Iconic bicycle brand clutches modern trend

Shanghai Phoenix, China's earliest bicycle maker, is now rising from the ashes of traditional pedal power to embrace the new age of electric bikes, app-operated shared bikes and the popularity of motocross and road cycle racing as major sports events.
Shen Xinyi / SHINE

Shanghai Phoenix, China's earliest bicycle maker with a 120-year-old history, is now rising from the ashes of traditional pedal power to embrace the new age of electric bikes, app-operated shared bikes and the popularity of motocross and road cycle racing as major sports events.

"We have to regain glory in the modern era by embracing the Internet and satisfying consumers," said Wang Chaoyang, Phoenix's current president.

Known as Feng Huang in Chinese, the brand once reigned supreme as the ultimate of quality in the old days when cars were few and China was called the Bicycle Kingdom. A Phoenix bicycle in as recently as the 1980s and early 1990s was regarded as a family treasure. The company was the first to list on China’s new stock market in 1993.

Shanghai Phoenix

In this 1970s photo, customers in the Shanghai No. 1 Department Store look over the rang of Phoenix bicycles, coveted household purchases. 

As a calling card of Shanghai and “made-in-China” products, Phoenix has sold more than 200 million bicycles to date globally. It has been China’s top bicycle exporter for more than 40 years, with its trademark registered in 104 countries.

Times have changed and changed radically. Cars and Metro systems now are the modern people-movers. Bicycles are no longer family necessities. At first Phoenix struggled with an urban transformation that seemed to shut it out.

But like all successful companies, Phoenix learned to adapt to changes by sizing up the new landscape and seizing new opportunities. The current popularity of shared bikes for short, green trips to work, shopping and Metro stations has seen the company emerge as what some call the “Uber of bicycles.”

At present, about a dozen major players have penetrated the shared-bike market, attracting billions of dollars of investment and making shared bikes the hot social trend.

Last month, Phoenix announced a partnership with Ofo to make 5 million bikes for the bike-sharing company in the next 12 months. The bikes will be deployed mainly in Shanghai and Beijing, with about 1 million shipped to overseas markets.

Shanghai Phoenix

A worker assembles an Ofo bike in a Jiangsu Province factory. Last month, Phoenix announced a partnership with the bike-sharing firm to make 5 million cycles in the next 12 months.

With its solid reputation, trained work staff, century of expertise and strong distribution channels. Phoenix has unique advantages in the sector, industry insiders said.

"The shared-bike wave has meant a rebirth of opportunities for all bike manufacturers," said Ma Zhongchao, president of the Chinese Cycling Association.

Phoenix is not content to be just a supplier to bike-sharing firms.

It has expanded production capacity and developed new products to meet the demands of young, modern consumers.

By 2016, Phoenix had added to its Shanghai base by building major manufacturing sites in Jiangsu Province and the city of Tianjin. Its annual production capacity has risen to 5 million units.

In addition to its classic roadster, Phoenix now produces children's bikes, BMXs, mountain bikes, hybrids, city bikes, leisure bikes, beach cruisers, racing bikes, folding bikes and electric scooters. Last month, Phoenix released a new line of electric bikes with its MintBike and U1 models in Shanghai. They are targeting young consumers with features like portable chargers, super light design and sports data collection. The new models integrate the bicycle of old with the Internet era.

Phoenix has achieved its own renaissance, Wang said, exemplifying the nation’s transformation from “made in China to “innovation in China.”

Special Reports
Top