The return of Shanghai bicycle culture
Available exclusively on the Forever C online flagship store launched last month, the bike is at the center of conversation about the Forever brand's bold transformation.
Since going on sale in mid-September, the company has sold a little more than 1,000 Forever C's.
Some view the bike as an admirable effort from a brand seeking to re-invent itself. Others have bashed the revival as a commercial trap for young consumers with little attachment to the cycling culture of their parents' generation.
Either way, the Forever C has succeeded in bringing attention back to Shanghai bike culture.
Forever C is official
The man behind Forever C is Gao Shusa, a 26-year-old architect and urban designer.
Gao arrives at a scheduled interview on an ivory-colored Forever C, a bike from the model's “Peishan” collection, and immediately begins addressing concerns over the bike's cost of almost RMB 1,000.
“Most people have their bike stolen because they don’t take care of it properly,” Gao says. “I’ve never lost any bikes in Shanghai. Remember, always lock your bike with two locks and park it in the paid parking areas.”
Apart from being a bike fanatic, Gao is co-founder of Hangzhou-based CrossDesign studio, the company that has helped plan, design and promote the Forever C label.
“Forever C is Forever bike’s official product," says Gao. "It’s not produced by some small factory who bought the copyright from Forever, as the rumor goes online. It’s an official collaboration between our studio and Forever bike’s current entity Zhonglu Co., Ltd."
CrossDesign is a company formed by 10 Chinese bike lovers, each under 30 years old. Most were educated in Europe. Now back in China, they joined forces with the idea of reviving the simple, free cycling culture the country has lost.
Coincidentally, executives at Forever had been having similar discussions.
The 70-year-old Fortune brand is currently run by 23-year-old CEO Chen Shan. Educated in the United Kingdom, Chen brings fresh ideas to the traditional company.
His last project was the well-received Shanghai bike-share system.
Nowadays, people have no trouble paying this much money on fashion. Why can’t they accept this price for a quality and long-lasting bike?-- Gao Shusan, co-founder of CrossDesign
CrossDesign studio and Forever joined forces through connections at Tongji University last October. Ten months later the Forever C was born as a trendy bike label with 15 designs under five collections.
“We are using limited inputs and running limited risk to do something that can potentially bring dramatic change [to people’s lives in China],” says Chen.
According to Forever C’s flagship store on Taobao.com, a Forever C costs between RMB 699-999.
Some netizens have citicized bike's price. Gao sees it as a sign of the times.
“Nowadays, people have no trouble paying this much money on fashion. Why can’t they accept this price for a quality and long-lasting bike?” he says. “Thirty years ago, the price of a Forever bike was around RMB 150. It equaled several months’ salary.”
Modernized postman’s bike
Forever C is based on Forever's old-school Chinese postman’s bike. With a more streamlined and modern silhouette, however, the new design looks far cooler than it ever did on post routes.
“It is a soft-spot in everyone’s mind," says Gao. "When you see a postman’s bike, you are not just looking at a bike, but a period of Chinese history. It's part of an identity, part of people’s wish for a better life.”
In fact, the most popular model during the first month of sales has been the black "Peishan," the style that most resembles the old postman's bike.
Forever C has ergonomic advantages over older models. It's "retro in appearance, but modern in design," according to Gao.
“During the Forever C design phase, we did come across difficulties because there were quite a number of defects in the old postman’s bike design,” he says. “We wanted people to get a better ride while keeping the triangle bike frame. The frame caused problems, though, since it required people to hunch their backs which isn't healthy.”
To find the right seat and grip, the team talked to no fewer than 50 suppliers. They still haven't found the perfect design.
“Of course, there will be some minor changes to the design after it hits the market," says Gao. "We’re using the best seats and grips we have found so far.”
While giving the classic style a face-lift, designers at CrossDesign also chose to keep some of the Forever postman bike’s iconic design traits, such as curved handlebars and triangle frame.
Adopting the 1950s version of the logo adds a retro touch.
“Forever C’s retail channels are a big reason why Forever is so fond of this project. CrossDesign is exploring a new brand sales channel for them -- online retailing,” says Gao.
Online shopping has gone from alternative to mainstream in China. It's the primary way young people, Forever C's target market, make purchases.
Forever is currently focusing on sales through Taobao.com. The company is being cautious about setting up physical outlets.
We are using limited input and running limited risk to do something that can potentially bring dramatic change [to people’s lives].-- Chen Shan, Forever CEO
In order to promote cycling culture, Forever C has named its first five collections after bike-friendly streets from around China, including Wuyuan Lu in Shanghai, making each bike in the collection a symbol of the city’s road culture.
“Wuyuan Lu is not as petty bourgeois as Wukang Lu. It has a very local neighborhood vibe,” says Gao. “Singer Eheart Chen changed people’s impression of Wuyuan Lu through his song. The feeling his song conveys is exactly what we want to promote.”
Marketing to date has been a qualified success, but adapting to a new economic model has proven more difficult for Forever.
“Forever is not losing money, but that doesn’t mean they’re super rich," says Gao. "They are very careful with what they spend. Forever doesn’t have a budget for advertising. They don’t have any idea what that is becasue they never had to consider it in the past."
Thanks to thriving Chinese social media, the company has already created a dedicated following on sites such as Douban. The bikes are getting a fair bit of buzz on Chinese blogs.
“Forever C is only the first step of CrossDesign," says Gao. "We won’t stop at a product. Our ultimate goal is to create a cycling culture and lifestyle. We want to bring bikes back to your life.”
1. The “C” in Forever C stands for "classic."
2. The only brick-and-mortar shop in Shanghai that will sell Forever C will be located on Liaoyuan Xi Lu. The space is currently under construction.
3. Forever C’s five collections are Peishan (北山), Yihe (颐和), Wuyuan (五原), Liuyin (柳荫) and Danshui (淡水), all named for bike-friendly streets in China.
4. In addition to bikes, Forever C also offers bags.