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Why Many Cities in China Are Home to Bicycle Graveyards

Picture of Matthew Keegan
Updated: 14 May 2018
Bike-sharing in China has boomed, and with it millions of bikes have been put into circulation. However, oversupply has caused a problem – huge piles of abandoned bikes that are creating mountainous bicycle graveyards across a growing number of China’s cities.

From a bird’s eye view, they have an unexpected beauty – they could easily be mistaken for sweeping flower beds of beautiful blooms. However, upon closer inspection you will see that this ocean of bright colours is in fact abandoned bicycles, many of which have barely been used.

Bicycle businesses have taken China by storm. Recent reports suggests that the country hosts over 40 bike-sharing brands that include more than 16 million bicycles and over 130 million users.

This huge number of bikes, mostly of the dockless variety, can be hired from anywhere on the streets with a wave of a mobile phone to unlock them. After use, they can simply be dropped off anywhere without the need to park them at a dock.

Regular users say these bikes have enabled them to avoid congested public transport routes and reduce travel costs, while also reducing pollution and encouraging users to stay fit.

However, it’s not all been such a success story. While investment has poured in, with countless bike-sharing businesses all vying for a share of the huge market, this has resulted in an oversupply of bikes in China’s cities.

Some cities have struggled to handle the sudden flood of bikes, especially when they’re just carelessly left in the middle of streets, blocking the pavements. As a result, cities like Shanghai and Xiamen have started impounding the bikes, creating huge pile-ups of them nicknamed ‘bicycle graveyards’.

#bicyclegraveyard

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Late last year, some of China’s bike-sharing companies went out of business, caused by financial difficulties and bikes being stolen, the largest of which was Bluegogo. Almost overnight, websites closed and apps stopped working. Countless bicycles were left abandoned on the streets, attracting vandalism. Cities began impounding the abandoned bikes by the thousands, many of which had barely been used. This resulted in the graveyards which have since become a familiar sight in many big Chinese cities.

However, bike-sharing companies say that the bicycles are still very much needed in China’s cities. While they agree that a framework to regulate the industry needs to be implemented to avoid oversaturation, they maintain that commuting by bicycle is the best way to help reduce congestion and pollution in the country’s big cities.