Dispatches from the motherland: Bicycles in Shanghai

(Feeling super under the weather so skipped yesterday’s post.)

What is more joyful than riding a bicycle? 

One of my favorite things about living in Shanghai is that it’s so bikable. The city is flat. Except for some streets with construction nearby, there are no potholes here. Since there are no trams, there are no tram tracks to be careful of. Bike lanes are everywhere, some painted, some separated by little fences or flower pots. Some intersections have left-turn traffic lights specifically for cyclists. Because two-wheeled vehicles are so ubiquitous, automobile drivers are used to driving with cyclists and scooters around. No need to white-knuckle your way through the streets like you would in Hong Kong. It’s great.

The bike-sharing systems in Shanghai – run by Meituan (Mobike), Alipay (Hellobike), and Didi (Qingju), to name a few – are vast, and bikes are plentiful. Throughout the day, workers with trucks collect the shared bikes from where they get deposited and return them to subway entrances and other heavily trafficked areas for the next rush of traffic. 

I usually use Hellobike. To use the shared bikes, you scan a QR code on the bike. You can pay per ride (I think it’s something like ¥1.50 a ride), or you can get a 3-day/weekly/monthly/yearly pass for a set fee. I think I paid something like ¥120 for an annual pass last year. The back wheel has a lock mechanism on it, which opens when you scan the code. A singsongy lady robot voice chimes, “Hell-oo-oo! Hello 单车”! Once I heard a man singing back to her, and it made my day. You can adjust the seat to a height that suits you. Then off you go! There’s a time limit to each ride — 30 minutes to 2 hours, I can’t quite remember. Just know that you mustn’t park your bike in a no-bike zone. These areas are obvious because no bikes are around, and the map inside the bike-share app shows the places that are off-limits. The app will know if you parked the bike in a forbidden zone and ask you to move it, otherwise you’ll incur a fine (something like ¥20).

When you get to your destination, you lock the bike with the lock mechanism at the rear wheel. A prompt appears in the app showing you your route on the map, how far you’ve ridden, and the cost. The app also gives you the option to indicate if the bike has problems with it. If your bike has issues, you can indicate exactly where the issue is (i.e., the right brake), snap and upload a photo, type in a brief description, and then submit your “bike boo boo” request. Later, if someone else tries to take out this bike, they’ll be prompted with a brief warning that there might be something wrong it. Are they sure they still want to ride it?. They can of course bypass the warning and take the bike out anyway, but don’t say we didn’t warn you!

As much as I enjoy the bike-sharing system, a friend inspired me to get myself a bike, so I got a road bike second-hand on 闲鱼 (the app for getting second-hand stuff here). I keep my bike locked to itself just outside my building. Bike theft isn’t a problem (as it was ten years ago) because there are CCTV cameras everywhere. There are some homebrewed companies like Rockbros that sell cheap, high-quality accessories on Taobao. 

The best part about having my own bike? Not having to rely solely on shared bikes. Sometimes people leave garbage in the baskets, like used masks or tissues or a half-consumed bubble tea with the dregs leaking out of the hole at the top. Sometimes the shared bikes aren’t in great condition. I hate riding a bicycle without a working bell. And sometimes the pedals feel a bit crooked, which you get used to as you ride, but it’s still offputting. 

I’m convinced the shared bikes suffer the worse damage not from the riding, but from when they’re loaded and unloaded from the trucks to meet the needs of the next rush hour. They’re pretty sturdy, sure, but the way they’re stacked and crammed into the trucks… yikes.

Anyway, I leave you with this, a song my friend Leah and I wrote about the joys of riding a bicycle.

One response to “Dispatches from the motherland: Bicycles in Shanghai”

  1. You are making me want to get on my bike again! When I lived in Shanghai I was terrified of biking, and Benji made me go downstairs of his building with him and sit on the back of his bike and ride around the block with him. He made me go back inside because I couldn’t stop squawking.

    A few years later, I went to visit Chris in Beijing. He had borrowed a bike for me, and I dreaded going out on it. He made me go with him on a little ride, and when we were at 3rd Ring Road in Tuanjiehu, he said, “Gotta go to work! You find your own way home!” I cried for 10 seconds and then figured out my way home! That is the story of my birth as a bike commuter.

    I keep my bike locked to itself just outside my building.

    How I wish we could do this in San Francisco! Whenever I go out with my bike, I park it inside or I position myself where I can keep an eye on it. 😦 I would love for you to come visit so we can ride together!!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: