China Cycling: Bliss and Rage

The magic and rage of biking

Riding a bike is nothing new. I’ve been at it, like many people, since childhood. Unlike most though, I didn’t really ride much past 10. I ‘ve collected more hours riding a unicycle than a bicycle.

Now China, a country not famous for great or revolutionary traffic conditions, it’s much the opposite. I’d wager many of you wouldn’t be at all aware of what it’s like to be following the rules of the road and being the person getting all the dirty looks!

I have in my time here, used every form of transport and even owned my own motorbike. Never have I had such a constant enjoyment of being in the road, but similarly I’ve never been cussing and shaking my head more!

Chinese roads have their risks; number one being the foot traffic, people just walking – they have this terrible habit of having their faces pressed against a screen watching TV or messaging and just stepping out in front of you. Phones are also a risk because drivers, motorbikes and bicycle users are all glued to them too! On top of this when they aren’t using their phones – road users don’t actually have an awareness of self or surroundings. Added to this are the road oddities, such as the legendary tricycles stacked with Styrofoam and of course folks riding on the sidewalks causing their own personal mayhem for pedestrians.

The pedestrians are about 50% of what you need to focus on as you pedal around the city! They far outnumber the seemingly endless streams of motor powered or pedal powered contraptions whizzing at you against the flow of traffic. Usually they are glued to their phones, interested in the tiny universe in their hands as they step into the bike lanes- often causing a chorus of beeps and honks alongside my own “你有眼睛吗?!” or “Do you have eyes?!”… More often than not, you’ll have them shoot you a look of contempt – How DARE you cause them to look up into the real world as you cruise the canal of asphalt made for your road boat…

When you aren’t having to dodge the moving speed bumps you’ll probably have to deal with the other travellers on their various contraptions; pedal/electric bikes, electric scooters, other bicycles, surprisingly frequent cars, motorised trikes, and pedalled trike-cart things ladened with; boxes, Styrofoam, a furnace with potatoes resting on top, grills and further unexpected apparatuses dangling chaotically in all directions. Often you’re pedalling along overtaking the road sheep, putting along on their e-bikes while using their phones. The uniquely maddening thing is that they drift aimlessly honking their horns with no knowledge of self in space… While this occurs you also have to look ahead for the same thing coming against the flow of traffic on the narrow thoroughfare. If you aren’t in China, next time you try cycling through a carnival with all the weird and wonderful things to dodge and it’ll be something like that. You must have the reaction time and piloting precision of a fighter jet pilot.

As a foreigner one of the things that is so hard to become accustom to is the constant and seemingly unnecessary horn usage. Almost like a flock of geese there is a constant communication of all road users. It’s hard not to want to shout, “Fuck off” when you’re being honked at incessantly as people approach you. “Yes I see you, I pay attention”… there is a quick use of horn in China too. Pretty much the second the light changes if you weren’t moving before it was green you’re being honked at to move. However, as I’ve made out above, it’s kind of a requirement to be honking and making noise because nobody uses their mirrors or moves their head the slightest to check their blind spots. Just meandering across… I unfortunately haven’t a bell yet so am left shouting “HONK! RINGRING” at the top of my voice.

There’s a bit of an unwritten culture that might makes right here. So a bigger vehicle is going to do what the fuck it pleases when it pleases it to do so. Often you will find yourself in the cycling lane about to approach a junction and nobody is there and as you’re reaching it to continue onwards a car flies up and either forces you to stop or turn into the junction yourself to avoid being hit. I however know that even though it’s common it is not proper road usage here and if I’m hit then the driver is in some trouble. Not only have they hit somebody and are at fault it’s a blond haired foreigner too. Nightmare. So often if the driver isn’t in full idiot mode I go for it.

With the outstanding amount of negativity I seem to put on this – I, for the most part, love everything about these lunatics. But be warned if you aren’t ready for anything you might not make it back!




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