Thursday, October 9, 2008

Biking in Beijing -- Like Everest for a climber

You might think it'd be safer or easier to bike in Beijing, where often "bike lanes" are special side roads necessary to accommodate the packed throng of commuters. But no, me, a veteran Bostonian biker, who bikes in winter, rode my new candy pink girlie bike with a perpetual grimace of fear. Beijing motorists do not have the ethic that the non-motorist (bike or pedestrian) has the right of way. Its all out war there -- those drivers will hit you if you don't get out of the way.

Even so -- I thrilled to be biking in Beijing, where I wasn't some anomalous college professor who "still" rides a bike. [Of course, in Beijing, I was the far more anomalous Caucasian on wheels -- didn't see a single other round-eye on a bike in my five weeks until finally saw a couple of tourists on bikes in my last days.]

In Beijing, bikes are the primary vehicles supporting local commerce. Bikes are not just the commuting option for the masses, they are:

how large bottled water for coolers is delivered (with attached cart or special holsters, one per side)

how streets are sweeped (wish I had a pic of that -- its all muscle, biker wields broom and trash stabbing implement against the curb)

how children are picked up from school (bikes too valuable to be given to kids -- picture stern father in black suit, packing one kid on the back and one in front)

how produce is packed in from country side gardens-- all fresh food is commonly just bought sold on the streets; conventional western style grocery stores exist but fruits and vegetables are priced at up to 20 times the rate of street vended goods

and more generally, how goods and products are transported.

In contrast, motor vehicles are not used by industry and business -- too expensive when there are the no-gasoline options of bike wheels and human muscle. Cars are for the middle and upper class (and indeed, there are so many on the road that I can get to the Forbidden City from Beijing Normal University (a 40 minute bike ride) about as quickly as a taxi.

At one point I fantasized that I would bring back photos of these "working bikes" but I also had a full time job to get done in Beijing and thus had to snap what I could on the way to work (while not getting killed). But any photo journalists want to take this up, I'm available for comment and will share my few photos.

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