Thoughts on My Cycling Trip in China

by Dec 12, 2011
by Amirah Shahid Dec 12, 2011


I biked 1250 kilometers from Beijing to Shanghai in September, 2011. The objective of the ride was to gain a firsthand understanding of the role of the bicycle in China and to investigate how cycling culture and bike infrastructure can be integrated into efficient and sustainable transportation design. I travelled through a spectrum of different urban conditions ranging from the dense municipalities of Beijing, Tianjin, and Shanghai, through industrial regions saturated with smog, to wide expanses of agricultural fields supporting rice, corn, and cows.

The most notable part of the ride is how feasible it is to bike this transect. Even with months of planning and research before leaving the states, I was nervous about getting stuck in frustrating and dire situations I could not get out of. However, as soon as I began riding out of Beijing I realized that China is made for bicycles. Its rich history with heavy emphasis on bikes as a primary mode of transportation is still evident in China’s automobile age. Bike lanes, separated from the highway by railing or a planted median, were present in even the smallest of towns. National roads, one level down from the main freeways, had limited traffic and wide shoulders. Roads were, for the most part, well maintained and I saw lots of new roads being constructed. It was not uncommon to see other bikes on these roads at all hours of the day. The prominence of bikes can be seen in the frequency and range of bike stores and mechanics set up in everything from a high end retail store to a roadside stand. The high density of bikes made other bikers and pedestrians crossing bike lanes the biggest hazard I encountered.

Even with the China’s obsession with cars and the status it symbolizes, bikes remain an important part of the country’s future. As designers, this presents an opportunity to create sustainable places that benefit from the presence of bicycles (better air, people exercising, less heart/lung disease…) There are several things to consider when trying to promote the use of bicycles. It’s important to have continuous networks where bike lanes connect to other bike lanes. Sections of Shanghai are fragmented and discourage the use of bicycles for travel beyond one’s neighborhood limits. Pedestrian lanes should be big enough and clearly separated from bike lanes to avoid accidents. Increased efficiency with bike lane design will make bike travel quicker—probably even faster than cars in rush hour traffic. It seems that convincing people that they can save significant time in their commute is an driving factor in getting more people out of their cars and onto a bicycle. Other ways to encourage bike travel include providing tax incentive to businesses encouraging the employees to bike, secure bike parking, and making biking ‘cool’ to youth.

This fellowship has been an amazing experience to understand a country and culture that so much of our work is focused in. The slow pace of the bicycle allowed me to realize the diversity the landscape and people as I moved from province to province and neighborhood to neighborhood. Cycling around a project site and its surrounding areas can be a valuable site analysis tool in China. Additional photos and details of what I saw and experienced are on the fellowship blog—updated daily during the trip—at www.cycle-china.com.

Related Reading:

骑行,北京-上海(一)Bicycling from Beijing to Shanghai part 1

骑行,北京-上海(二)Bicycling from Beijing to Shanghai part 2

骑行,北京-上海(三)Bicycling from Beijing to Shanghai part 3

骑行,北京-上海(四)Bicycling from Beijing to Shanghai part 4


Amirah Shahid

Amirah Shahid, YouthLA Volunteer, landscape designer.

1 discussion
  1. Will says:


    I’m Will,Guangzhou.
    I’m really exiting to see someone having a impressive trip by bicycle!
    Thanks for your share!
    I plan a bicycle trip from Guangzhou to Beijing after Spring Festival,
    Wwould I invite you to go together?

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Amirah Shahid

Amirah Shahid, YouthLA Volunteer, landscape designer.

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