Big bike adventure
So I’ve been in China two weeks and was finally able to acquire a bicycle. I had a bit of trepidation because traffic here is nuts and I considered most riding opportunities dangerous.
The bike I borrowed is a Giant mountain bike. Most bikes here are mountain bikes. I see very few road bikes and other two wheel transportation is mostly e-bikes and electric mopeds.
I had the pedals swapped for my road pedals to clip in (Time pedals). I also found a nearby bike shop with the brand XDS nearby. It’s a decent shop on par with any good shop in the USA. I found out XDS bikes are made in southern China and most XDS shops are actually factory owned. This shop sponsors a team and they do a team ride each Saturday. I was told if I wanted to join to come to the shop at 5pm.
I arrived at 5pm and luckily one person who was riding, a young woman named Alisa, spoke very good English. The ride didn’t start at 5pm, but after some food and checking of bikes etc, we finally got under way maybe an hour or more later.
The ride was more of a social ride than a training ride, but everyone was very enthusiastic. We rode in fairly heavy traffic at times and rode on paved paths as we worked our way out of town. The ride would progress a few miles, then come to a halt as we waited for all the riders of varying abilities to collect. There’s be some standing around and bantering for 10-20 minutes, they’d do a head count and off we’d go again. I kept my Garmin running the entire time rather than pause it during these breaks to get an idea of the total time of the event rather than just the ride time so my average speed is perhaps 6mph.
I had thought this was only a 20-30 mile ride, but it turned out to be an all night affair. We eventually reached the Wutong National Park where there was some actual elevation and climbing riding protected paths with pedestrians, as well as a mountain paved road which also had cars climbing into the park. Reaching the peak, descended to a small kiosk where most of us bought more water. (Temperatures were approximately 85F and 75% humidity even at night).
At one water stop, 6-8 people lined up to get their picture taken with me. I felt like a celebrity LOL. A couple riders could speak some minimal English but I pretty much hung with Alisa as she was most proficient.
We exited the park and reached a commercial area where we stopped for dinner. Alisa had said something about a dinner but I thought that was when the ride ended, not in the MIDDLE of the ride. We’d gone about 20-25 miles and it was now dark. (Everyone had lights. I’d brought mine with foresight). I didn’t look at the time but it must have now been near 10pm. I had not expected to be out late and Alisa mentioned something about getting back to the start point after 1am! WOW. But even if I had wanted to bail and head back to my apartment, I would not have known how to get back. I had no clue where I was and no real option but to just finish the ride.
The riders lined up the bikes and took seats at three tables and ordered dinner. When the tea arrived, Alisa instructed me to do as the others, peel the saran wrap from the bowl, plate, cup and chopsticks and use the super hot tea as a sanitizer. (Normally the saran wrap indicates the items are already sanitized but if they were not taking chances, neither was I). While waiting for dinner, a large fish jumped from the tank onto the pavement and flopped around until the restaurant manager came out and scooped it up and put it back in the tank. And yes, fish was a menu option.
Dinner arrived arrived in the form of the traditional communal plates, about 6 of them. Fortunately a couple were vegetarian (one was a spicy cabbage dish). After more than an hour of chatting and eating, we finally saddled up to head back in a near reversal of our outbound course with the same ride, stop, collect, resume pattern. As we exited the national park, we were met by a support van. Several riders bailed on the ride as they loaded their bikes into and on top of the van. Again this process took 40-45 minutes.
Onward now and getting back into town, about the 40 mile mark a couple of the young guys showed their vim & vigor with fast paced sprints and the overall speed of the group picked up. But this tempered quickly and I could tell that despite the enthusiasm, most were not endurance riders and the more than 40 miles was taking a toll and the group slowed down. We finally reached the bike shop at 2am! Whew!
I had thought riding here would be dangerous. Traffic is nuts and seemingly chaotic. But after last night one can see there’s almost a method to the madness. I am not intimidated by riding in traffic however and ironically, it is really rather safer here with cars on the road than at home in Grand Rapids. The reason is that two-wheel transportation is ubiquitous and drivers are attuned and accustomed to dealing with them. Also, drivers here, when confronted with bikes (and e-bikes and mopeds) actually slow down when passing or maneuvering. So even if one was hit by a car or bumped, it’s at the same speed which lessens the danger for more serious injury. In contrast, US drivers seem to come upon cyclists going 15-20mph and then want to punch the gas pedal and pass at 3-4 times the speed creating a more dangerous speed differential.
The real hazard here is e-bikes and pedestrians, but more so e-bikes. When on the paved multi-use paths which are everywhere, the population has no sense of stay to the right-pass left. This entails quite a bit of weaving and dodging around pedestrians and other bikes and e-bikes (and mopeds).
But the e-bike riders are most dangerous. We had numerous occasions on our ride with e-bikes riding against traffic in the wrong lane or on one way streets and none of them ride with lights at night. One is more likely to collide with an e-bike rider than a car here.
But I had the chance to carry the Founders logo here as I rode in my Founders team kit.
Dennis B Murphy