Thursday, May 21, 2009

Dizi (笛子) - Bikes

(Writer's Note: The following blog is the second part in a series of entries that will summarize my life as a student at the Inter-University Program at Tsinghua University (IUP). In this entry, I will talk about biking in Beijing for Light Fellows.)
Traffic is a constant in Beijing, no matter what mode of transportation you select. This means that even if you drive, you may not get to your destination faster than a pedestrian. However, as shown in the picture to the left, many people bike. Bus and subway are popular for cross-district or cross-city commute, and trains are for cross-province travel. In Beijing, getting around any where is rather arduous and time-consuming without a bike.

Even the illustrious leader of IUP, Li Yun, rides a bike to and from IUP.

A few differences between biking in Beijing and the United States:
1. No one wears a helmet. (Unless the bicyclist is very accident-prone.)
2. No one gets ticketed for not wearing a helmet.
3. Talking on the cell phone with one hand and eating ice cream with the other while cycling is not uncommon.
4. Bikers often compete with buses and horses for road supremacy. This is especially true at intersections - no sane Beijing driver will stop for a slow cycler unless said driver is a sex-deprived male and said cycler is a woman with a very short skirt. (Said driver is common. Said cycler is rare.)
5. Honking does not immediately lead to road rage in China. Rather, it's ignored by the biker.
6. Bike repair spots are ubiquitous. Repairmen vary in honesty and skill.
Old man Shang in the Dongwangzhuang neighborhood is hands down the best repairman in Beijing. The repairman near the Wudaokou station is an overcharging fart who takes a million years to change a broken basket. Old man Shang lives less than a minute from my apartment, so I just go over and talk to him about Zen and the art of bicycle maintenance. (No joke.) His Mandarin is very unstandard but musical in a Shaanxi sort-of way. He lost a couple fingers on his left hand because of an accident back in his farming days, but doesn't let that stop from reviving bikes.

For Light Fellows - learn to bike. ("Accident-prone" is a poor excuse. Get a helmet and some pads if you're that scared.) Biking may be the only form of exercise that you'll get if you're going to devote yourself to studying Chinese. If you'll be in China for a year, consider investing in a decent sturdy bike with a strong lock instead of buying the cheap 160 RMB model. For guys who can't spread their legs high enough to clear the bike frame from the back, the female models are designed so that bikes can be mounted from the front. Black, gray and dark blue bikes are less likely to be stolen than bikes of any other color. If biking really isn't right for you, get an electric bike. Beware of speeding - like I mentioned above, ticketing isn't a problem. Crashing into other cars and pedestrians is. A strong electric bike will be good enough to take you throughout Haidian district and even to Chaoyang (a 30 minute commute on local roads).

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