Sunday, February 21, 2010

I Had a Bike in China

Worker ID Card and Bicycle Key

A long time ago, another lifetime really, I had a bike in China. It was a green Phoenix (Fenghuang) with iffy rod brakes that was made of stout steel and weighed a ton. The rod brakes were so tentative that emergency stops were usually achieved with feet rather than brakes.

I rode it all the time, along with everyone else in the country, in the days before cars took over China's roads. It was so boringly normal to ride a bike everywhere that I don't think I even took a picture of it. What I have left is the key, above, which secured the flimsy rear wheel lock when I dropped it off with the bike warden and paid her the couple of pennies that she collected, rain or shine, summer or frigid north China winter, to allow me to search for a place for my transport among the thousands of other similar bikes. It had no lights on it but that was OK since most of the cars and trucks drove around at night with their lights off, too. I was given various explanations for this, the mostly plausible-sounding were that lights blinded cyclists, or that headlights were expensive and hard to get. But you could ride the city streets at night back then and not see a motor vehicle for long stretches of time. Because car drivers represented a tiny minority.

This was going to be my Chinese New Year post, but I couldn't find the items in the photo last week. So belated Happy Year of the Tiger! Now that I'm cycling in a time and place that I am by definition a fanatic (David Hembrow is correct, as usual), I fondly remember a time and place where it was quite the opposite. In particular I recall my Fenghuang bike and the miles I rode on it, as if it were quite unexceptional to be one cyclist in the midst of hundreds of millions of others. 

Sometimes, you don't know what you've got till it's gone. Get up. Go ride.


  1. In the US, cycling is "culture" or "lifestyle" while in other countries it is simply life.
    I often wonder what it would take for the US to adopt something similar.
    Ten dollar per gallon gas?
    The apocalypse?

  2. Oh, and "Big Yellow Taxi" came up in conversation the other day.
    Amazingly, the tenth grader recognized the song!

  3. limom one day we'll wake up and find that it costs more to produce petroleum-based fuels than people are willing or able to pay. I don't know when that will be, but if earth's population levels off at 9 billion in 2050, I can't imagine everyone driving a gasoline powered car. OTOH it's very possible for billions to ride bicycles. I know because I've seen it before. :)

  4. nice. Just post some photos from your time there sometime.

    Yeah, when your main transport is a bike you long for a car. After a few years of driving you recall the good old days.

    I'm now at a point where I can afford the cars but prefer to ride a bicycle or walk when I can.

    I have fun commuting to work on a bicycle. Never had any fun being stuck in traffic - even in a sports car.

  5. FraSiec I'll do that, maybe some steam trains, or pix of neighborhoods that were once alleyways with small shops and courtyard homes and are now steel and glass skyscrapers (progress! modern!)

  6. nice post JR. I can imagine the use of it and sometimes it does take something to be gone to appreciate it even when speaking bicycles.
    happy lunar year - best of luck to you and your loved ones!
    tigers on bikes all year round! ;D
    with bike luv from SF <3 -meli

  7. Meli oooo tiger bike: want! :) Happy lunar to you too, good luck and have fun. -JR


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