Jim and I, both having commuted on our bicycles while living in Seattle, convinced one and other that it was time to commute via bicycle in Shanghai. For various circumstances, I decided against purchasing a bike and instead renting one for the weekends, while Jim bit the financial bullet and bought a bike.
The buying process was fun; it started and ended on a Tuesday evening. We started by visiting a scooter shop in hopes of finding a bike shop. The owner hopped in a cab with us and drove us to a series of bike shops. He hung out with us while Jim and the salesman looked at various bikes. Jim purchased a bike and lock for 415 Yuan ($60).
For the remainder of the week, Jim would peddle the two of us to work, while I sat on the rear cage, feet slightly dragging, ass padded by a makeshift cardboard cushion. Bike parking at work is 6 Mao ($.08); everyone leaves their bikes outside with their back wheel locked to their frame — no one locks their bikes to stationary objects such as poles and fences. For a few days I rode my skateboard and held on to the back of the bike. Either one of these configurations — two on one bike and skateboard-dragging — made the locals stare and laugh at us. The ones that spoke English would ask us where we were from or what we were doing here. All at least gave us a smile and accepted us to their road. We’re just two white dudes on one bike, occasionally one skateboard and one bike, weaving around Shanghai.
Tandem biking may be fun, but it’s not so convenient. I rented a bike for a weekend, and Jim and I tore around the whole city. We found some great food that we would have not otherwise found, and smiled as a large city was tamed. As chaotic as Shanghai streets are, biking through them is actually easy. Everyone is good at avoiding everyone else, as long as you understand that cars and scooters have precedence over you, even if you have the “right of way” (ha, if such a thing existed here). Honking fills the streets, but the horn is used to let others know you’re there, not to tell others you’re annoyed. I almost felt safer biking in Shanghai because traffic moves slowly, drivers are all very biker-aware, and most side streets have very few cars on them. I would argue that at least 25% of all side-street traffic is biking.
Bonus story: Jim tried to get one of our local girl friends (friend that’s a girl) on the back of his bike, but she hesitated. She said that wealthy girls don’t ride bikes, only poor girls do. We thought this was interesting, because we each respect people who ride bikes in the US.
Advice: eating dumplings on the back of a bike can lead to dumpling shirts. See photos.