Champion of pedal power never gives up

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Ines Brunn loves bikes. The German has lived in Beijing for more than 10 years and in that time has had a lot to say about what the city should do to promote cycling.

 

 Clockwise from top: Ines Brunn, who first came to China to work as a physicist in 2001, opened her fixedgear bicycle workshop Natooke, located in Beijing's Wudaoying hutong in 2009; the interior of a Natooke shop, which also has a location in Chengdu; Brunn demonstrates a trick. Photos Provided to China Daily

Her passion for cycling is well known among expatriates in the capital.

Her activities revolving around two wheels include performing bike tricks at charity events and taking part in discussions about cycling as an unofficial spokeswoman for the cyclists of the city.

"I hope that people in the city think that cycling is very cool," she says in Beijing-accented Mandarin.

She has a bicycle shop called Natooke in the hip Wudaoying hutong in the city center that she opened in 2009, said to be the first workshop for fixed-gear bicycles in China.

At the time, cycling on single-speed bicycles emerged as a subculture in some Western countries, but Brunn could not find spare parts for her bike in China.

Eight years earlier when she had arrived in Beijing to work for a telecommunications company, the streets of the city were crammed with cyclists.

The great bulk of the bikes were either the chunky Chinese Pigeon brand or another Chinese brand, Forever.

However, at the start of the century sales of the brands were beginning to fall sharply.

In 2009 no more than 300 Flying Pigeons were produced, and it is easy to see why: that year China surpassed the United States to become the world's biggest car market by vehicles sold.

"At the time, if you still rode a bike it meant you were poor," Brunn says.

It was not as though she had not done her bit trying to bring the fall in sales to a halt, or at least to slow it.

After her initial visit to the country she had left, but returned in 2004 with the intention of staying permanently. Aware that the number of cyclists was falling, she began working with environmental organizations encouraging more people to adopt the two-wheeled lifestyle.

"People were listening but they didn't want to change," she says. "I realized that trying to change people's attitudes toward bicycles was not working."

She opened the fixed-gear workshop believing that if cycling was presented as a trendy lifestyle this would greatly help promote the use of cycles.

Her customers were not only individuals but governmental organizations, too, such as the European Union embassy in Beijing.

Brunn then opened another workshop, in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province.

For climatic reasons, many bicycles in Chengdu are made of bamboo, and the city frequently hosts large cycling events.

In 2010 she and two others founded an organization called Smarter Than Cars, which they regard as a kind of two-wheeler think tank, and Brunn is a frequent guest in forums on cycling.

Chinese need to see cycling as more than just a means of commuting, she says, and more as a form of modern life.

Brunn says she first became interested in cycling when she was 13 and became competent at performing bicycle gymnastics.

More and more young people are taking up cycling, she says, and she is optimistic about its future in China. That optimism is fueled in part by the vision the municipality of Beijing has for public transport.

It has said it wants public transport to account for 20 percent of road traffic by 2020, and that its plans call for many bicycles on the roads. Brunn says that she hopes this means that one day the highways in the city will have bike lanes.

The city is a natural choice for bicycle businesses, too, because it is endowed with flat, wide cycle lanes as well as other features that favor cycling, she says.

 

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