It was brought to my attention recently that there are new friends of Bicyclincoln that don’t why this blog post appears every week. My name is Janine Copple and I am a Bicyclincoln board member living in China this year. I previously posted Trail Ramblings which was mainly about area trails in and around Lincoln. The cycling world is vast and diverse. We may do things differently and for different reasons but we all speak bicycle. We thought it would be interesting to explore the cross-cultural experience of cycling in Zhoukou, Henan province, China. Here are a few of the things I’ve discovered:
The traffic is crazy. Traffic regulations are viewed as a suggestion, and regularly ignored. Traffic police are trying to crack down but they have an uphill battle. The only reason there isn’t mass carnage is because speeds are low and there are many speed bumps. At least the motorists are used to interacting with scooter and bicycle traffic. We were here first after all, and cars are the recent interlopers. Many arterials in the city have bicycle/frontage roads (which can get very congested). These create large “staging areas” for waiting bicycle and scooter traffic in the unused part of the intersection. If you want to know where this is wait until the next snowfall and watch where the tire tracks are. There is an area of unused space out from the corners. Here it is often outlined for that purpose.
Virtually no one wears helmets. I could count the times I’ve seen them in use on one hand. My Chinese friend James, who took up mountain biking when he lived in England, says “the Chinese are risk averse. They would not have mountain bike parks.” Most people here ride lower-end urban mountain bikes, though I’ve seen a few fat bikes and road bikes in shops, and almost only on pavement. I find the lack of helmets and child restraints, and three or four to a scooter at times at odds with the risk averse view. People do tend to ride more slowly, though.
Bike shares are common, though under-used in Zhoukou. Hangzhou boasts upwards of 80,000 with more planned and 1/3 of commuters use them to get from their subway or bus stop to their destination.
People don’t seem to think it’s always necessary to take a wheel off the bike to patch the tube. I’ve seen two people I’ve ridden with think that’s a fine way to fix a flat. The patch kits are unusual, with their box-cutter, wire-wrapped sanding stick and giant tire lever along with patches and cement.
You do need to use a mask when you ride much of the time. Unfortunately this air isn’t something that you want to breathe in deeply, though it’s better than in some other places.
I think bicycling is by far the best way to explore the city and countryside if you want to really experience life here. I see slices of life every day that I would never see by car or get to if I were walking. Yes, sharing the road with traffic can be nerve-wracking at times, and you have to use all your senses, but I think it’s worth it. Not having to look for a parking place is a huge plus too, as they seem practically non-existent. We usually lock up in a bicycle/scooter corral watched by a valet when we go downtown. It costs us about 14 cents each. In general people don’t seem too worried about getting bikes stolen and use minimal locks.
Bicycling fell out of favor and is associated with the cultural revolution and the time of their grandparents. It’s still considered by many to be backward. So there are a few observations I’ve made so far. I’m sure I’ll have more as we ride into winter.