Sunday, February 8, 2015

Biking Through Shanghai

One of my favourite things about living in this city is biking. As I mentioned in a prior post about the Shanghai roads, there are special bike lanes set up for the different smaller modes of transportation. These are not limited to bicycles. In fact bicycles are probably the minority. There are motorcycles, mopeds and various other electric hybrids.

I wouldn’t want to use these lanes with anything other than a bicycle. Not because they wouldn’t be fun, I’d just prefer to get the exercise that you can only get from a bicycle. Shanghai is really flat, so just a standard bike is needed. No need for a mountain bike.

A lot of people rely on their bikes daily, even during the cold and or wet weather. There are all kinds of blankets and ponchos that people use to stay comfortable riding in unpleasant weather. People use their bikes to transport items like cardboard and Styrofoam. Often these bikes are used as a way to make a living. Most food delivery is also done on a bike from the bike lane. At times the bike lanes are faster than cars because of traffic. I have been stuck in bike traffic a fair share of times however.

Michelle and I first bought our bikes at the beginning of October. The weather was still very pleasant at that time,  so going for bike rides was a fun adventure. Now the weather is colder so the rides are not as fun. They are still enjoyable, it just takes more ambition to actually go on them. I'm sure having to have my bike adventures alone now takes away from the adventure.

We did have some great rides and I am sure as the weather warms up I will be more inclined to once again have some longer rides. We rode to our favourite frozen yogurt place in Xujiahui, about 14 kilometres away a couple of times, as well as for dinner slightly closer. We also rode our bikes to the Bund, about 18 kilometres away.

The ride is really fun because you get to see everything on the way, at a slower speed than in a taxi. On one of our first rides, we were coming home in the dark only to see someone shooting off fireworks above the building in the direction we were biking to.

On another long trip there was an old man on his bike and we became obsessed with going faster than him. He was going at an okay speed, but it wasn't too difficult to pass him and fly down the road. We'd get stopped at a traffic light and just as it was time to go he'd go through the intersection, at his top speed. We'd race past him again only to have him pass us when we were waiting at the next red light.

Bikes don't seem to have the same rules on the road as cars. They can go a little before the light turns green and can even go through red lights if they time it perfectly and choose the perfect instant when there is a gap in the cars. This old man we were 'racing' seemed to have that timing down perfectly. He also must have had the timing on the lights down too. He seemed to know when to keep pace and when to lay off a little so he didn't get stuck stopped at a traffic light.

I have tried to emulate this old man on my biking adventures since. It isn't that hard to do because most of the traffic lights come with a timer. It tells you how long before the light changes. Kind of like the timers back home on the pedestrian crossing signs. These timers allow you to know how long you have before the light will change so you can adjust your speed from a distance accordingly. This man seemed to have it down to an art form.

Before moving to Shanghai I talked to a friend who told me the first thing I should do is get a bike. He then told me to expect the bike to be stolen at least once. I'm glad I took his advice and got a bike as it seems to have endless opportunities for adventures. I also am very aware exactly where I am in the city because I've navigated around it far more than I ever did in other cities I have lived in (although I had a bike in Kuwait and was also quite used to my area from walking and biking it so frequently).

My friend was correct on both accounts. I locked my bike up at the metro one day and went into the city. When I returned the bike was gone. I still look for it at the metro, but with no luck. Luckily for me I have a spare, but I really hope it doesn't go missing.

I recently had the idea of buying an armband for my iPhone and strapping it to the basket on my bike. Then I used the time lapsed picture feature on the camera to take a picture every few seconds during my ride to the Carre Four just down the road and to the right. The video below is of me riding to the shopping centre. I plan to take longer ones in the future, to provide an idea of what biking in Shanghai is like.

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