Wheels stop turning in cycle-making hub
Factories not taking orders as bike-sharing industry declines
Countless abandoned bicycles lie piled in a field in Wangqingtuo, a town on the western outskirts of Tianjin that once promoted itself as "China's first bike town".
Just a few years ago, Wangqingtuo's cycle factories were booming as streams of orders flooded in from the rapidly growing bike-sharing sector.
However, many of them no longer take orders as they fear that with the decline of the bike-sharing industry, they will not be paid. Some have even closed for good.
While the roller coaster experience of these factories can be closely linked to the rise and fall of the bike-sharing business, it also reflects a pressing need to upgrade the traditional bicycle industry.
Wangqingtuo now resembles a bicycle graveyard. A swath of land near the town center is littered with rows of dusty cycles piled in hectic heaps. They are rusting away, with handlebars lodged haphazardly between spokes, and covered in weeds.
A 65-year-old villager passing by the scene said: "This is just a small proportion left after a cleanup. Before, the abandoned bikes were scattered all over the nearby fields. These bikes will probably also be cleared away next. It's such a waste."
Shared bikes of different brands, painted in company colors like blue, green, yellow and orange, were abandoned after the government tried to curb their numbers in cities and investors became reluctant to provide any more venture capital about a year ago.
In late 2016, bike sharing swept the country, enjoying "explosive growth" the following year, according to a report released in March last year by the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology.
The report said the number of shared bikes and users surged to 23 million and 221 million in 2017 respectively from 2 million and 18.9 million in 2016, with both registering an "unprecedented" growth rate of more than 1,000 percent.
The bikes, which were first used by students on university and college campuses, are dockless and can be unlocked anytime, anywhere simply by scanning a QR code with a smartphone.
When they first emerged, they were warmly welcomed by the public because they reduced the need to walk and eased traffic flow.