I love bikes, and had cycled everywhere at home in Dublin, so one of the first things I did in Beijing was to buy a bike. I did almost have second thoughts; the traffic here is wild. As far as I can tell the rules of the road are 1) don’t get hit and 2) don’t hit anyone. Even as a pedestrian it can be daunting – red lights are often ignored and crossing the street can require a degree of bravado.
That said, there are cycling lanes on almost all roads, and most of these are separate from traffic. Admittedly, you will have to share these with people walking in the cycling lane; other cyclists who aren’t paying any attention; bikes going the wrong way; people cycling the wrong way while on their phone; the odd taxi. Overall though, it’s much safer than it seems.
I bought my bike on Taobao, the Chinese equivalent of Ebay. Taobao can be a bit bewildering at first, but there are two important things to remember: there’s an English language version just for us westerners; and if you do want to attempt the Chinese version, your Chinese co-workers are always happy to help. In the end I paid about 250 RMB, or about €30 for mine. If you prefer to buy one in store bikes start at about 700 RMB in nearby sports shops.
If you don’t want to buy your own bike, Beijing has several rental bike programs. You’ll probably see hundreds of these parked outside bus stops, subway stations, apartment blocks – they’re everywhere. Just download the app, scan a QR code on the bike and you’re good to to.
If you’re a bit more serious, Shijingshan, where Aihua is based, is where most of the Olympic cycling venues are – there’s a velodrome and quite a few mountain biking routes. Mixed in with the rental bikes and scooters are hundreds of people kitted out in lycra riding expensive road bikes.
Another great thing is that bike theft isn’t really a thing around here. Only a week after buying my bike I cycled to the subway, left my bike by the entrance and took the train into the city. After some sightseeing and a beer I took the last train home, only to find my bike had disappeared. Resigned to buying a new bike, I told my supervisor it had been stolen. “I doubt it, go back and look around the bike shed. If you can’t find it message one of the Chinese staff and they’ll find it.” And as it turns out the police had just moved my bike in off the street. I went back to the subway, found my bike and cycled home.
And finally, Beijing is a very flat city, so while you will have a lot to take in, it won’t ever be uphill.