probably not. Will they go when you pedal? Sure!

They're generally pretty terrible bikes, put together by some guy who didn't read the directions and doesn't care. They're so heavy and unpleasant to ride that sure, you could buy one for $150, but you'll never want to ride it. They're also full of false-comfort "features" like front shocks and heavily padded seats which sap your pedaling power and actually make your butt more sore, respectively.

No doubt they're less nice than more expensive bikes.

But in many cases, it just doesn't matter very much. If you only want to bike a few miles on flat ground, bop around the neighborhood, don't care so much about speed, etc., a low-cost bike should do fine.

American biking culture is traditionally the realm of the hard-core biker who races, tours, or bike-commutes long distances, and who obsesses about his gear, but there are many other sorts of bike cultures in the wider world (and indeed, "other sorts" are probably the vast majority, numerically). In many places, practicality and cost are much more important than optimal efficiency at high speed.

With biking becoming more and more mainstream in the U.S., at least in urban areas, American biking culture will probably shift towards a more casual stance too...

They are the bikes of choice for undocumented workers and people with DUIs, who in many areas make up the largest adult bicycling populations.

I'm suspicious of bikes that sell for under $200 new, but you can get a great used bike in the $150-200 price range, which is what I've generally done. Add about $100 more for lock, lights, fenders, rack, and basket and you're good to go.

There are lots of great bikes to be had on Craigslist. It's not tough to find a modern road bike for around $300 in my city, and if you don't mind something frumpier you could get by with spending $150 for something that'll get you to work reliably.

It's amusing that people spend $10k+ on a car, then hundreds of dollars a year on gas, but $1000 for a bike is a status symbol.

This summer I built my "dream commuter bike". It was unexpectedly spendy, but when the alternative is a car, anything under five figures and it feels like you're making money on the deal! :-)

$16k seems a bit much for a leisure bike while $450 isnt. top-end custom racing bikes can cost $16k+ though. i'm currently on a $2k Specialized mountain bike, though i wouldn't classify what i do with it as 'leisurely pedaling'...

It's actually GBP 16,000, the article is wrong.


This is the Alex Moulton New Series Double Pylon. It's an incredible bike, not a folder but a separable (take it apart and fit it in little bags).

It's perfect for confined living spaces (such as a boat or small downtown apartment), whilst still offering an ultra-stiff frame and the feel and position of a full frame.

The small wheels are there to support a faster ride and easier climbing, though that also counts against them on downhills as you have a tad less of a flywheel effect.

I rode a Moulton up Mont Ventoux and down/through the Nesque Gorges in Provence. I've also visited the Moulton factory down near Bradford on Avon. They have this great mini track around the estate for testing the bikes, and you can visit the room in which they are made. To this day they are hand-made, every weld, on custom jigs.

They're fairly special bikes, but you are paying for the labour in the frames more than anything.

Also, Alex Moulton Sr died on 9th December 2012 http://www.alexmoulton.co.uk/ . He was a hell of an industrial designer. His son Shaun Moulton runs the company now.

But yeah... GBP16k not USD16k.

And if you think that's expensive, go calculate how much you could configure a dream bike from Vanilla Cycles http://vanillabicycles.com/ , Robin Mather http://apracticalguide.wordpress.com/ , Richard Sachs http://www.richardsachs.com/ , etc would cost. It is very easy to pass GBP 7,500 without batting an eyelid, easy enough to get to GBP 10,000, and with some mildly demanding stuff and some very expensive components (Enve Composites I'm looking at you) you can easily be on your way to GBP 20,000 for what the untrained eye may assume is just a nice town bike.

Though... no-one is going to think a Moulton Double Pylon is a town bike!

Oh, and if you really want consumer demand for a basic bike at a luxury level... research what the Japanese will pay for a superlight Brompton http://www.brompton.co.uk/ folding bike in naked finish. The waiting list is lengthy, and the factory in Brentford, West London now runs 2 shifts a day, 7 days a week to fulfil orders.

I think there is a big markup (and probably tax) in that $16k as it is an imported hand built bike.

Just throwing some numbers around, but I remember years ago when a friend was trying to become an import supplier of similar goods, he freaked out at the VAT & import duty being something like 120% on European made products. I suspect that this may still be the case with the price tag on these bikes.

I can't imagine wealthy bike owners actually riding them in the cities for health reasons.

The air condition in the cities is extremely poor, and riding a bike would probably do more harm than good to your body.

This holds true for Israel too. A lot of people in Hi-Tech are avid mountain bikers, including myself. It's one of those sports full with technology from bike parts to training computers to heart monitors. Also a great money sink :)


Didn't several of the political leaders recently become millionaires in china?

Ah, per ABC News "There are now at least 300 billionaires and almost 1 million millionaires in China. "

I guess china is also getting it's 2% running the 98%

1,000,300 Chinese people would make up only 0.074% of the Chinese population.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | DMCA | Apply to YC | Contact