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Bicycles in Northern China

at 8:00 pm posted by Molly

Samuel R. Hester – Edmonton, Canada
Based on experiences from a trip to northern China in the Spring of 2008.

I had been told that the sea of bicycles didn’t exist anymore in Beijing, at least not like the stock pictures I had been inundated with as a child showed. This turned out to be true, but not exactly like how I pictured it.
In the core of Beijing cyclists have bike lanes on the outside of the main roads separated by flowerbeds and nice fencing. It creates a very clear delineation between where cars drive and where cyclists ride. The bike lanes are about as wide as one and a half standard North American lanes and are on both sides of the roadway. Whether or not the law states that cars always have the right of way it seems to be the prevailing accepted and certainly practiced traffic rule. This isn’t necessarily bad, and once I had come to twist my brain to this everything seemed fine and had a very set method. This means cars turning right go first before you as a cyclist get to cross an intersection. However in some places this was regulated better as cars are actually stopped for pedestrians crossing at certain intersections, thereby allowing cyclists to cross freely at the same time.
I never saw vast throngs of cyclists on the bicycle lanes, they really should be called bicycle highways, but there was always a steady stream of them. One of the more interesting things was that the majority of cyclists were on electric bicycles. Perhaps this should not be surprising since the bicycle is ultimately transportation, and electric bicycles are easier for people (especially less mobile ones) to use. I didn’t collect a lot of data on the percentage of electric bicycles to standard pedal bicycles, but in the several small samplings I took it was significantly more than 50%.

In Jinan (Capital of Shandong Province, about 500km South East of Beijing) most of the bicycle lanes were beside the sidewalk, elevated to curb height. They reminded me a great deal of the bicycle lanes in Copenhagen near Tivoli. Here again there were a lot of electric bicycles moving about. Nowhere in either Beijing or Jinan did I see cyclists huffing it like so many commuters here do. They all went at a more relaxed pace similar to what I have seen in European cities.

I decided to visit a few bicycle shops to see what the price differential was for the electric bicycles and standard ones. The first sticker shock was that you can buy a one speed city bicycles with fenders, chain case, bell and rear rack for 100RMB ($17.50). Granted the breaks are flimsy side pulls, however the bicycles are actually put together by people who know these bicycles well and the feel of the ride never concerned me. The bicycles that were up in the 500RMB ($85-100) range were nice aluminum framed city bicycles with all the amenities you would expect from any European city bike. Electric bicycles took up about 70% of the floor space in the standard shop and started as low as 2000RMB ($350). When talking to several shop owners, I found out that very few working people were still buying standard bicycles. Obviously this is good for the shops since the profit margin on a 2000RMB bicycle is much greater than on a 100RMB one.

I did go to one bicycle shop in Jinan that only sold performance bicycles. Beautiful bicycles I recognized from back home, with Deore and Ultegra components. High quality bicycles and knowledgeable staff are available, however expect to pay the appropriate price for them. Bicycles made in America or Japan cost the same or slightly more in China than they do back in North America.

I came back from China, elated to see another area of the world with large bicycle infrastructure.

Best bicycle items to pick up in China:
Tires: 15RMB ($2.70) each. I’ve found these to last as long as my standard tires , with no issues.
Inner tubes: 3.5RMB ($0.62) each
Folding baskets: 10-25RMB ($1.80-4.48), get the more expensive ones, they are made of much better steal and won’t bend after hauling heavy things.
Bells: 3-10RMB ($0.54-1.80) Great, cheap and come in a many colours and interesting styles.

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