The Motorcycling Subculture in China
Let’s start this article with a personal story including myself and a motorcycle: Back in the 90s, when I went to elementary school, my family couldn’t afford a car and so my father purchased a motorcycle as a means of transportation.
Everyday, my father would drive me to school with the motorcycle, which was tough in winter, as we often had -10 degrees in Beijing back then, and the wind speed could reach over 30 km/h. In early 2000, my family saved enough money and purchased our first car. The motorcycle as well as the license plate were sold afterwards.
The story of my family is representative for a lot of families and individuals in China back in the 90s: Compared to a car a motorcycle is the cheaper option in terms of transportation. This still applies to a lot of families and individuals in the less developed cities and suburb areas of big cities in China.
A few years ago, our company conducted a market research study for a motorcycle manufacturer in regards to the markets of China, Germany, and the USA. Our client from Germany asked me: “Why do some bikers in China do not have a car?” I was very confused by this question, so I asked: “Why should they?” Our client told me: “In Germany, most people first purchase a car and then a motorcycle as an additional vehicle.” – That moment, I realized the cultural difference considering the meaning of having a motorcycle.
In Germany, motorcycles serve as a tool to drive to beautiful mountain roads on the summer weekends, or to Italy. Riding a motorcycle is a leisure activity. In China, however, motorcycles are used to commute and to run errands for people who can’t afford a car. Back in the 90s, there were way too many motorcycles in the cities of China, causing two-wheel traffic chaos at some point. Thus, motorcycles have been banned in a lot of central urban areas to ensure traffic safety.
The restrictions have been loosened since 2017. Examples are the China Superbike Championship (CSBK) that took place in 2017 and the Beijing Motorcycle Show that was held in 2018 after pausing for 11 years.
We have also noticed that the sales number of motorcycles with bigger displacement has been continuously rising, with people of the Gen Z (born after 1995) becoming the main buyers. Gen Zs mentioned that their main reasons for riding a motorcycle are doing long tours on the weekends in order to escape their daily pressure and to feel cool. Running errands and commuting are not the main usage purpose.
Besides the motorcycle itself, bikers also need to get a license. A license in Beijing or Shanghai costs between 160,000 to 350,000 Yuan (21,605- 47,261 Euro).
Gen Z bikers also pay great attention to pricy design equipment, such as a fancy helmet, individual decoration elements, etc.
Another interesting observation is that there are a lot of young female bikers in China coming from wealthy families.
Gen Zs enjoy sharing their biking experience on social media and exchanging information with others, which leads to a growing motorcycle subculture in modern China.
- Young people are the main buyers of motorcycles with higher prices.
- Female bikers are also an important target group in China. Even though the average body height of Chinese people has increased, most Chinese women don’t grow taller than 1, 70 m, which limits their choice of motorcycles.
- Fancy design and coolness are the most important purchase factors so far.
Spiegel Institut conducts market and consumer research studies all over the world. Not only do we provide results for our clients, we also explain them and give insight into cultural differences. By doing so, we offer profound meta understanding of the cultures and societies involved.
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Author: Yue Liu, Spiegel Institut Mannheim