Biking is belonging in China

By Andrew Killeen Source:Global Times Published: 2017/9/12 18:18:40

Let's admit it, getting around in Beijing can be a hassle. For one thing, there's the sheer size of the place, then there's the traffic, which so often clogs the arteries of the city, slowly grinding to a cursing, honking halt.

But there's one freedom which I treasure in this city, and that's my little electric bike. On it, I buzz around the streets, weaving through the congestion and zooming past all the Porsches and Land Rovers. Trips which would be a pain become a pleasure. Instead of jams, there is joy.

Of course, you have electric bikes in the UK. But they cost a fortune. The most basic model e-bike starts at the equivalent of 6,000 yuan ($916). Then after spending so much, you have to deal with the social stigma. Electric motors are the mark of the hopelessly unhip, right up there with the mobility scooters and ride-on lawnmowers.

Even worse, you have to share the streets with motorists who don't accept that two-wheeled vehicles belong on the road. They are so traumatized by this intrusion that they pretend bikes don't exist, making daily commute a deadly game of "dodge the car."

"There are 9 million bicycles in Beijing," ran the lyrics of a popular British pop song of the last decade. "That's a fact." It wasn't a fact, of course, but it certainly feels like there are 9 million Mobikes piled up around subway stations in the mornings. The bicycle was once king in China. But the heyday of the Flying Pigeon has passed.

Nonetheless, while cars have multiplied, they still defer to their elder, in true Chinese fashion. Unlike Western drivers, Beijing motorists are careful of bikes, and rightly so. We seek safety in numbers, surging majestically across the Fourth Ring Road like a herd of wildebeests crossing the Serengeti. It would be a brave Buick that would take us on.

I don't often feel like a Beijinger, even after two years here. My Chinese remains rudimentary, despite my best efforts. I support Birmingham City, not Beijing Guo'an. I drink PG Tips, not pu'er tea, and when I buy a chicken, I stop them from chopping it up so that I can roast it whole with stuffing.

But when I'm ducking down a side street to dodge the traffic, or zigzagging my way through the trikes and tuk-tuks, I feel like I belong, just a little.

This article was published on the Global Times Metropolitan section Two Cents page, a space for reader submissions, including opinion, humor and satire. The ideas expressed are those of the author alone, and do not represent the position of the Global Times.


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