HEALTHY HOBBY, ROOM TO GROW

Bik­ing en­thu­si­asts make new friends, en­joy the open-air ben­e­fits of life on two wheels

China Daily European Weekly - - Cover Story - By YAN DONGJIE yan­dongjie@chi­nadaily.com.cn

In Bei­jing’s heavy traf­fic, Lin Hongcheng trav­eled 10 kilo­me­ters to meet friends in less than half an hour. In­stead of tak­ing a taxi or bus, he rode his 80,000 yuan ($13,000; 10,800 euro; £9,900) bike.

Af­ter liv­ing in Ja­pan for most of the past 23 years, Lin came back to China with his fam­ily three years ago. Now he’s a grad­u­ate stu­dent at the Chi­nese Acad­emy of So­cial Sciences — and a lover of road bikes.

As a hobby and a way of ex­er­cis­ing, cy­cling is not as pop­u­lar in China as it is in Europe or the US. Only a few thou­sand peo­ple are ac­tive in about 10 on­line bik­ing groups, ac­cord­ing to Lin.

In Bei­jing, peo­ple use the mes­sag­ing app WeChat to find like-minded bike lovers, re­gard­less of age or gen­der. Lin says his life has be­come more ful­fill­ing be­cause of the friends he has made through bik­ing.

For ex­am­ple, his friend Tian Changqing is also a road bike lover. He’s 64 years old, and if it weren’t for bik­ing they might never have be­come friends.

Tian has di­a­betes and 10 years ago was in bad shape. He has a pic­ture of him­self from that time — ly­ing in bed with a strag­gly beard, eyes half closed, re­ceiv­ing an in­tra­venous drip.

“I had to take al­most 10 types of pill every day and had to in­ject in­sulin to sur­vive,” Tian says.

Thank­fully, he dis­cov­ered road bik­ing. At first, he could barely man­age 10 kilo­me­ters per day, but now he bikes around China with friends. He not only im­proved his health but now en­joys life much more.

Tian says he has biked 160,000 kilo­me­ters in to­tal, reach­ing ar­eas such as the Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion, the Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion, Yun­nan and Guangxi prov­inces in South China and Hei­longjiang prov­ince in North China.

“I will go far­ther and far­ther,” he says.

Peo­ple have rea­sons to love bik­ing, but some also have rea­sons they don’t ac­tu­ally do it.

“School sched­ules are tight in China and home­work can be stress­ful for the kids. Par­ents don’t of­ten sup­port their kids’ hob­bies, think­ing they are a waste of time,” Lin says.

Chang’an Av­enue, a ma­jor thor­ough­fare in Bei­jng that runs east-tow­est be­tween Tian’an­men Square and the For­bid­den City, is a pop­u­lar street for road bike lovers. A wide bike lane goes 12 kilo­me­ters through the heart of the city.

Lin says peo­ple reg­u­larly meet at one end of the path for a group ride.

“I of­ten go at about 7:30 pm, be­cause it’s cooler and the traf­fic is bet­ter,” he says. How­ever Lin, who rides about 400 kilo­me­ters per month, says he and his friends now pre­fer the sep­a­rated bike paths near Olympic Park, in the north­ern part of the city.

Good road bik­ers like to go fast. Lin says he can ride at 40 km/h in a pro­tected lane and has reached a top speed of 60 km/h on flat routes, which is hard to do in the city.

“The bike lane on Chang’an Av­enue is truly wide and flat. How­ever, there are too many tourists who bike slowly with­out re­spect­ing the rules and some­times even stop for pic­tures,” Liu says, adding that it can be danger­ous for high-speed rid­ing. Scoot­ers and cars in side roads can also be haz­ards.

In group chats, peo­ple share news about rid­ers get­ting in­jured, and some­times killed, when bik­ing on the street. In early Au­gust, a rider shared a video in which a young man on a bike was knocked over and killed by a car. Group chat mem­bers mourned the un­known man and raised the safety is­sue again.

“It seems like car driv­ers are not aware of how frag­ile we rid­ers are, so it’s im­por­tant for us to im­prove the safety con­scious­ness of driv­ers and pro­tect our­selves and our bikes,” Lin says.

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Cy­clists gather be­fore a rid­ing event in Bei­jing.

YAN DONGJIE / CHINA DAILY

Lin Hongcheng (right) rides with his friend.

Tian Changqing, 64, has im­proved his health through rid­ing bikes.

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