A story about how a Shanghai-based bike designer decided to pursue his dream, all because of one film.
Bicycle designer Zhang Ji grew up in the city of Guiyang, capital of Guizhou Province. The city sat on a hilly terrain and commanded a gorgeous range of mountains. Because of this, it did not provide the young Zhang with a lot of opportunities to ride a bicycle growing up. He felt little towards the instrument of transportation. Then in middle school, he came across a movie titled “Beijing Bicycle”, which left a deep impression on him. The movie is set in Beijing, back in the 90s. Young folks freely rode their bicycles up and down narrow alleys and roamed between towering buildings. Watching the people ride freely among the hustle and bustle of the large city, a seed of desire was planted in Zhang’s heart—a desire for freedom.
After moving to Shanghai to study, Zhang began to ride his bicycle everywhere he went, like what they did in the movie. He truly enjoyed riding in the city. Aside from class, Zhang pretty much rode all the time around the town.
While studying architecture, Zhang occasionally thought about the role and charm of bicycles from an architectural and urban planning perspective. “I think bikes are like the veins of a city, quietly reaching out to every turn and corner of the city, replenishing it with vitality,” he says.
In 2009, domestic brands within China went through a retro revival phase. Brands such as Feiyue, Warrior, Shanghai Watch and so on have all jumped on the wagon by coming out with retro shoe designs. At that time, Zhang was still a first year Master’s student studying at Tongji University when he caught wind of a cooperation between Forever Bicycle, a popular Chinese bicycle brand, and the professors of his university to come up with retro designs of bicycles. After hearing about this, the bold and courageous Zhang rounded up a few fellow students and submitted a design proposal to his professors.
Zhang and his friends designed a bicycle that had a retro and simple feel to it, and provided a great riding experience. They released it under a sister brand to Forever Bicycle named, “Forever C”. After Forever C was established, it garnered lots of attention and reintroduced a retro and vintage bicycle back into people’s lives.
In 2015, they officially started their own bicycle brand named WKUP. WKUP is the abbreviation of the English words “Wake Up”. Zhang’s founding partners included a senior employee from Tongji, an experienced bicycle supply chain manager, a childhood bicycle expert, and a senior creative designer. The group of five made bicycles their one and only mission in life.
A simple triangular structure coupled with a minimum number of parts, provided one with the fastest ground speed possible by pedaling. This timeless design remained popular over the years since its incarnation in the 19th century. Zhang’s team believed that what made a bicycle truly attractive, was its simplicity.
Zhang built their bicycles using the simplest color scheme, the most traditional paint colors, and discarded unnecessary additions and decorations. The vintage design was paired with modern materials and crafting technologies to allow the natural refreshing quality of bicycles to bloom. This blend of vintage and modern style is, in Zhang’s opinion, the very product that belongs to this fast-developing era.
Commuting back and forth between home and work daily, and seeing the same old grey concrete buildings towering over day in and day out, could make one feel distant and cold to the city. However, once Zhang mounts onto a bicycle, the cold demeanor of the city lightens up is replenished with life suddenly. Every day, what gets Zhang up in the morning is the journey of commuting to and from work. “While riding on the bicycle, you see people bargaining here and there, others chatting about, facial expressions morphing constantly showing vitality and energy, I can observe all of this vividly,” Zhang says. “Life is once again, very interesting.”
Cruising at a velocity of about 15 kilometers per hour, one can easily observe the rhythm of life all around. “At this speed, I can simply pedal comfortably and feel the temperature, the smell, the sound, and the wind kissing gently on my face. It is the most refreshing experience to let the mind and the body relax,” Zhang explains. “It is precisely at this moment, that the city feels most intimate to you. The people and the things around you are all alive and filled with vitality. Myself included. The sweat on my forehead only serves to remind me of how alive I am.”