Beijing by bike
For centuries a popular mode of transport in China has been the trusty bike.
It’s estimated that in a country of over 1 billion people there are approximately 800,000,000 bicycles, so I decided this was how I wanted to explore the capital city.
Riding the streets of bike-friendly Beijing is the best way to get to know the city. You get the sights, the sounds and the smells as you peddle along dedicated bike lanes, through parks, past local markets and via back alleys. There are bike lanes on the main roads and in some places, such as near Tiananmen Square, the broad bikeway takes up almost half of the road.
There are plenty of special parking places for bikes. In some parks, like for example Temple of Heaven, entry with your bike is forbidden. So, just leave it on a rack near the entrance. I recommend taking an early morning ride to see the big city as it awakens. Street markets will start to cook their delicious fast food snacks and stores will begin to open for business. You’ll pass huge morning traffic jams (with a smile as you cycle on by), and come to any big park and you can join morning gymnastic exercise on the open air if you wish.
Alternatively at the end of the day you can take a late evening ride through the hutongs – narrow old Chinese streets. At night they are illuminated and riding through is easier because it’s not so overcrowded. It’s like stepping back in time with all these one floor squat houses that have been home to the same families for generations. Cycle with care so you don’t bump into grandpa sitting on his roadside chair eating his noodle supper!
You can cycle to the Olympic centre and observe the city from that viewpoint. In front of you will be a broad street several kilometres long with a pagoda on the hill at the end. This hill is made from the earth taken when digging the moat for the Forbidden City. It will take you approximately an hour to reach this hill from the Olympic centre, but it’s worth the climb for another perfect view.
Another great detour is to circle the lake and have a lunch in the island restaurant with a 5-star view. This lake is just to the right of the Forbidden city.
By bike you’ll move faster than by foot – so you’ll see more – and thanks to the city’s infamous traffic jams, you’re also likely to move faster than cars and parking isn’t a problem. So take advantage of bike riding – find your best street food place, your most interesting buildings and best vantage points of the city. Make new friends with locals – try not to use a map. Just get lost in the heart of Beijing and people will help you find what you are looking for. And when you make your way back to your hotel, I’m sure you’ll not forget this day!
* Beijing photo by John C Wright – Intrepid Photography Competition.