My sister, Columbine Quillen, is studying in Shanghai, China this summer. She wrote this post about the bicycling culture there for New Urban Habitat.
Let’s hope China does not lose its love for the bicycle as it strives towards modernity and first-nation status. In Chinese cities, rivers of people flow in every direction. So too do the cyclists, who flow with motorbikes in the outside lanes of every major thoroughfare. At rush hour the right lane is densely packed. When a stoplight turns red, the lane quickly becomes a congested mosh pit of sweaty cyclists often swelling to a block long by the time the light turns green.
The wary pedestrian must be hyper aware not only for looming buses and honking cars but also for gung-ho cyclists, as none of these parties will stop even when directly confronted. It’s the pedestrian who must scamper away if he wishes to hold on to his life.
Hundreds of bicycles line the wide sidewalks at every shopping mall, university, library, and bank. There are no bike racks in China, just kickstands and simple light-weight locks connecting wheels to frames. There’s no need for a U-Lock here, as theft is almost non-existent. In the rare case that a bike is stolen, a new one costs around $40.
The cyclists here wear no helmets, yet maneuver through a network of speeding cars, buses, bicycle carts, motorcycles, and electric scooters with ease. Some of the bicycles have large carts attached to them with tarp-covered mounds larger than the cyclist himself. Sometimes children sit on a rack over the rear wheel clinging on while the peddler chats on a smart phone while maneuvering through a course most Westerners would deem more suited for a stint on Fear Factor.
Bike mechanics have small repair stations on the sidewalks. They carry parts, tubes, and do all sorts of repairs.
Many people in China look fit and young. It seems as if they’ve discovered the Fountain of Youth. (Poor Ponce de Leon, I’m afraid he might have landed on the wrong continent.) I think there are many things that attribute to the Chinese people’s youth and vitality. Primarily, most people still know how to cook and thus eat whole and unprocessed foods. In addition the culture believes in daily exercise and calisthenics and in getting a good night’s sleep (which Mao supposedly preached to be at least eight hours per night). But I also like to think it’s because so many people ride a bicycle everyday.
Columbine Quillen is a law student, world traveler, and avid bicycle rider.