China, October 3, 1999
I ain't never seen so many bicycles in my life!
China is the land of the bicycle. I swear there are more bikes than
people, and they are everywhere. You cannot imagine the volume of cyclist
on all the streets, at all times of the day, until you travel around
China. There are bikes in every nook and cranny, with at least one half of
the world's steel and chrome production rusting away as abandoned bikes
still locked to an immobile object in Beijing.
With such a powerful herd instinct pushing me, I had to join the chaos. When I first arrived here, following the hooligan tendencies I picked up in Russia, I 'obtained' a classic Mao bicycle. You know the one I'm talking about, with big wheels, curved handlebars, and funky metal-bar brakes, it is all over China and in at least 70% of the photographs of Beijing, no matter what the subject.
I loved the classic riding style it had, with those big tires elevating me above the crowd hunched over their modern cycles and that amazingly far-reaching front wheel plowing a clear path for me to follow. Unfortunately, the brakes never did work right and with all my weight on the back tire, I had constant flats. I rode the bike for three weeks, until one night, frustrated over another flat rear tire and confronted with a gate it would not fit through, I threw it over a fence. I'm not sure what flimsy Chinese construction it crashed through, but the Chinese obscenities that followed left me giggling hysterically as I stumbled home on foot.
Today I am on my way to replace that ancient cruiser with a cool, modern bike. Oddly enough, the newer bikes look like cheap American mountain bikes, but with only one gear and low-tech construction, they are about $20 and even though there are thousands, if not millions of bike dealers in Beijing, I'm going back to the one I know.
Shown to me by Tom, he lives and works with his family, out of a small storefront on a side alley near Beijing University. I don't know any Chinese (yet), and he doesn't speak English, but we both know bicycles well enough to have fun each time I come around.
Oh, and he literally lives in the storefront. Outside the shop are rows and rows of unassembled bikes waiting to be assembled and sold, while inside, past more inventory, are two small cots, a rudimentary kitchen, and a few belongings. This doesn't stop him from being proud though, and I like that. He defiantly has 100% of my bicycle business, and in this two-wheeled land, I fear that's gonna be a lot of dough!