Upon arrival to teach in China a few years back, I was wowed and amazed at the bikes on the streets of her cities! Peddle bikes, rental bikes, electric bikes, motor bikes, two-wheelers, three-wheelers, covered and not - bikes, bikes, EVERYWHERE!
This post is dedicated to the ideal of this mode of transportation on the busy sidewalks, alleyways, and streets of every Chinese city. A salute to the delivery driver with his bike piled high with packages, who efficiently delivers packages around the city.
To the pickers and garbage haulers that work tirelessly through muck and mire loading our discards. Using their mostly three wheelers with a cobbled together bed or sorts, moving these discards and throw-aways through the cities under cover of darkness.
To the families that amazingly squeeze together a foursome on a two-wheeler getting kids to school, baba to work, and mama to work and repeating this ritual twice or thrice daily! In an amazing ballet.
These wheeled vehicles come in all manners of design with the peddle bike mainly akin to the Cruisers found in middle America or the Pashley of England. These are fashioned with baskets on the handlebars and a pair on either side the rear tire. These are not the romantic panniers of England but rather very functional plastic or metal tied crudely with string or cord.
One will also see the sea of shared bicycles in blue, orange and green parked for rent by scanning a barcode and paying through WeChat or Alipay. These bikes are both pedal and electric and are of heavy construction for rough handling and use. These are so widely used that new stations for these bikes are created nearly daily round cities.
The e-bike is quickly replacing the motorbike as gas powered motorcycles are being banned in cities in favor of cleaner air. These e-bikes come in a plethora of styles from the functional, heavy duty, big wheeled bike with a sizable carrier rack on the rear or even a small trailer of sorts. These are the choice of workers and delivery people.
There are sporty, low riding types that have the appearance of a racing bike. And then there are the retro styled bikes that visually take us to another time, some with a storage box in the shape of a spare tire, to an uncanny reproduction of the Vespa featured in the movie Roman Holiday! We go from not just functional but to stylish and fun, yet all of these bikes are indeed functional and save the air here in a country battling air quality at every turn.
Apartment communities offer parking areas for bikes equipped with charging stations where one can buy power by the time again using a code scanned and Alipay or Wechat payment processing. Likewise, there are charging boxes with the appropriately fitting plug just for your bike, that can be found at many auto-park box offices. A frequent sight is the extra-long extension cord run down from windows, or jimmied aloft on a makeshift wire, or simply on the sidewalk from outlet to bike for charging these babies!
The vision of these bikes moving through traffic is a choreographed ballet with remarkably very few incidents. The sight of these bikes huddled up at subway park stations, or outside of various businesses through a city, is one to behold. The marketplace created for accessories from affixed umbrellas to shade from sun and rain, to helmets and decorations, to rain gear, to my favorite the insulated hand and lap fabric to enable a warm trip during even on the coldest of days!
These bikes are going nowhere - and everywhere and we are sure to see more and more of them on the sidewalks, alleyways, and streets of every Chinese city! Ladies and gents, get on your bike and enjoy some freewheeling to discover exciting places in your city!