As soon as we landed it became quite apparent that getting around by bike was a far more enjoyable experience than cramming in to a sticky, crowded and often hideously unhygienic bus for the daily commutes to university and work. Having an exercise-mad boyfriend and two Chengdu friends who absolutely love cycling, it was hard to maintain my initial levels of resistance to getting a bike and I soon found myself excitedly awaiting my first Chinese paycheck so I could buy myself my own set of wheels.
Keeping up with the usual Chengdu-expat tradition, my initial bike purchase was a bargain-basement job and I purchased my little number, christened Cynthia, from a slightly dodgy looking shop for the grand total of £28. Lime green, Dutch-style and built for someone approximately a foot shorter than me it was definitely a case of style over substance when I made my choice! Unfortunately it didn’t take long for our love affair to hit a bump in the road – literally. On our maiden voyage that evening I bumped down a kerb and found my saddle suddenly not pointing the way I wanted as the metal stem holding it in place warped and became more curved than straight. Seat readjusted, on the cycle home Cynthia threw a further tantrum and shed her left pedal into the middle of the road. Oh dear.
Cynthia lasted about 3 weeks before I decided that she just wasn’t going to cut it. Having spent most of this time obsessively viewing the bike gallery pages of the amazing Chengdu bike shop, Natooke I decided that I was going to break all my savings rules and splash out on a custom-built, beautifully designed bike of my own. Never have I regretted a purchase less.
Cycling around the city it feels amazing to have so much freedom although it is fair to say that it brings with it a unique set of hazards. Whilst cycle lanes exist all over the city, basic rules, such as which side of the road you should cycle on, appear to be completely absent. On any given journey you are guaranteed to have e-bikes, other cyclists and the occasional enterprising taxi driver come careering towards you on the wrong side, seemingly determined to not deviate from their chosen path by even a fraction of an inch. Things get even more exciting when it gets dark and none of the e-bikes put their lights on, instead becoming invisible, silent killers. Pensioners cycle absolute rust buckets at a pace that I could overtake at a crawl, lacking any form of balance as they weave inexplicably across everyone’s path and most infuriatingly every single road user has a single mindedness that is as suicidal as it is determined. Pedestrians, car drivers, e-bikers, cyclists – absolutely no one seems to look before pulling out of junctions, swerving into the bike lanes to park, opening car doors or stepping off a pavement. Having bellowed at many such an idiot as I slam on my brakes or swerve at the last possible second, it’s safe to say I am quite a shouty cyclist. Having never driven in the UK once I passed my test (and you can’t really yell insults or make obscene gestures when your instructor is sitting beside you) I think I am now channelling all the lost potential of road rage into cycling rage.
Colourful insults and cycle rage aside, it never fails to make me happy as I zip along the ring roads to my work or en route to friends’, dinner or drinks, passing the buses I used to sweat it out on as they grind to a halt in traffic jams. Discovering new parts of Chengdu and escaping the high rises for farmland or riverside paths is easy and even when the slightest form of incline makes me think my lungs might be about to give out on me, unlike with other forms of exercise I find that I actually enjoy pushing myself to keep going! I am determined to keep up commuting by bike when I come back to the UK although it’s going to be a shock to the system having to actually signal where you are turning, cycle on the left only and not hop up onto the pavement to avoid traffic bottlenecks as required.
In the meantime there’s a particularly hilly cycle that I am determined to conquer….in a bit…after some training, not least to have a beer at the bar at the top! And then a bigger trip to Taiwan is in the works for some time next year during which Joe and I are full of grand plans to explore some of the island on two wheels. That should motivate me to get off the sofa and get myself in shape at the very least. And invest in some much needed padded lycra!