FOR DECADES  after its  Communist revolution  in 1949, China was known as ''the Kingdom of  bicycles''.

The onespeed Flying Pigeons that swarmed the streets were not simply a cheap mode transportation. They were shared symbols of a  very shared aspiration.

Along with with a radio, a watch and a sewing machine, a bicycle was one of  four possessions -known as sanshengyixiang, or ''three rounds and sound'' - that urban Chinese families felt they needed to be part of the modern world.

By the time I joined the masses in 2001, cycling across Beijing for daily Mandarin classes, cars had begun to displace bicycles.

Peddling alongside my fellow commuters - students, workers, pensioners - I felt part of a communal experience.

I was wrong, of course. China's cities are suddenly teeming with bicycles,
and humble one-speed remnant of  China's collective memory, again serves as more than just a means of conveyance.

It is now a digital device too, helping shape one of China's most dynamic growth engines - the so -called sharing economy.

Three years ago, bike sharing didn't exist in China.

Today more than  40 companies  offer the service. And the top two alone,  Mobike  and  Ofo,  handle more than 50 million  rides every day, solving the  ''last mile''  problem of getting people from public transportation to their homes.

China's bike sharing explosion is driven by digital innovations that make renting ''dockless'' bikes easy, cheap and completely cool.

All it takes is a smartphone : to find the nearest bike via GPS, to scan its smartlocks and to pay minuscule fee [usually 15 cents or less per ride] through a mobile payment app.

At the end, the bikes can be almost anywhere.
[In the United States, bicycles often need to be picked up and returned to fixed dock, as with  New York's Citi Bike].

For a generation of consumers conditioned to adapt to new things, the draw is no longer the pride of ownership but has become convenience and cachet.

For the companies and, more pointedly the Chinese government, the potential windfall comes not so much from profits, which remain elusive, but from the consumer data produced by every transaction. 

The Global Operational Publishing continues to Part 2. And !WOW! thanks author and researcher Brook Larmer


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