HEALTHY HOBBY, ROOM TO GROW
Biking enthusiasts make new friends, enjoy the open-air benefits of life on two wheels
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.
Cyclists gather before a riding event in Beijing.
Lin Hongcheng (right) rides with his friend.
Tian Changqing, 64, has improved his health through riding bikes.