I began trying to scout out a route from Beijing to Tianjin yesterday and completed my longest ride to date, about 76 miles. The objective was to see what the roads and cycling is like beyond the boundary of Beijing, which is not easy to do. I got within a mile or so of the border yesterday, but still not officially outside of Beijing. The city is over a 100 miles wide and tall. But still, once you are beyond the 6th ring it is a different world.
I have been steadily making changes to the Giant XR2 Roam, and I had a Surly 1x1 steel fork shipped from the U.S. to replace the cheesy Suntour suspension fork. I will have two Surly racks here in a couple of weeks. I also had the brakes reversed as they were opposite (left/right) as in the U.S. The basic day ride rig is shown in the pic. I carry tools and tire repair items, camera, lights and everything I need to ride at night. Once I have the racks in place I will start to build out an overnight rig. The Roam is really awesome, very responsive in traffic and very fast with the 700c tires.
In the morning after I passed the 5th ring I came up on a kite dealer parked on the corner. Check out not only the kites, but the assortment of line winders next to him. He was on one of the typical 3 wheel vehicles that are everywhere here.
Once I was beyond the 6th ring things were pretty quiet. I was on a long stretch (still with a bike lane) and almost no houses, just fields everywhere. All of the sudden I started hearing someone in the distance singing, like as in full blown concert singing. I came up on this building and there was a guy in front of the doors in a complete, gilded, white Elvis suit singing full blast. The beautiful thing about the bike in China is you can just stop and check it out. I went in the front area and there were two long rows of vendors selling fruit and a few villagers hanging out enjoying the afternoon show. As I stayed more and more people showed up, and you could tell they were surprised to find this going on, and very happy to see it. None were in cars, they were all on 3 wheelers or bikes. Some person came out and started doing gymnastics and martial arts so I took a pic after I bought a couple of bananas for lunch (about 30 cents). I still don’t know what was going on or what this building was. It was just one of those random bizarre things in China that makes you laugh.
I stopped after this when I reached the farthest point I was going to go south east. This was where I was within a couple of kilometers of the Hebei border. There was a row of green houses and I stopped on the corner to take my own pic. I hesitate to send this cause it shows the 15 pounds of China winter fat I packed back on since December (uggh) but the group of guys behind me staring at the procedure is hilarious. Like I said, beyond the 6th ring it’s another world. People are really friendly and you see the coolest stuff. But nobody, and I mean nobody – speaks English.
Cutting back to the east I was able to cross over the G2 highway that goes to Tianjin. I wanted to see if it was possible to ride a bike on the highways (tollways) because from the high speed train it had looked like they had bike lanes. There was a traffic officer at the G2 and she indicated that it was a no go, but there were plenty of roads going the right direction that still had bike lanes. They are mostly unmarked on my GPS map though, so a compass is really more useful. And another problem is I don’t have a data feed out there, so I have to use the maps I downloaded and I don’t have detailed maps beyond the boundary of Hebei.
I stopped at a Sinopec station to get something to drink after I burned through the 3 containers I had. I was really surprised that they had real urinals. Not toilets (still had the squatter hole for that) but knowing that Sinopec stations have at least clean, semi-modern facilities is cool – but you still have to bring your own toilet paper. They were so nice at the station. You never pump gas yourself in China, always an attendant does it. So the attendant guy just stood there and held my bike for me while I went to the bathroom.
I cut back north and saw a bunch of kites being flown in the distance, some really high in the air. I decided to go down into this graveled area even though it was strewn with glass and who knows what else. That’s the thing about riding here, you never know what you are going to end up riding through/over. Down in this area there were people flying kites. There were there on 3 wheelers and bikes, and kids standing around watching. As I took pictures more and more people started showing up. Sometimes they would have 4 people crammed onto one of those 3 wheelers. And in the background of one of the pics you can see the guy tending sheep, and the carcasses of kite flights gone bad up in electrical lines.
Further north there was a site being setup for the Beijing Strawberry Festival. It was really strange the site was almost completely empty, but the buildings and restaurants were fully staffed. I stopped in and road around once and then left. The decorations and buildings were crazy in that wacky sort of China way.
Finally I made the turn to come back into the city and home. Sometimes (well mostly) I am just blazing in traffic, typically I pass everything, motorized or not. The Roam is really a quick bike. Everybody carries their little kids on the back of their bikes or scooters, and sadly none of them have helmets. The little kids are the funnest, they just stare and if you smile and wave at them they always grin. And a lot of them will try to speak English. So on the way back this little girl was riding on a scooter and her dad was riding pretty fast, and I came up behind them and she was so surprised that a bicycle was riding beside her. Then I grinned and gave her the peace sign with a hello and her jaw just dropped. It was SO funny. So I passed them and then a while later we stopped together at a light and she was just smiling away. But the best part was when I took off with them and she just started bobbing her head to my pedal strokes and smiling. Just one of those moments that make it so much fun to ride here. I can’t wait to get my sport cam hooked up.