Big wheels keep on turning

Updated: 2014-07-16 07:10

By Xu Jingxi (China Daily)

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A successful Chinese entrepreneur discovered that loving life simply meant riding his bicycle, he tells Xu Jingxi in Guangzhou.

There are three problems that a cyclist always wants to avoid: getting lost, breaking a chain and riding through a sudden rain. In 2007, a 30-year-old Zhang Xiangdong ran into all the three on the same day when he was cycling in France. After struggling to fix the bicycle chain, Zhang rode on in the rain, threading through a "cobweb" of country roads to find a lodging before dark.

The Chinese cyclist couldn't help feeling a twinge of panic. He had no idea where to go, with his Road Atlas damp from the rain. Navigation apps on mobile phones were not yet in common use.

He looked for someone to ask the way and a hunter in the meadow caught his eyes. Wearing a cloak and holding a pipe between his teeth, the hunter slowly examined his shotgun and ordered several hounds to run back and forth.

Zhang asked the man why he still went out hunting on a rainy day, and the hunter replied: "A sunny day is a nice day. Why can't a rainy day be?"

Zhang often shares that story with his friends and fans as he describes cycling the most beautiful routes in five continents between 2007 and 2013. "It is cycling that has taught me to take life as it comes," Zhang writes in his new book Brief Flight, which was published in Chinese in June.

"All kinds of weather are part of the unpredictable nature of a journey and also part of the scenery that a traveler should accept."

That same life philosophy can be applied to entrepreneurship, according to Zhang.

The 37-year-old co-founded Sungy Mobile Ltd with two classmates at Peking University in 2003 and developed it into China's first NASDAQ-listed mobile Internet company in 2013.

However, ringing the opening bell at the stock exchange was not the highlight of his career, the company's president says. It was the 10 years of hard work before that moment.

"I have vanity and enjoy such moments too," Zhang said during a public lecture at Fang Suo Commune in Guangzhou on July 8. "But if glorious moments are all an entrepreneur wants, he or she won't be able to bear the inevitable hardships on the road toward these moments.

"Only when you can enjoy the fun of going up the slope will you truly fall in love with cycling."

In Zhang's small home village in Fengxiang county, Shaanxi province, learning to ride a bicycle was a given for both young children and teenagers. Primary school graduates would mount their fathers' 28-inch bikes and spend the summer vacation before middle school cycling back and forth on the broad road outside the village.

In those days, learning how to ride a bicycle was as significant as getting a driving license today. And what a 28-inch bike meant to Zhang's family in the early 1990s is "much more than what a car means to an American family today", he says.

Riding the bike, Zhang's father shuttled between his factory and home 10 kilometers apart. The worn-out bike was later passed on to Zhang for him to ride to his boarding high school.

Now the cycling enthusiast owns eight valuable bicycles - and has named each one.

"Pegasus" is a product of Italy's Bianchi, the world's oldest bicycle-making company. It was named after the winged horse in Greek mythology, and the bike was Zhang's reliable companion during his cycling tours in South Africa and Australia.

"Bad Guy", a fixed gear, has the magic to renew Zhang's youth. When he races against cars on Bad Guy, he feels like a street kid.

"Mr Maugham", on the other hand, slows down the busy businessman. On sunny days, he loves to go out for a walk in Beijing with Mr Maugham, which is an Abici bike with a classic silhouette, he says.

For Zhang, a bicycle has become "a world full of freedom and happiness". He enjoys chatting with cycling enthusiasts over a cup of tea deep into the night. Many are crazier than he is about the world of bicycles, he adds.

"I can't understand those people who are never passionate about something and set their life aims at making more money, buying bigger houses and owning more power," Zhang says.

"You won't know how to love the world until you are truly in love with something."

Zhang had never gone out of Fengxiang county until he left home for Beijing for college at the age of 18. The country boy didn't know that bicycle would carry him to explore the vast world 20 years later.

The unconventional man chose cycling as his method of global travel because it was "distinctive".

It was difficult to find a shop selling professional bicycles in China back in 2007, he recalls. But today Zhang believes that cycling represents a good lifestyle for the public, especially young people.

Bicycle is actually the most sensible transportation tool in a modern city because it is economical, convenient and environmental friendly, Zhang says.

"Nowadays many young people are under pressure to save money to buy cars and houses. By choosing cycling, young people are able to reduce their desire for material wealth," he says. "They can thus live free with more time and money to enjoy life by means such as reading, traveling and watching plays."

Or by simply pedaling on.

In 2007, having bid goodbye to the French hunter, Zhang cycled leisurely in the rain, singing songs about rainy days and mimicking quacks of the ducks that he met on the way.

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(China Daily 07/16/2014 page19)