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Interview: Xiong Junwu

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One of the most obvious measuring sticks of Kunming's rapid economic development since 2000 is the way people get around town. Tens of thousands of today's car drivers once relied primarily on bicycles for getting to and from work as well as running errands or meeting up for social engagements.

Alongside Kunming's embrace of the car-based lifestyle, recreational cycling has also boomed, with more and more Kunmingers trading their Flying Pigeon in for a Trek, Specialized or UCC. This is due to a variety of factors, including rising disposable incomes and more flexible daily lives as well as increasing concerns about personal health and the environment.

Kunming native Xiong Junwu (熊俊武) has been involved in the city's recreational cycling community since its beginnings more than two decades ago. He and his elder brother Xiong Junzhi (熊俊智) started Kunming's first bike shop, Xiong Brothers Bike Shop in 1991. In addition to selling bicycles, components and accessories, the shop also rents mountain bikes and is home to Fat Tyre Fun, Kunming's oldest registered cycling club.

We rode our bike over to Xiong Brothers Bike Shop and chatted about Kunming's evolving relationship with the bicycle with Xiong Junwu while Xiong Junzhi fixed a customer's mountain bike:

Business partners and brothers: Xiong Junwu and Xiong Junzhi
Business partners and brothers: Xiong Junwu and Xiong Junzhi

GoKunming: When and where did the first Xiong Brothers Bike Shop open?

Xiong Junwu: We opened at our first location on Huguo Lu in 1991. After that we moved the shop to Wuyi Lu, then to Qianju Jie, next to the old Wheatfield Bookstore.

We've been here on Beimen Jie for around four years now, but we still get loads of foreigners and some Chinese coming here after spending all day looking for our shop on Qianju Jie because many guidebooks still haven't updated our info. I thought they were supposed to update every year.

GK: They're probably more concerned about updating the nightlife section.

Xiong: (Laughs.) Yeah. You want a beer? (Points to two cases of Beerlao.)

GK: No thanks, I haven't had lunch yet.

Xiong: We've got a few foreign friends who like to come to the shop, sit around and talk shit over beers.

GK: Sounds fun. How long has your cycling club existed?

Xiong: We officially registered our club with the Kunming government in 1996. This was the result of an American guy named David, who is now a good friend of ours, seeing that we had bikes with gears and asking us if we wanted to ride with him and his friends.

Back then the city was much smaller and there were lots of trails not far from here, it was great for mountain biking.

The cycling club started off with just a few riders, but after a while that had become a few dozen. It was a good mix of foreigners and Chinese. We would meet at our shop before rides and hang out afterward. David was opening a lot of language schools around Kunming and became too busy to manage the club, so he handed it over to us.

GK: Why did you start your shop in the first place?

Xiong: I like the outdoors, whether it's cycling or hiking up a mountain. I wanted to have a job doing what I liked.

GK: How do you stay on top of servicing new products?

Xiong: Every year, I make trips to Shanghai and Taiwan where companies like Shimano provide free training to help us better understand new products, especially in terms of maintenance and repair.

GK: As a bike shop owner, what kind of changes have you seen in the last 20 years?

Xiong: Too much has changed... 20 years ago Chinese people only used bicycles as a way to get to and from work. Bicycles were just a tool. But today people see it as a good way to get exercise and stay fit.

In 1991 we were the only bike shop in town – now there are 20 or more shops around Kunming.

People thought that we'd lost our minds because we would ride up in the mountains for fun. Back then I could count the number of recreational cyclists on two hands. Today there's tens of thousands of people of different skill levels riding for fun in Kunming.

GK: How has the emergence of car culture in Kunming affected your business?

Xiong: It hasn't had any negative impact on us that we've noticed. A growing number of wealthy Kunmingers who bought cars years ago are now coming back around to bicycles as a way of staying healthy and even going to work or running errands. People's attitudes toward the bicycle are changing once again.

GK: Given that the general road conditions in and around Kunming have been improving over the past decade, have you seen more interest in road cycling?

Xiong: Ten years ago, Kunming was pretty much exclusively a mountain bike town. Since then the roads have been getting better, so we're selling more road bikes. Now our club's weekly rides alternate between off-road and road riding.

GK: What are your favorite places to cycle in and around Kunming?

Xiong: Hmm... well, as you know, five or six years ago riding in Kunming was a lot of fun, but now so many of the old roads and trails have been destroyed by development. Back then Xishan was the best place for riding, now it's nowhere near what it used to be. These days, I like riding around the Golden Temple (金殿) and Liangwang Mountain (梁王山). These places haven't been hit by development yet, and there are very few people there.

