It's a muggy summer Saturday afternoon in Beijing and, as usual, thousands of cyclists are cruising the streets. Old men meander along on their ancient Forevers, teenagers race by on modern mountain bikes and middle-aged women in skirts gracefully pedal their one-speeds. The only place where cyclists aren't present in any number is the new Trek concept store on Dianmen, a broad avenue that bisects the capital. The spacious two-floor showroom is filled with sleek, shiny - and pricey - mountain and road bicycles, as well as clothing, footwear and other accessories. Salesman Yu Luming says he and his three colleagues have seen only a few dozen customers today, and most come by just to take a look. 'They want to buy but they cannot afford it,' says Mr Yu. That's the problem facing Trek, one of the United States's biggest bicycle makers, as it seeks to gain a foothold in China's massive retail cycle market. At first glance, selling bikes in Beijing might seem easy, because almost everyone uses one to get around. But there's tough competition from cycle shops on almost every corner, many selling basic, no-frills one-speed models for less than 120 yuan. Trek, whose bikes are ridden by Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, opened its bike boutique and another store in Shunyi, near the airport, in March. While Trek and other famous American bike brands such as Cannondale, Specialized and Diamondback, are already sold at a few dealers around town, the stores mark the first time that a major foreign high-end bicycle maker has invested in China. It's a move that other big foreign brands such as Specialized and Colnago have not followed. That doesn't faze Todd McKean, Trek's general manager in China, who previously helped bring the Nike brand to China. 'Selling a bike in China is maybe like selling ice to Eskimos. To some people it may seem a little odd,' Mr McKean says. '[On the other hand] there are a lot of high-end brands that are selling well here. The challenge is to help people recognise the brand, and get them interested in it.' As well as the two concept stores, Mr McKean's strategy to familiarise affluent buyers with the Trek brand includes sponsoring events and races around China, including a two-day bike festival next to the Great Wall later this summer. The company is also recruiting a national network of dealers. 'Just like anyone who's going to do business in China, if you want to sell more products you're going to open more points of sale,' says Mr McKean. 'We would obviously target most of the big cities in China then look at some of the second-tier cities,' he said, adding that he was visiting a potential dealer in Chengdu the next day. China's bike market is huge but geared towards low-end products. It is estimated that Chinese own about 450 million bicycles. The market is worth US$650 million to US$700 million a year, Mr McKean explains. However, he says: 'All but a few per cent of that have been bikes like the Phoenix or Forever that sell for 300 or 400 yuan.' Mainland factories churned out 79 million bicycles last year - 60 per cent of the world total - of which 51 million were exported. Like other bike makers, Trek's lower-priced models are also made on the mainland or in Taiwan but any model that retails for US$800 or more is still made at its headquarters in Waterloo, Wisconsin. Mr McKean won't reveal how many bikes he has sold since March, but a visit to the flagship store shows that so far, would-be cyclists aren't exactly falling over themselves to buy Trek's bikes, priced at 2,000 yuan and up. At Trek's spacious Dianmen showroom, a few hardcore cyclists stop by for spare parts, as does a teenager who wants his BMX bike adjusted. A potbellied middle-aged man in shorts comes in to take a look at the bikes but leaves without buying. Racks along the wall display neat rows of Fuel 70 mountain bikes, equipped with disc brakes and Rock Shox suspension, selling for 11,000 yuan. Also on display are carbon fibre and aluminium road bikes, priced at 5,800 yuan. On display upstairs is a super-advanced Top Fuel 110 mountain bike, which is made entirely of carbon fibre and on sale for a whopping 52,000 yuan. More typical of China's bicycle stores is Liu Cheng-ming's hole-in-the-wall bike shop a block north of the Trek store. It's cramped, messy and not big enough for more than three people at a time to browse. Frames and spare parts litter the floor and about 50 bikes are crammed into the 30 square metre store. Mr Liu, the manager, tells a visitor on a Sunday he's sold about 15 bikes so far that day. His cheapest model is a no-name one-speed costing 118 yuan. He shrugs off the threat posed by the Trek store, saying his bikes are just as good and points out a Shenzhen-made racing bike and a mountain bike with front shock absorbers, each about 1,600 yuan. The biggest obstacle to Trek's China plans, however, may be the steadfast notion that bicycles are mainly for transport, not exercise and recreation. This is one reason other bike brands have not followed Trek's lead. 'Many Chinese people are extremely rich. But they don't have a cycling culture,' a spokesman for Italy's Colnago, which makes professional racing bikes, told Bicycle Retailer magazine in April. 'We think it will take many years before things can change,' he added. Specialized, Trek's closest competitor, made similar comments to the magazine. 'We could have entered the [China] market two, three, or four years ago, but we didn't think that the market was ready for us,' said Specialized director of international sales Tony Herdrich. So far, Trek is not making any money on the mainland, but Mr McKean says he hopes to start turning a profit in the next few years. But he adds that the firm has committed to the Chinese market for the long haul. 'The company is looking at this long term. More than looking at whether we are going to turn a profit in next one or two years, the company is looking at what it is going to be like in five, 10 or 20 years.'