Across Continents

Ken's Blog

Rules of the road

December 12th, 2010

Scant regard the norm. Few having any demonstrative grasp of good roadcraft. Even less exhibiting consideration for other road users. Traffic Police a frequent sight. Evidence of enforcement far less so. Except in Nanchang. In the centre, marshals at every junction to ensure cyclists adhere to the tracks running parallel to the main routes.

Laudable enough? If you’re an ambling Chinese rider, without a care in the world. And not a smidgen of spatial awareness. Or a home to go to. Yes. But when you’ve distance to cover. And you ride at a pace that easily keeps up with the traffic. Cars an impediment to your progress. Then no. Definitely not. It’s the old rules, fools and the wise thing.

Being a foreigner – an alien – means I probably get away with more than others. The language barrier not always a bad thing. Then there’s my urban riding style. Bold. Swift. Confident. Road presence. Allowed to ride amongst the electric bikes because they assume my substantial rear wheel hub is a motor. How else could I sustain the pace? After all, no dérailleur gears.

It’s not that I set out to deliberately flout whatever passes for the highway code here. More a case of adhering to local customs. Still stop at traffic lights. Much to the amusement of others. An old London commuting habit I can’t seem to shake off. Or really want to. Never quite understood why people seem genuinely surprised that if you jump lights or undertake lorries or buses, there’s a good chance you’ll get flattened.

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Nine million bicycles

November 16th, 2010

“There are nine million bicycles in Beijing
That’s a fact
It’s a thing we can’t deny”

with thanks to Katie Melua, Georgian born singer / songwriter

Bicycles - web

Nation of cyclists. Certainly quite a few, but bicycles no longer the dominant form of transport I’d imagined. Still widely used in rural districts, for many the only affordable means of getting around. But in the towns and cities, you’re much more likely to be run over by an electric bicycle or scooter.

There is the justifiable perception that the bicycle is the poor man’s transport. Ironic then that just as their urban use begins to wane in China, it rises in Western nations as an ecologically sound alternative to more polluting means of getting about.

Bicycles- plastic - web

For the most part, bicycles here are strictly functional. A smattering of mountain bikes. Smart road machines with drop handlebars a rarity. A few touring cycles. Quality is at the lower end of what you’d find in the West. But not a criticism. More a testament to good design. No need for more expensive components if you’re wandering no more than just a few miles.

And wander they do. Well, more ambling. Liable to drift out into your path without warning. Frustrating when you’ve quite a distance to cover. As is the oft quoted assertion you can source anything for a bicycle in China. Travel light they say. Dare say this might be true in the metropolises like Shanghai or Beijing. But not elsewhere. A temporary fix maybe. A bodge.

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