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Beijing bikes lane, real value found in travels

Beijing bikes lane, real value found in travels

Editor's note : This is the fifth in an occasional series of stories from 20-year-old Patrick Hanlon, a lifelong Batavia resident studying in Beijing, China. Hanlon will offer an informative and entertaining look at everyday China from a suburbanite's point of view. Email him at .

The other day I inherited a bicycle, passed along to me by a fellow American student just before she returned to the United States. I've been riding it around town for the past few days.

It feels good to finally be part of the crowd.

The Chinese, perhaps more so than anyone else, love their bicycles. Bikes are cheap forms of transportation that can be stowed or parked almost anywhere.

They are better suited than cars for maneuvering the tighter streets that snake through Beijing's older neighborhoods, called hutongs.

Chinese cities typically have designated bicycle lanes that run along all their major streets. On the smaller ones, bicycles mingle right in with the cars.

These bike lanes aren't like what you typically would see in the United States C Chinese lanes are about as wide as a lane and a half designated for car traffic.

However, the large numbers of bicycles are giving way to the automobile. As cars become more affordable and more readily available in China, they have become the new status symbol that people strive for, replacing the bicycle.

As a foreign student, I find that the bicycle is perfect. For starters, they're extremely cheap. A new bicycle will set you back only about 350 Chinese renminbi (the equivalent of about 45 U.S. dollars).

Now, before you bicycle enthusiasts out there start getting excited, these bicycles are single-speed, basket-on-the-handlebars bikes that you more likely see would in a retirement community than in the Tour de France.

They might not have the cool factor, but they're really all you need to get around here.

My bike is silver and black, with a basket on the handlebars and fender guards. It has the dipping crossbar in the frame that marks it out as a women's model, but that doesn't seem to matter here.

Both tires are nearly flat, the chain is a rusted mess, and it's missing a pedal, leaving only the steel framework for my foot to rest on. Despite these things that normally would scream for a trip to the shop, the bike rides fine, and I have no plans to change it.

The bike's real value is that it opens the city up to you. Yes, you can get anywhere in the city in a taxi or a bus, but they don't give you the wealth of options you have pedaling around. On the bike, you can follow your whims, and you never know where your trip might take you.

Personally, it makes me feel a bit less of a foreigner and more part of the fabric of the city. Tourists typically don't have bikes. Riding with side-by-side with natives, you feel a sense of permanence and of belonging in a this seemingly alien country.

Inheriting this bike might be a relatively minor acquisition, but it symbolizes a larger connection with the society that I'm living in.

Beijing feels more like an open book to me now, more accessible than ever before. I only wish I'd gotten a bike sooner.



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