A worker packages a bicycle made for the bike-sharing company Ofo on Friday at Flying Pigeon's factory in North China's Tianjin. (Photo: Chen Qingqing/GT)
Since 2016, China's bike-sharing start-ups, with their brightly hued bicycles, have added a lot of color to the streets where they operate. With the emergence of bike sharing, the country's bicycle-manufacturing industry sees new business opportunities. On a recent trip to the suburbs of North China's Tianjin, a major manufacturing hub for bikes, the Global Times looked into how bike-sharing companies have effected this traditional industry.
Early Friday morning, hundreds of thousands of yellow bicycle parts were being transported to bike manufacturer Flying Pigeon's assembly line in Jinghai district in North China's Tianjin.
"Now, the plant is fully covered by Wi-Fi, which enables us to send updated product information to the operation and management system of Ofo," Zhao Kun, vice general manager of research and development at Flying Pigeon, told the Global Times Friday.
In December 2016, Flying Pigeon allocated two assembly lines to fill orders from the Beijing-based online bicycle-sharing company, Zhao said. Each line can produce up to 2,000 bikes a day.
"We have since hired 10 new workers for each line, and now one bike can be assembled within 15 seconds," he told the Global Times Friday.
Ofo has put nearly 5 million bicycles onto the streets of 100 cities in four countries including the US, the UK and Singapore. Its competitors Mobike and Bluegogo have put out more than 4.5 million bikes and 600,000 bikes respectively.
The bike-sharing boom has meant big business for bicycle makers in Tianjin, the bike manufacturing hub of northern China.
"As orders rise, many manufacturers have been rushing into this sector since 2016," said one local manufacturer who preferred not to be named.
Wangqingtuo town in the western suburbs of Tianjin is known as the "kingdom of bicycles." Almost every household's livelihood depends on a bicycle-related business, the local manufacturer said.
"From parts production to assembly, you can find everything related to bicycle manufacturing here," he told the Global Times Friday.
The town had been struggling before bike sharing became a business. For years, the local bicycle industry had been in decline as orders fell, Web portal qq.com reported in March. The bike-sharing start-ups changed that. Now, workers are busy day and night at the town's bicycle factories.
In 2016, China's annual bicycle production fell 5 percent year-on-year to 53 million bikes, according to a post published on the central government's website in February. However, annual sales revenue rose 1.1 percent to 26.29 billion yuan (.8 billion).
Now, domestic bike manufacturers see business opportunities as bike sharing has put the country back on two wheels, said Wang Chenxi, analyst at the Beijing-based consultancy Analysys International.
A representative from industry group China Bicycle Association took issue with the notion that bike sharing has been either good or bad for the entire bicycle manufacturing industry.
It is simplistic to say Ofo and Mobike ignited a revival across the entire industry, said the representative, who preferred to remain anonymous.
"We encourage new things. We should, however, also be aware of their impact on the traditional manufacturing sector," she told the Global Times Monday.