Culture

The millions of bicycles going to waste in China

Aug 14, 2018

China may not have invented bike-sharing, but its real innovation was in making the first app-driven “dockless” bicycles than can be unlocked and peddled almost anywhere. All you need is your smartphone.

I was an early adopter, having long been dismayed that the Bicycle Kingdom had become an Automobile Republic. In the years before Ofo or Mobike, theft was a real concern, seriously limiting where you could take a bike. It was liberating to cycle to a subway station, park the thing and forget about it.

It was liberating to cycle to a subway station, park the thing and forget about it.

One day, however, while peddling a Mobike home, I noticed two more in a canal. Beijing was reaching saturation point; there were too many bikes vying for too few commuters.

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Photo: Yibo Wang/Shutterstock
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Photo: Yibo Wang/Shutterstock

As I Ofoed my way through 2017, I found discarded bicycles everywhere: abandoned in parks or blocking alleyways. Despite their obvious benefits, the two-wheeled debris piled-up, exposing both public and corporate negligence. An environmental solution was becoming an environmental problem. The bikes were left broken or damaged, prompting local authorities to dump the excess machines en masse in makeshift compounds.

Shenzhen-based photographer Wu Guoyong has been traveling the country, photographing these man-made aluminum mountains of bikes.

“I went to Beijing, Shanghai, Hefei, you name it,” said Wu, who visited 15 major cities documenting the waste.

“I see shared bikes as useful, but the [dumping grounds] expose a moral problem in the landscape of China,” says the photo­grapher. “We’re throwing away bikes! That just doesn’t seem right.”

Adapted from an original article first published in the South China Morning Post.