When you’ve founded a company that grows to the heights of Sungy Mobile, you don’t usually just quit. Sungy president Zhang Xiangdong had over ten years of history with Sungy, a company he built from the ground up with his co-founder Deng Yuqiang, when he decided to quit. The two had taken the company from a tiny startup in 2004 to a NASDAQ-listed tech giant with a global business spanning 200 countries and a market cap of more than US$150 million. Zhang walked away from all of that because of bicycling.
“Starting seven years ago, every year I would choose a beautiful road on one of the continents to ride my bike,” Zhang told Tech in Asia. Over the years, he rode across five different continents, and even published a book about his bicycle adventures. “Cycling lets me explore the world and discover myself,” he told me. In 2014, Zhang realized that for him, biking had to be more than just a hobby. “I didn’t want my love for biking to empty,” he said. “There’s only one way to prove your love, and that’s to give back to it, to do something for it.”
So Zhang left his place at the top of Sungy and joined a startup called 700Bike. 700Bike is a Beijing-based smart bike startup created by a bunch of internet-industry types like Zhang. The company aims to rectify what Zhang says is a problem with the bicycle industry: “bicycle manufacturers are too far from their users; they sell their bikes to distributors and then never check in or listen to the users’ needs. To internet industry folks, that is untenable. So from the beginning 700Bike has striven to be the company that’s closest to its users.” The result of that work – so far – is bikes like this:
700Bike is making a few different models, but they all share the same basic characteristics: integrated display with speed and mileage information, GPS tracking and anti-theft features, puncture-resistant tires, and a self-powered electrical system that requires no batteries or charging. The “backstreet” model is already available in China for RMB 2499 (US$390) and two additional models will come out before the end of the year, both priced at RMB 3299 (US$514). Another model is planned for release in 2016.
For the moment, the bikes are only going to be available in China, but 700Bike does have global ambitions. “We’re focusing first on the domestic market,” Zhang says, “but overseas markets are part of our plan for the future.”
700Bike is not alone in China’s smart bike market, of course. Baidu has its DuBike smart bike project, although it has been a while since we’ve heard much about it. Letv has its own line of smartbikes which are on the market, though, and there are plenty of other bike-focused startups out there like Basic Conception that are also working in a similar space.
Zhang says 700Bike’s products stand apart from the competition because they’re carefully designed for city riders. The bike’s unique h-shaped rear frame is designed for shock-absorption, for example, to make riding on pavement more comfortable. And the kevlar tires and auto-shifting system are designed to ensure that city riders can focus on cars around them rather than having to worry about small objects on the road or manually shifting through lots of different gears.
Other bikes offer more “smart” features, but Zhang says that’s beside the point. “We’ve always been unwilling to call ourselves a smart hardware company,” he told me, “but the bike itself is the most important part.” So yeah, 700Bike has GPS tracking, an integrated app, and an on-bike display screen, but that’s all to serve the bicycle:
The internet is the future, but you can’t just be ‘smart’ for the sake of ‘smart.’ 700Bike hopes to give users an optimal travel experience; it’s a kind of lifestyle.
If you read Chinese, you can find more information or order a bike on 700Bike’s website.
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