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Smooth ride

By Sun Xiaochen | China Daily | Updated: 2013-08-06 09:34
Smooth ride

The 221 Riders' Bar is benefiting from a booming market in bicycle rentals in Qinghai province as the popularity of cycling around Qinghai Lake has grown in recent years. photos by Sun Xiaochen / China Daily

Smooth ride

An enterprising couple who have faced more than their fair share of hardship are turning their fortunes around with a bicycle rental business that has not only transformed their lives, but the former nuclear base where they live. Sun Xiaochen reports in Xihai, Qinghai province.

A couple's bike-rental venture has helped their small town transit from a nuclear base to a cycling Mecca.

The transformation of Xihai, a small town in northeast Qinghai province, from an abandoned atomic bomb development base to a cycling hub welcoming about 30,000 amateurs to tour Qinghai Lake every year, didn't happen overnight.

Governmental push aside, it was the new migrants' foresight and dedication that turned the rundown factories into bicycle garages while renovating the empty barracks into club receptions and hostels. Once known as No 221 factory (the base's name in the 1960s), the town has embraced a new era, thanks to trailblazers such as couple Wu Weimin and An Fang.

Walking into the 221 Riders' Bar, which Wu and An founded at the former base's radio management office in 2011, a row of bicycles extends from the doorway to the corridor along a wall filled with sticky notes from guests, who rented bikes and left encouraging feedback.

Smooth ride

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Inside the 170-square-meter clubrooms, the reception desk fights for space with helmets and gloves. Spare tires and tools are stacked in a corner. Hanging on the roof are banners of riding clubs from across the country, while group photos taken during tours dominate another wall.

A crowded but lively club, it was built upon the couple's belief in cycling tourism, and their hard work is finally paying off.

"When we started, we had no clue how to run the venture, not enough funds to make it big. We only had a passion for amateur cycling and confidence in the market potential," An says after leading club members to cheer for riders at the second stage of the 2013 Tour of Qinghai Lake in Guide county.

The couple lost their jobs at a thermal power plant in 2000, and opened a motorcycle repair shop. They ran into trouble in 2004 when Wu was diagnosed with chronic nephropathy. The shop's entire profits of 50,000 yuan ($8,179) was spent on treatment, forcing the couple to quit the business before moving to Xihai in 2010.

Wu then worked at the Qinghai-Tibet Railway maintenance project as a driver for a year, during which the couple noticed the popularity of cycling around the lake.

"Interest in touring the lake started to grow then. We thought we were in an era of change," says 46-year-old An.

Related:

Tour brings cycle of success to Qinghai

The wheel deal

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