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WORTH A SPIN

A YouTube-like portal in China has unveiled a “smart bike”—and the move is only slightly crazy

LeTV
“Buzzard” is the name of LeTV’s smart bicycle.
  • Josh Horwitz
By Josh Horwitz

Asia Correspondent

This article is more than 2 years old.

In the US, the thought of YouTube releasing a bike would seem implausible. But in China’s cutthroat video streaming industry, it’s so crazy it just might work.

LeTV, which originated as a Chinese YouTube-esque video portal, is quickly transforming itself into an internet holding company that resembles Alibaba and Xiaomi. It’s a media company, an e-commerce company, and a sporting goods company rolled into one.

Yesterday (Aug. 11) at a press event in Beijing, the company unveiled details regarding two of its most ambitious efforts yet: a smartphone and an internet-enabled bicycle.

CEO Jia Yueting claims the company has sold a million Le Suprephone handsets in three months. It offers three models of the line: the Le 1, which retails for $230, the Le 1 Pro ($400), and the Le Max ($465).

The company also took the covers off a new “smart bicycle” it’s been working on since October 2014. Known as “Buzzard” and created with the help of China’s iconic bicycle maker Flying Pigeon, it comes equipped with a four-inch screen, a set of speakers, and a fingerprint reader, all of which are integrated with the company’s proprietary Bike OS. Riders can unlock the vehicle using their fingerprints or a smartphone app, and also collect data for things like heart rate and bike speed. There’s even a feature that lets riders communicate with other bike owners through push-to-talk.

The cheapest version of the bike sells for 4,000 yuan (about $622), while a high-end edition with gold handlebars and other perks sells for 40,000 yuan (about $6,200). It will go on sale later this month in China, and the company expects to release it in the US come fall.

As bizarre as LeTV’s global hardware ambitions seem on paper, there’s an element of pragmatism to them. China, unlike the US, is home to countless YouTube-esque portals, many of which offer the exact same content. In order to draw eyeballs and compete, they’ve been forced to pay sky-high licensing fees for “exclusive” content like Hollywood movies and sporting events. But this thins margins, and hasn’t done much to drive user loyalty for any player.

LeTV is hoping that hardware will help increase brand loyalty and profits. The company told Quartz in July that its phones are packed with specs for audiovisual lovers, such as sound technology from Harmon Kardon and Dolby. 

But the company also has a keen interest in athletics-related hardware. Besides the bike, it intends to release wrist trackers, treadmills, and even drones. With cross-cultural appeal and loyal fan followings, sports is a natural focus for the company. Think GoPro.

“We don’t want to be a company that just licenses content,” a LeTV spokeswoman tells Quartz. “Imagine, if we produce our own drone. The drone will capture the content, but then where will that content go? Through our system.”

It will likely take LeTV a long time before its ambitions are realized. China’s smartphone industry is slowing, and getting bike lovers to trade their analog wheels for digital ones will require patience and education. It appears LeTV, like other Chinese video streamers, is jumping from one bumpy ride to another.

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