700Bike, a smart bicycle startup, was launched in May 2012. The startup did not produce bicycles right away, but built a community of avid cyclists in China via its cycling blog on China’s largest social network WeChat, and an app to share news and information about urban cycling.
Besides building an online audience, the startup organizes events for cyclists such as the Chinese Tweed Run – a festival encouraging cyclists to ride in vintage clothing with music and food – Night Ride activities in different cities, and co-organizes The Fixed Gear Open Game.
It is reported that between 2012 to 2014, close to 10,000 cyclists participated in events, according to China.com.cn, one of the biggest Chinese state-owned news and information sites.
700Bike now produces bikes that represent China’s new generation of city bikes with features including an embedded digital display depicting track speed, distance and ride time.
700Bike also produces a corresponding app for its bikes allowing users to sync cycling data with mobile devices and even includes a built-in GPS transceiver on certain models that can track bicycles in case of theft.
At 700Bike’s headquarters in Beijing, bicycle-related events are held every Sunday. Past events included tips on riding in thin air regions and the benefits of riding with cleats and toe clips.
Apart from sharing cycling information among cyclists, 700Bike refers to itself as an Internet company that also designs and manufactures bicycles. Zhang Xiangdong, co-founder and CEO of 700Bike, sees the challenge of the city bicycle market as as an opportunity for a new concept of city bikes.
“The Chinese middle class has changed their attitude towards transportation and their way of life has been transformed accordingly,” Zhang told AllChinaTech.
Zhang is a cycling enthusiast and the author of Best Flight, a book about his cycling adventures in five continents over seven years. He joined the smart bicycle startup in November 2014.
Four months after he joined, 700Bike raised USD 15 million in series A funding from Banyan Capital, China Growth Capital and IDG Capital Partners.
Zhang made a bold move in June when the startup began accepting pre-orders for its first smart bicycle series with no information released about the products, no price tags and no launch day set. After ten days of “blind” pre-ordering, 700Bike claimed pre-orders had reached 20,000 bikes.
“It wasn’t a risk, we just treated it as a small game,” Zhang said. “We didn’t expect to have so many users support us.”
Science China – a part of website China.com.cn – pins the high volume of orders received in a short period of time down to the cycling community trusting Zhang’s reputation and recognizing 700Bike as a brand. A style of marketing critics often refer to as a “trusted economy”.
It is perhaps quite helpful that Zhang has a huge amount of followers on China’s largest social media website Sina Weibo. He shares news and updates about his company with his more than two million fans on the platform. To put this in perspective, 700Bike itself only has just above 62,000 followers on Weibo.
Zhang states that his reputation can only be attributed for a small portion of the pre-order success, instead it’s the result of different elements.
“More and more people like cycling and they are looking for a better user experience,” Zhang said. “It’s an opportunity for more aesthetically pleasing bikes.”
Zhang admits that he is not concerned about the smart bicycle market. As a new generation of smart bicycle, he hopes to expand the overall bicycle market in China, which is now dominated by mountain bikes, from 100 billion to 300 billion.
700Bike plans to launch a new series of portable folding bikes next spring.