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Transportation

Rebuilding the 'Kingdom of Bicycles'

Two decades ago, China pushed bikes aside to advance its car-centric ambitions. Now it’s regretting that move—and betting on bike share to making cycling cool again.
A young woman rides her bike on Beijing’s Dungtan Street in 1981.
A young woman rides her bike on Beijing’s Dungtan Street in 1981.LHS/AP

Not so long ago, bikes were ubiquitous in China. As the main form of transportation for the wealthy and working classes alike, the country had up to 523 million bike owners by the mid-1990s—that’s 43 bicycles for every 100 people. In Beijing, that figure reached as high as 72 bikes for every 100 people.

For that, China proudly embraced its title as the kingdom of bicycles.