I Want to Ride my Bicycle

Shanghai is a big city. This won’t come as news to most people, but I thought I would mention it nevertheless. However, in spite of its gargantuan sprawl (2,448 square miles – four times the size of Greater London, and roughly the same size as Northumberland or Devon) its various quarters and districts have a surprisingly homely feel, and are easy enough to get around by bike or scooter, which seem to be the form of transport chosen by the majority of people for quick, local journeys. Recently, we acquired a scooter which has proven to be great fun, and is featured here in this picture being modelled by local resident, me.

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The issue with quickly scooting from location A to location B of course is that you don’t always have your scooter handy if you’re out and about in the city. With the recent introduction of a seatbelt law that requires every passenger to wear their seatbelt, taxis are harder to come by than they used to be (if you’re going to fine people for not wearing a seatbelt, taxis have got to have seatbelts in them, really, meaning that at least two-thirds of the taxis I’ve been in since arriving here have been taken out of commission recently). There’s also the small matter of ‘DiDi’ (Chinese Uber, basically) which is very handy but the app only comes in Mandarin, which I am still finding difficult. I can handle ‘Hello’, or ‘One of those please’ but I struggle a bit with this:

Didi

So. What to do if you are out and about and want to quickly make your way from one place to another? I’ll tell you what to do, get a bike!

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You can get them without the cargo too.

Over the last few months, I started noticing bikes left out and about in Shanghai in random places. They all looked very similar, in the mould of ‘Boris Bikes’ back in London, but instead of being locked in a rack which could be opened with a few coins, these were literally just lying around any old place.

By a basketball court after hours…

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In the park…

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And soon enough I noticed other kinds of bikes turning up all over the place.

A young bike, waiting to make its way in the world…

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Three bikes in a meeting, discussing their plans for the day…

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A drunk bike who needs to go home…IMG_6342-1

 

Anyway, it turned out that the Orange bikes (one of which you saw in the park there) belong to a scheme called ‘Mobike’. Following a recommendation by a friend at work, I signed up and it is wonderful. The bikes are usually available on any street corner. You scan the QR code on the back and the bike promptly unlocks itself. You ride it to wherever you’re going, leave it in a sensible location for the next person (so not just ‘by that bench’, ideally) and lock it again. You then get charged (usually 1RMB, or about 12p) and you go on your way. It’s incredibly handy, very reasonable in price, and the bikes are almost literally everywhere. The bikes’ only downside is that most of the seats aren’t adjustable, and they are built for people who are quite a lot smaller than me. Oh, and you can’t change gear. So, given that Shanghai is twice the size of Rhode Island, I wouldn’t be looking to use one for a massive journey, but given that you are never far from a Metro station or a taxi rank and pedalling leisurely through a place like the French Concession is so picturesque and relaxing, it’s a wonderful scheme to have at your fingertips. Plus, each bike has a bell you can ring just by turning the handlebars, and despite it being childish, it is enormous fun. There are three or four different schemes running, judging by the different coloured bikes you can find (but then, Shanghai is 40 times the size of Liechenstein, which is whole country, so they need a fair few options to cover the ground) so there seem to be more than enough to go around.

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Mobike in repose.

It came in particularly useful last night when coming back from Puxi. My taxi driver, who clearly had no idea the address on my taxi card actually was, began to hesitate and circle around about a mile from where we live. No problem – I just asked him to drop me off where we were (using one of the few phrases of Mandarin I actually do know), hopped on a Mobike and was back home in 10 minutes. It was midnight, but the weather was clement, and the ride was highly enjoyable. Thanks Mobike!

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Late night Mobike selfie! Not pictured: Mobike (sorry about that)
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Author: PS

English teacher in Shanghai.

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