Where in the world is this?
Cycling in Shanghai
If you’re thinking in terms of travel and cycling in Shanghai, change channel. In this piece, I’ve gone local.
Shanghai in 1994
Shanghai is a place that has intrigued me ever since I first visited the city in 1994. At that time bicycles were just about the only means of personal and private transport. And then, more besides if you take into account the myriad tricycles used to for delivery and plying other forms of trade.
About the only form of mechanised transport back then were buses and taxis. Private cars were rare as were mopeds and motorcycles.
Today, things are certainly very different. There’s now a comprehensive mass transit Metro network running to all part of this metropolis – one of the largest in the work. There are now traffic jams of cars, swarms of mopeds and motorcycles. Taxis are now there in their multitudes and the buses, as many now as then, but smaller.
The Humble Bicycle
As for the humble bicycle. It’s still there in all its forms, shapes and sizes. And, they and their cyclists are still well respected on those now busier roads. Cyclists here in Shanghai have full use of most suburban thoroughfares – and I mean full use, as in the whole road.
In Shanghai, it’s kind of rare to see designated or marked these cycling ways or tracks, marked up paved ways or pavements or areas or routes specially marked off pathways for cycling commuters in this city. Here, the bicycle came before there were cars. As a result, there appears to be more respect for those riding bicycles – more so than many of the cities I have visited in Europe and North America,
Even more impressive is the demographic spread of people riding bicycles – young and old alike. Bicycles come in every form and shape and used for purposes beyond just being a mere form of convenience.
While on this last series of trips to Shanghai, I didn’t get to see it this time around but, it wasn’t uncommon seeing a whole families commuting to some destination on a bicycle – the man of the house doing the peddling, the mother behind riding pillion [as in a side saddled fashion], one child sitting astride the cross bar and the other child crouched in a basket on the handle bars. Kind of an everyday event back in the time.
But, what impresses me most is the elegance with which most women seem to manage these machines as they ride through the traffic, this with a grace that it is almost Victorian. Many of the more mature women don bonnets and hats and wear these capes – in some instances old shirts worn back to front – to cover their arms and to project themselves from the elements.
As for the younger ladies, this is all about leg power. Given the prevalence of bicycles as a regular form of transport in this city, it appears to have a telling and beneficial effects on the community, their state of health and the environment in which they live. While I cannot vouch for their levels of health or fitness, it is rare here to observe the levels of obesity as found in other urban communities elsewhere around the world.
Put succinctly, for those into people watching or studying the urban myth, the bicycle on Shanghai’s suburban streets makes for an interesting spectacle. Seeing these machines in use, as they are used here in Shanghai, also belies the myth that there’s no place for this form of transportation in the modern urban landscape. Go to Shanghai to see how all this works and work it does. Enjoy.
UPDATE – : We have since added a gallery of photos featuring people commuting around Shanghai on their mopeds and bicycles – Communing in Shanghai.
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originally written and posted on 120623 – reposted on 190119 – revised on 230323.