I came home frustrated at the bus on Wednesday night. I left work at about 5:45 p.m., and I got home at about 6:45. The bus ride took an hour when it takes at most 30 minutes and usually 20 minutes. The issue was primarily that the bus sat in a traffic jam, waiting four light rotations to get through one intersection.
Because of these types of bus headaches, because the weather has started to get warmer, and because I felt confident enough in my knowledge of Beijing traffic patterns that I wouldn’t kill myself, I decided to make the switch from bus to bike. Having rode a bike all winter and enjoyed it, Tian was very encouraging.
Yesterday we got it done. After work, I stopped and talked to a bunch of students at the bike rack to get their advice. Then Tian and I walked over to a place you might call “Bike Alley” outside the west gate of Tsinghua University. Basically it’s a line of about 20 or so bike retailers – from small family owned to brand name chains. Bikes are everywhere on the street, and each store is eager for you to come in and shop.
With Tian doing the hard interpreting work, my job was to try the bikes out. The problem was mostly related to size. Chinese people are on average much shorter than me, so the majority of bikes had small frames and seats that only were meant to fit someone of 180 cm height at most (I am 188). I felt a little like an adult trying to find a bike on the kids rack at Target. So whenever we switched stores, we had to ask them to switch the seat with a bigger one before I could even get started with a test drive. Fortunately, nearly all of the stores obliged nicely with the hope that they could win this waiguoren’s purchase.
After several stores and about 2 hours, I settled on a nice sturdy bike that came with all the necessary accessories for 300Y (a little less than $50). The sales people were very nice, and they even threw in an extra bike bell for Tian.
After we made the purchase, the manager set everything up. The most important job was to spray paint the bike. That’s right, spray paint. Bike theft is a major problem in China, especially for new bikes (a friend of mine lost two bikes in a month). So one common solution is to spray paint new bikes so that they are less valuable and therefore less desired by thieves. Needless to say the experience was a little counterintuitive for me. I don’t think I’ve ever purposefully bought something new and then immediately did something to purposefully drop the value. But function won out over form because I intend to keep this bike as long as possible.
After we finished the purchase, Tian and I biked home together for the first time. It was a very liberating and fun experience. And because the streets are crazy, I also had my first “close call” so to speak. At a busy intersection, a biker came from behind me as I was just beginning a turn and brushed my wheel. It was a reminder to be vigilant at all times. Traffic is crazy in Beijing, and now I’m officially part of it!