The best way to get around Beijing? Bicycle. For trips up to 30 minutes I prefer cycling. It saves me a walk to the metro or being stuck in a Beijing traffic jam in a taxi. It has also helped me connect to the city, understanding where I am in this vast place, and allows me to get off the beaten path and take short cuts through what’s left of old Beijing. And sometimes it is faster than a taxi.
Nevertheless, it was daunting in the beginning. Here’s my survival strategies for arriving in one piece:
- Pay attention. Yes, good old fashioned, living in the moment, paying attention to your surroundings. No phone calls or WeChatting, no day dreaming. Keep looking left, right and center. It’s the best way to avoid colliding with cars, tricycles, pedestrians who step on the street without looking, trash collectors or balloon sellers.
- Wait behind the bus. I don’t like cycling along the Third Ring road, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. The fast moving buses can scare the hell out of me. I used to squeeze between buses and the sidewalk, or whirl around the bus squeezing between it and taxis. No more. I wait with one foot on the side walk behind the bus until all passengers have stepped in or out. Safest for me and others.
- Don’t Expect Courtesy. Nobody will give way to you. So be very careful, but also sometimes it is needed to cross as you never get through. Try to make use of numbers, e.g. go together with a group of jaywalkers.
- Watch out for potholes, especially in the rain. You won’t see them when they are filled with water (and it may ruin your tyre or worse).
- Off the beaten track? It’s not always necessary to use the bicycle path. Of course, it is preferable and safer. But often the paths are blocked by cars, pedestrians or unidentified objects. In that case, use the road (but be careful).
- Toot you too. Don’t be offended by honking horns. Where I come from, cars honk horns out of impatience, or because the cyclist does something very dangerous. Not so in China. I have come to the conclusion that it is often more of a “careful, I’m behind you.” The driver wants you to know he’s there, so that you don’t make unexpected movements toward the middle of the road.
Happy cycling! And use a helmet if you are not (yet) confident. For a decent bike or a seat for your kid, try the Giant stores all over the city.
Not convinced yet? These two companies can arrange guided tours: