It was only a couple of decades ago that the bicycle was ubiquitous in China – to the extent that North American school books included photos of hundreds of Chinese people on bikes in their introduction to the country. Now the bicycle has fallen behind as Chinese people turn to vehicles to show off their new-found wealth. In terms of status, it’s understood that luxury car > regular car > moped > bicycle. It’s an unfortunate turn, given all the problems that private auto use brings to a city, but luckily for the Shanghainese, bicycle and moped use had such inertia that they are still very common, especially by North American standards.
In North America we love signs. Don’t turn right. Go straight. Go around this round-about. Don’t run into this wall. The road is about to curve. This traffic light is for people wanting to turn right . As soon as you get on the road, everywhere you look there is a sign telling you where to go, where not to go, and how fast to do it.
Not so in Shanghai.
In December I was lucky enough to find myself in Shanghai for a few days. This was my first time in China, and I was excited to visit this bustling, burgeoning metropolis. Naturally, given China’s historical relationship with the bicycle, my top priority there was finding a bike and going for a spin.
Though the hotel concierge seemed perplexed at the idea, we finally got in touch with China Cycle Tours and set up a four-hour tour of the city. Man, what a treat!
It was a beautiful day (if you don’t mind a bit of smog in the air), the guide was knowledgeable and fluent in English (lucky for me!), and I was the only one
crazy smart enough to sign up for the tour that day: does it get any better?