Step-By-Step Guide To Biking In China
Step 1: Acquire a Bike
If you’re living in China for a study or teach abroad program, you probably want to get an inexpensive used bicycle. I highly recommend going for one that doesn’t look expensive because it’s less likely to get stolen.
While I was living in Nanjing, my husband and I took the bus to Tang Zi Jie off of Shanghai Lu and bought what were probably stolen bikes. I’m not quite sure how I feel about it from a moral standpoint, but we got an incredible deal. We paid about $45 USD for 2 fixed gear bikes with bells and U-locks. I even asked them if they could spray paint over the brand name printed on the frame so it was less likely to be stolen, and they were happy to oblige. Before leaving Nanjing, we sold the bikes to our bicycle repair man for 100 RMB ($15 USD).
We struggled for a while to figure out where to buy a used bike in Beijing, but eventually a bicycle repair guy told us to go to the Beixinqiao subway station and walk south – it worked! Here’s a link to a video explaining where we bought our bicycles in Beijing. We paid a bit more for these bikes, about $65 USD, and that didn’t include the U-locks.
You’ll Also Need…
Legally, you don’t need to wear a helmet in China, and very few people do. I didn’t wear one, but for safety I recommend you go against the grain and get yourself a helmet.
Get yourself a U-lock before you ride off with your bike. Bolt cutters won’t even cut through it, so its definitely the best way to assure your bike won’t get stolen.
Obviously it’s not necessary, but I recommend trying to find a bike with a basket. If this is your main mode of transportation, you’ll be thankful to have a basket on your trips home from the market.
You NEED a bell!!! I’m being serious. If you’re from the US, you’re probably like – hey girl, I biked for years without a bell just fine, but trust me on this one. You. Need. A. Bell.
Step 2: Forget Everything You Know About Biking
Don’t try to apply the rules you follow while biking in your home country to your bike rides in China. The quicker you can let go of it the better.
Step 3: Remember The Following
Now that you’ve thrown out all your old bike rules, here are some new ones to follow while biking in China. If you can put all these to practice, whizzing around the cars, scooters, bicycles, and tuk tuks will become second nature.
Green Does Not Mean Go
Just because you technically have the right of way, or the walk signal says go, or the light is green, does NOT mean it’s okay to go!! Running red lights and stealing the right of way is really common in China, so if you see a car coming, don’t assume they’re going to stop just because they have a red light. People don’t follow driving rules as strictly as I’m used to and they drive more aggressively, too.
Size (And Price) Matters
Don’t mess with buses! There’s a pecking order on the road, and size matters. The bigger or more expensive the car, the higher up the pecking order they are. Don’t cut in front of them and don’t assume they’ll stop. I cut in front of cars from time to time, but I wouldn’t dare cutting in front of an Audi, BMW or Lexus!
People On Their Phones Are Dangerous
It’s legal to talk on your cell phone while driving or biking in China, and it’s terrifying. If you see someone on their phone, assume they’re too distracted to see you or watch out for your well-being.
Biking On The Wrong Side Of The Road Is OK
I regularly biked the opposite direction on the road, in the bike lane, and on the sidewalks of China without any problems. Some people will honk or ring their bell at you, but it’s not because you’re doing anything wrong.
A Ring Or Bell Means “Watch Out, I’m Going!”
People honk and ring their bells a LOT in China. To make sense of this, it’s important to understand that technically it’s illegal to drive around a corner in China without honking your horn. Few people obey this rule, but knowing about it helped me to understand why people kept honking at me. Your horn/bell is your mouthpiece, and you use it to regularly communicate with the people around you. Most of the time, a bell or honk means “watch out, I’m going!” and doesn’t require a response, or even eye contact, from you.
People Park In Bike Lanes
It’s really annoying. I recommend moving to the sidewalk when you run into this issue, but I’ve biked on the streets with the cars many times. They just honk a lot and angrily pass you. NBD.
Take this with a grain of salt and don’t put yourself in any kind of danger, but understand that in general you need to be aggressive to bike safely in China. If you’re overly polite to other bikers, you may be putting yourself and others at risk.
No Eye Contact, Just Go
If you’re serious about crossing the street and want that crazy taxi driver to know you’re not letting him go first, do NOT make eye contact – just go! Eye contact is submissive when biking in China.
Sometimes You Need To Be An A**Hole
Sometimes while you’re biking in China, you’re going to need to make moves that would be seen as a**hole-y in your home country.
Hanging In The Middle Of The Street Is OK
You’re totally fine to cross the street bit by bit like Frogger! People do it all the time. I don’t recommend stopping in between lanes, but stopping in the median is fine.
Calm Your Rage
Part of driving culture in the US is getting mad at the other drivers when they do stupid things. China isn’t like this at all! I’ve seen many bikers and scooter drivers get dramatically cut off and honked at by cars and not even react.
Step 4: Lock Your Bike Smartly
The best way to lock your bike is to a stationary object like a tree, a bench, or a metal fence, but that isn’t always an option. Sometimes you’ll have to lock your back tire to the frame and leave your bike as is, but do it smartly! Don’t leave it by itself – make sure it’s tucked into a cluster of other bikes – and don’t leave it anywhere you could easily imagine someone throwing it into the back of their truck and driving off.
Step 5: Locate Your Bike Repair Guy
They look a lot different than the bike repair shops in the US!! Here’s a screenshot from a video I linked above showing what your average bike repair shop looks like:
Step 6: Practice!
The best way to learn how to bike in China is to just start biking in China! Don’t forget what you learned here, be confident, and be safe. I know I covered a lot of things that sound dangerous, but biking in China can be really fun. It’s one of the things I miss most about living in China!
祝你好运! Good Luck!!
Talk to you soon,
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