Cycling in Chengdu: The Rules

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After a series of disasterous two-wheeled run-ins earlier in the year, I finally pulled myself together and bought a new bike. The buying process was markedly different to my first, when, as a fresh-off-the-plane laowai I foolishly walked into a shop, picked a shiny-looking one and paid the asking price. This time, I set aside half a day, sought and followed local directions to a bike stall. These consisted of ‘go over there, turn right-ish and walk around a bit til you see the laoban’r (boss)’. Having located said laoban’r, I proceeded to try out all his wares in turn, taking care to tut and shake my head at each, before offering him half the price for a battered roadie and settling on 250 kuai (GBP 25) with a D-Lock thrown in. Fresh from this adventure, and feeling proud, I testily steered my new purchase out onto Ke Hua Bei Lu for a spin around the city.

After a series of disasterous two-wheeled run-ins earlier in the year, I finally pulled myself together and bought a new bike. The buying process was markedly different to my first, when, as a fresh-off-the-plane laowai I foolishly walked into a shop, picked a shiny-looking one and paid the asking price. This time, I set aside half a day, sought and followed local directions to a bike stall. These consisted of ‘go over there, turn right-ish and walk around a bit til you see the laoban’r (boss)’. Having located said laoban’r, I proceeded to try out all his wares in turn, taking care to tut and shake my head at each, before offering him half the price for a battered roadie and settling on 250 kuai (GBP 25) with a D-Lock thrown in. Fresh from this adventure, and feeling proud, I testily steered my new purchase out onto Ke Hua Bei Lu for a spin around the city. It was at this point that I was sharply reminded of The Rules for cycling in a large Chinese city, which I feel compelled to share with you now. They go a bit like this:

1. The bike lane is strictly for bikes only. Including electric scooters, obviously. And tuk-tuks (they’re basically a bike, right?). Also taxis, because sometimes they need to get their passengers to a destination very quickly and all the other lanes are too busy. And cars if they really feel like it. Oh, and cement lorries, because by this time they feel left out.

2. Some pedestrians have been known to behave as though the infrequent strips of concrete beside the bike lane constitute a space reserved solely for their benefit. Some (foreigners especially) have been overheard referring to this area as a ‘pavement’ or ‘sidewalk’. On no account should this bizarre behaviour be indulged; join your two- and four-wheeled brethren in ridding the bipeds of such selfish delusions.

3. Ride in the same direction as the traffic. Except when you want to go the other way.

4. Helmets are for wimps. Ditto lights (especially if you’re on a tuk-tuk or electric scooter – those things drain the battery).

5. Pollution is an issue at the forefront of today’s China. Therefore be mindful of wasting energy and load your bike with as much as you can feasibly carry before setting off. Transportable items include but are by no means limited to: water barrels, curtain rails, animals (domestic and livestock), the contents of your portable fruit shop, the contents of your portable mobile phone shop, and your Nan.

6. Given the absence of lights and the fluidity of directional regulations, shout and/or ring your bell loudly at all times to let everyone know you are coming. Try your best to be heard above everyone else who is doing exactly the same thing.

The fear contracted since my accidents, along with the sinus-busting pollution generated by Second Ring Road construction has, however, forced me into most un-Chinese habits such as decking myself and my steed out with the closest thing to full body armour and a laser light-show that RMB could buy. I also have a fetching smog-filtering face mask which makes me look uncannily like Hannibal Lecter. Pictures to follow.

Despite the terror of the daily commute, I am very pleased indeed to be back on two wheels. As the grandchild of a couple who did the End-to-End in their 60s (NB: one half said couple still cracks out 100 miles every Sunday and double that in the intervening week) cycling is in my blood. It was unlikely that one trifling accident could confine me to the Tube forever – there is something unique to the view and feel of a city from a bicycle that you cannot gain from any other mode of transport. I’m also appreciating the freedom it brings – the roads are so gridlocked it’s genuinely quicker to cycle to most places, and the beautiful Sichuan countryside is once again reachable on my days off.



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