Xiong in front of Potala Palace after cycling from Dali to Lhasa
Xiong in front of Potala Palace after cycling from Dali to Lhasa

GK: How about your favorite places around Yunnan?

The Nu River and Lancang River valleys – I cycle in both places twice every year. Xishuangbanna also has loads of excellent cycling options.

GK: Other than your Saturday morning rides, does Fat Tyre Fun organize any other events?

Xiong: Yeah, we organize two competitive races each year.

GK: When's the next one?

Xiong: It should be June 18, we're actually going to a meeting later today about that. It's going to be a race around Dianchi Lake on the new bike path that's being built around the lake. We're aiming for a minimum of 2,000 cyclists.

GK: Is the path done?

Xiong: Not yet, but nearly. There's still a bit by Kunyang that has yet to be completed.

GK: What's the best thing for you about cycling?

Xiong: It keeps me healthy. I haven't been to the hospital once in the last 20 years.

GK: Kunming cyclists have less space on the road than ever, do you see cyclists getting any more respect from drivers or government planners in the near future?

Xiong: Three to five years from now I think drivers will give cyclists more respect. At the moment, drivers don't tend to care, they just drive as fast and close as they want. But the government is starting to see that bicycles are good for Kunming – roads will likely become more bike-friendly in the future.

More and more people in Kunming are beginning to view bicycles in terms of their health and environmental benefits, which is a very positive trend. I believe that in a few years Kunming will be a great city for cycling.

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Comments

Could you fill us in more about the Fat Tire Fun Club and schedule? Also it would be great to be updated about the race in June. How far is it around Dianchi anyways? ..............and some info about the bike path.

Nice interview, although I'm not sure I'm as sanguine as Mr. Xiong is about Kunming's bike friendliness in the future...

@Hugh&Sylvie, I believe it's around 75km around the lake, but not entirely sure. Xiong brothers goes out on one of the weekend mornings, but I can't remember which one at the moment. Why not call them or stop by and find out?

starting from and returning to downtown, the old route around the lake (which is now somewhat fraught with construction work and heavy traffic) used to clock about 130km.

i'm making the assumption that the 'Dianchi bike path' is merely bike path alongside the new 'around lake road 环湖路' rather than being an independent path. Google Earth clearly shows the path that the around lake road takes, and it's significantly closer to the lake than the old route. some sections are old, some new and already open.

for reference, a circuit of Fuxian Lake is 92km. also, a lake circuit race will possibly lop off Caohai 草海 by using the Haigeng 海埂 causeway.

taking all this into account (but without actually measuring it on Google Earth, koz this machine doesn't have it installed) i'd say we're looking at somewhere in the range 90-100km for the new circuit (excluding the extra distance to get to the lake from downtown.)

i guess we'll find out on June 18, should this race go ahead. i'll be there with bells on. maybe with one bell on. unless i've taken it off to reduce weight.

Not always the cheapest, but in my opinion the best bike shop in Kunming.

beside ride my bike I also love to watch professional races but in china is quite difficult. does anyone know if there is a channel that shows Contador and friends competitions (cctv5 doesn't, maybe on the cable tv?)?
thank you

Looped it yesterday. Including the distance from the Green Lake area to the lakeside road and back, we clocked 130km.

We did an anticlockwise circuit: Dianchi Lu, pop a right down to the promenade by Caohai, across the causeway, follow the old road alongside the highway to Haikou, ride through Haikou, pop a left over the Tanglang River bridge, follow the new road alongside the Anning-Jinning highway, take a left just before Jinning (this section seems to not be officially open, but is sealed), catch a tailwind along the east side, walk through the short tunnel near Chenggong (after which there's a short diversion to the right around a construction area), and return to the city on the north side of the lake.

Carry water on the east side, there's not many places to refuel. There's next to no climbing, though there are a few bumps that'll slow you up a bit. It's less sheltered on the east side of the lake, so anticlockwise makes sense if you want to get most out of the potential tail wind. The surface is a bit shoddy around Haikou, but all the newly-laid road is glorious. Get yer skinnies on!

latest on the race from Xiong: it should take place sometime during July

The group generally try to leave the shop at about 10:00 every saturday morning. Don't worry about getting there too early though.

Rides usually include setting off out of the city and climbing to near where most trails begin, then sitting for a luxurious meal before setting off back to kunming off road.

I highly recommend this shop, they're one of the only places in town you can get a strong and reliable wheel built. They are also nice chilled out guys.

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