I borrowed a bike in Nanjing to more easily get around and better understand the culture of bicycling that is so pervasive in China. The bike was the extremely typical and functional variety that is omnipresent here: single gear, basket in the front, chain protector, fenders for each wheel, heavy duty steel. It does everything you need: aasy to get on and off, pants don’t bind, fenders keep rain away, bakset to carry your stuff, and rugged. It instantly gave me freedom and access. Within fifteen or twenty minutes I could get to so much of the city. With the gnarled traffic often at a standstill, the bike provided a means to keep moving with the masses. With dedicated bike/scooter ways on many of the main roads (that start and end at will but keep moving!) a sort of safe path was created for my careening. The smaller streets (sort of active alleys) become secondary routes that avoid the busy roads and tempt me with dumpling stands, fruit and vegetable markets, and every other store you can dream of.
As I got going on the bike I realized it needed some work. Ugly creaking noises came from the center crank. Not to worry,, small bike repair carts proliferate. For 25 rmb (divide by 6.2= about $4 USD) the guy took off my pedals replaced the center pin, repacked it in ball bearings, etc and I was on my way. Then the pedal fell off. 5 rmb to replace. Then the tire went flat. 45 rmb for a new tube AND tire. And the basket was wobbly. Tightened for free. So for about $15 it got fixed and and was humming right along.
I went on multiple adventures including exploring the city wall and to my acupuncture and blind guy massage appointments, to my commute to the university every day. Shopping, and rolling, the city is pretty flat so when it was hot, the gently breeze form my ride felt great.
And when it rains ... break out the umbrella. Some bikes I saw had a built in umbrella. Every minute is an on-going negotiation of cars, bikes, scooters, busses, pedestrians and the general chaos of the street. But I saw no accidents, everyone ultimately yields and knows how to watch out for each other. In Hangzhou, the bike share program is well developed so I was able to adventure around West Lake for the day, visit gardens, villas, and temples. There are many stations to drop off the bike as needed so it enhanced an already great city and allowed for exploration at just the right speed.
So rumors that bicycle riding is being reduced or de-emphasized in China is just not true. I hear they are adding bikes back to Beijing. Yes, people are buying cars like mad, but it is not an either/or world. In the city, the bike is the fastest easiest way to get around and park. I have seen business people, old and young, shoppers (baskets full), students, and everyone else you can imagine. Bike lanes are everywhere, there are vast accommodations for bike parking and it is part of a strategy for getting millions in the city to get around: you need it all: cars, bikes, subways, busses, scooters, walking.
In Hangzhou, there are tent structures area at each intersection to provide shade for the bike/scooter crowd, I saw bike-share programs in Hangzhou, Chengdu, and the Taoist mountain of Qincheng Shan.
You hear about places like Copenhagen and Boulder as bike paradises, but China is where biking is moving millions through its’s cities everyday.