Mark Tanner
13 July 2022 0 Comments

Ah, the joys of exercise. Healthy body, healthy mind, improved sleep, increased productivity … the list goes on. It’s little wonder why Beijing is satisfied with the 3.3 percentage point increase in residents aged 7 and above – an extra 42 million – who regularly exercised between 2014 and 2020. But it is not stopping there. The “National Fitness Plan (2021-2025)” targets an increase from 37.2% to 38.5% regularly exerting themselves by 2025.

Browsing the data about fitness in China, it is typically running, football, basketball, pingpong, badminton and swimming topping the table. Elderly get their exercise from Tai chi, dancing and the colourful neighbourhood outdoor gyms, whereas younger Chinese are increasingly taking to Yoga, the gym, skateboarding, frisbee and of course, winter sports.

There has been one glaring omission from most lists of exercise activities in China: the humble bicycle. Whilst China once held the status as the ‘Kingdom of Bicycles,’ those times are long behind us. Between 1986 and 2014, bicycle use fell from 62.7% to 15% of road transport in Beijing, a trend that was echoed across China. By 2015, bicycles were largely the realm of migrant workers, expats and a few hipster locals on single speeds.

Then, virtually overnight, things changed. Every spare spot on city footpaths became rammed full of millions of jellybean-coloured bicycles, spurred by over a billion dollars of investment into more than 30 bike share companies. A generation of Chinese were back on the saddle. But regulations, coupled with unsustainable business models, soon led to the fall of China’s bike sharing industry almost as spectacular as its rise. By 2018, most loan bikes sat rusting in towering bicycle graveyards.

Although China’s bike sharing industry is a shadow of the bonanza years of 2016-17, it appears to have left a spark for biking with many Chinese. That spark, coupled with increased attention to sustainability, health, and reflection and reassessment of life due to Covid, is seeing cycling viewed through a different lens by many. Instead of just a utilitarian mode of transportation, young Chinese consumers have “upgraded” cycling into a serious hobby, which they are willing to splurge on.

On the trend-spotting platform Xiaohongshu (RED), the topic “cycling” has close to 22 million views while searches related to #cycling in Q1 2022 have increased over 230% from a year ago.

When Shanghai’s lockdown ended recently, one of the first things many Shanghainese did was get peddling, with RED searches related to cycling increasing 60% in the city, from the previous week.

The dramatic rise of biking as a hobby presents plenty of opportunities for brands to connect with consumers. This could be directly through fashion, nutrition, health supplements, beauty and other related products, but also aspirational positioning through an early-mover association with related influencers and partners. When China’s borders open up, cycling is likely to be more popular with overseas tourists than it’s ever been.

Aligning with any of the fitness pastimes in China is likely to have positive associations for brands. Beijing’s “National Fitness Plan (2021-2025)” aims to have the national sports industry reach ¥5 trillion ($746 billion) by 2025, which will present plenty of opportunities. Contact China Skinny to learn how to best tap into the opportunities with sports and fitness in China.

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