Whether you are based in Lincoln, Nebraska or Zhoukou, Henan, as long as you are on a bicycle you represent All Cyclists in the eyes of those you meet. Here I get a twofer and so also represent All Westerners. I’m not sure which is stranger to people sometimes, (probably the latter) but combined it’s definitely a traffic stopper. Interacting with traffic and local residents in Lincoln who don’t understand why we ride on the road requires diplomatic skills, quick thinking, patience, and a sense of humor. It also helps to speak the language, which I am sorry to say here I do not. I do understand when someone is asking me if they can take a picture though, and I like it when they ask first.
Steve and I rode to Huaiyang again yesterday and it didn’t disappoint. Spring festival (Lunar New Year) was in full swing. It’s the year of the rooster. The vendors and crowds were out in full force and celebrating. Wheeling the bikes through the throngs I was stopped and asked repeatedly for selfies and pics with friends, which seems to happen more in Huaiyang than in other places.
Here last fall we were stalked as if on safari and we were the big game while riding around the lake (watering hole). These folks leaned out of their car windows videotaping during a slow drive-by, then parked ahead to come get close-ups and selfies with us.
I do try to humor people as I understand it will probably be the only interaction they have with a westerner in their life. I know I’m likely sweaty and generally a mess, and really would rather not go through a photo shoot but I deal with it. If I must be an ambassador I can at least be a bike ambassador. I try to get the bike in the photo whenever possible. I’ve learned that people ignore bicycles here. They are still associated with backwardness and the past, even though my bike is sleeker and faster than what they are used to seeing. Also, bike gear helps. I usually have at least some bike gear on, and a helmet. A case in point was with the documentary the students were filming of us last fall. They were very interested in the fact that I practice yoga but seemed to not even hear that I like to bike. At least not until they saw me roll up in jersey, knickers, gloves, sunglasses and helmet. That changed everything. Cycling had suddenly become cool. If that’s what it takes to help make cycling more visible and desirable to the scooter set here, so be it.
We are all ambassadors on bicycles, so try to make your interactions positive ones.