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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Kiwi on Wheels . . .

Evening on Beijing's streets . . .

Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee . . .

The Kiwi has wheels again. Not, as she prefers, two wheels attached to a sizeable engine and offering a freedom that only ends when the roads (and tracks) do, but wheels nonetheless. And she's wondering why she didn't do this earlier.

A friend left country for family reasons some months back, leaving behind a bunch of stuff including his bike for when he returned. I asked what he was doing with the bike and he said I was welcome to
ride it, and the key was in another friend's apartment, with all his other gear. This week, it was found.

Yesterday evening, I took the bike for a spin, only intending to go to the gym, which I'd been missing for the past week as Beijing's hazardous smog kicked my asthmatic Kiwi butt. The 10-15 minute walk is reduced to a 3-5 minute ride but, unfortunately, the gym was crowded with lots of people waiting for machines and most cutting in line as any came empty. So, rather than standing there getting mad at people, and having some chores to do, I decided to hit the road instead.

Cycling in Beijing, particularly in peak hour traffic in the half-light of early evening may not give quite the same adrenaline buzz as speeding down a highway on a high-powered motorcycle but it
has its own sense of defying death. I'm thankful for the time I've spent riding roads and sidewalks in South Korea, avoiding boulders and bullock-drawn carts in Thailand and simply watching cyclists from the front of a double-decker bus here in Beijing. All have given me an insight on how to behave on Beijing's roads and, one hopes, stay in one piece.

Here in the inner city, many of the main roads have sectioned off side lanes, intended, it seems, for bikes, the ubiquitous three-wheel trailer motorcycles that are the workhorses of China, plus the real
horses drawing carts from which farmers sell their produce direct to customers, and also buses and cars that are either about to turn, stop or just decide to take that lane. It's very common for bikes and motorcycles to take these lanes in the opposite direction and most of the cyclists seem oblivious to anyone behind them. The route I take on the double-decker bus includes a section on one of these lanes and I have often watched as a cyclist nonchalantly pedals along with the bus honking and crawling behind.

By the way - nobody seems to see a need to put lights on bicycles simply because you might ride them at night.

My ride took me along a few main roads and across many intersections, watching for turning cars (I'm not sure of the law but cars turn on red lights here, so it's a good thing to watch for them), heedless pedestrians, soundless electric bikes coming up behind me (mirrors on bikes are also an unknown here, it seems) and other road users appearing out of the gloaming headed toward me, like salmon swimming upstream.

I loved it! Cycling in Beijing makes me feel part of China in a way I hadn't before and I'm eager to explore this city on two wheels, traveling like a local.

Watch this space . . .


  1. I love your stories, Tracie! I have a few funny memories of cycling in China - mainly in Yangzhuo, Chengdu & Beijing. A little old lady with an arm band & whistle (a community watch person or some sort?) blew her whistle at me once, clearly wanting me to stop, but I had no idea of my infraction. Do you see these people around the streets these days? (I was there in 1993)...Kim, Jeju

  2. I haven't seen any like that myself, Kim, but it seems a very Chinese thing to have. In the office, we even have a woman who checks the tidiness of desks and will rearrange them and throw things away if they're not up to her standard. She leaves the "Foreign Experts" alone, except for the few who look Chinese.

    1. Ha! By the way, I highly recommend Yangshuo. When I was there, it was much quieter than the more popular Guillan, but it could be totally overrun with backpackers now. (The signs were there.) One of mty best memories of Yangshuo was when my ex & I hopped on a little boat with our rented bikes, and (surrounded by soaring limestone peaks) travelled 25km up the Li River to a local village market. We pedaled back to Yangshuo through lush farm land and rice paddies. As, you mentioned in a previous post, the people can be very friendly. That day, a local cyclist invited us to his home for lunch & then took us to a nearby cave. Anyway, sounds like you're having a great experience!! Hope the air conditions have improved!! ~Kim

  3. Tracy, you never cease to amaze me!!! (envious? me?)

  4. Oh how much fun for you!!! I'm not at all envious.... LOL