Born To Be Mild

Picture, if you will, a slight breeze trying to muster the strength to ruffle your hair as you glide deftly through the wilds of Chinese traffic at a cool 35 km/hr. The slight buzz beneath you hums into your thighs with all the power of an electric pencil sharpener.

For only a few thousand kuai you’ve upped your rank on the food chain of China’s roads by an exponential factor. No longer are you bound by your two feet, nor your heart beat. You are born again; born to ride!

That’s right folks, I’ve bought an e-bike!

Actually, I bought it a little over a month ago, but as you may have noticed, have been crap about posting lately.

I didn’t pansy out either. I got the biggest frigin’ one I could find, figuring that if I’m going to ride something that would cause misdirected hate-crimes back home, I may as well do it right.

ebike01.jpgThis sucker tops out at 45km/hr. (50-55km on a slight down-hill grade), goes a quoted 80km before it needs a recharge, has storage enough to fit a box of cookies AND (possibly) a small bottle of Coke. It also somewhat-comfortably fits myself and Maggie.

Suzhou is a sea of bikes. This is something that took a lot of getting used to when we first moved down here from Dalian. The North East is no stranger to two-wheelers, but there is no where near the number you find here in the “South” – due in no small part to Dalian’s icy cold climate and amount of large hills I’m sure.

There are basically two options you have when you delve into the ebike market. You can get yourself a bicycle that has a battery strapped to it, or you can get a scooter with an engine. Beneath the plastic they’re the same damn thing, but the latter are slightly more manly (and I’m stretching that “slightly” as far as I can).

I had intended to buy one much sooner, but always seemed to avoid it. The reason? Fear. And I’m sure most of you who have braved the mean streets of China sympathize. Motorcycles on the sidewalks, cars in the bike lane, people in the street (ALWAYS looking the other way). It’s chaos would make Edward Lorenz tingle.

What I realize now, after a month of whizzing around the city like a mildman, is there is a strange system to it. Whereas we have laws and rules that govern our roads back in Canada, China seems to use a more “law of the jungle” attitude with a health mix of full-fault insurance (to keep it lively).

Horns are used not to show annoyance, but to say “I’m coming through, I’m not going to stop, and if you get in my way I’ll be long gone before the police arrive to question witnesses”.

Also, in a strange mirroring of China in general, there seems to be an unspoken rule that everything behind you is simply not your problem. Swerving the width of the bike lane is not only excepted, it is expected.

Despite my initial hesitations, I absolutely love having the bike. I didn’t realize how much of the city I was missing. I can now visit places that were previously too far out of the way to walk, and too random to take a bus or taxi to. I can wind and wander through all the old back alleys, giving as many stares as I get for what I see there.

Safety is a concern, and with videos like this on the news every night, it’s never far from my mind. However, I’ve always been a defensive driver, and that’s multiplied massively since becoming e-mobile.

The other big problem with bikes in China is that they’re at a huge risk of being stolen. The bike set me back about 2,800 RMB ($400 CAN), so no small chunk of change. It will more than pay for itself in saved taxi fares and general convenience (particularly when I start school in September), provided I can hold on to it long enough.

For 30 RMB a month I get a safe and secured parking spot (with an outlet for charging), and I’ll just have to be vigilant while out with it. My one friend has lost something stupid like seven bikes here, and just two weeks ago my other buddy nearly had his taken from right out of his upscale apartment building.

I’m currently trying to come up with a convenient way to strap my video camera to the front of it – if I do, expect a street-level vBlog soon 🙂

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