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Beijingers ride new cycling trend
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Estimates put the number of bicycles zipping around the capital at the end of 2007 at about 8 million - a figure most believe has grown to more than 10 million by now, including hybrids powered by rechargeable batteries.

An ordinary bike costs about 300 yuan in China and such models abound at neighborhood supermarkets.

At the Carrefour outlet in Zhongguancun, also known as China's "silicon valley," Lao Pan and his small sales team are busy leading customers through row upon row of shiny new bikes. Summer is usually the peak sales season, but the showroom is particularly busy this year.

"We sell 40 to 50 (bicycles) on a normal day," Pan said. On weekends, "we usually move more than a 100 of different types (of bicycles)."

Pan explains the technologically savvy "wiz-kid" types often prefer collapsible bikes that can be folded up and carried around. These models weigh an average of 10 kg and cost about 500 yuan.

Foreigners often prefer electric bicycles. "We have foreign customers buying four or five electric bikes in a single purchase," Pan said.

Many recent converts to the cycling world prefer renting to buying. Xin Xiaolin, an IT professional in Beijing, said that rather than driving to work as he used to, he now cycles to the subway station.

But rather than buying his own bike, he rents one from a Beijing Bicycle Rental Services outlet by the nearest subway station to where he lives.

"I don't want the hassle of owning a bike," he said.

Founded in 2005, Bicycle Rental now has about 70 outlets in Beijing proffering a fleet of 7,000 bikes. It runs a shop near every major subway station, bus stop and famous tourist site. Customers can return the bike at any one of the company's outlets irrespective of from where it was rented.

Rentals cost 10 yuan an hour, in addition to a 400-yuan deposit returned to the client when they return the bike. However, discounts are available for longer rentals, and according to the firm's founder and chairman Wang Yong, a bike can be rented for an entire year for 100 yuan, which works out to 27 fen per day.

In anticipation of the influx of foreign visitors expected to descend on the city for the Games, the company is running a bilingual hotline for customers who don't speak Chinese.

(China Daily August 5, 2008)


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