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Cycle China: Week 3

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In this special five-part series, we're riding along with SWA Group landscape designer Amirah Shahid as she cycles nearly 800 miles from Beijing to Shanghai (find the previous posts here). Join us as she tells about her journey and files exclusive photos from the road in an attempt to better understand China's urban and rural biking culture. Week Three: Halfway there...

 

Amirah Shahid checks in from the road with images of the Confucius temple in Qufu, the Grand Canal (the world's largest man-made waterway), and Huian, where she witnessed indiviuals launching lanterns into the sky to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival.

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  Much of Shahid's ride has been along roads flanked by greenery on either side. A common sight: urban infrastructure juxtaposed with nature, in this instance, established rice fields. Another common sight is other bikers. "There are tons in urban areas," Shahid reports, and "too many to count between the urban areas as I ride along national roads." About half of the bikes Shahid sees are "old-looking electric bikes, which have obviously been around for a while."
    Much of Shahid's ride has been along roads flanked by greenery on either side. A common sight: urban infrastructure juxtaposed with nature, in this instance, established rice fields. Another common sight is other bikers. "There are tons in urban areas," Shahid reports, and "too many to count between the urban areas as I ride along national roads." About half of the bikes Shahid sees are "old-looking electric bikes, which have obviously been around for a while."
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  Unexpected rain forced Shahid to take a break and check out a few cultural sites in Qufu. Here, Confucian philosophy carved in stone, circa 1600.
    Unexpected rain forced Shahid to take a break and check out a few cultural sites in Qufu. Here, Confucian philosophy carved in stone, circa 1600.
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  Shahid also stopped to see the messages written and displayed on a board at the Confucius temple. On a typical day, she's up at 8 am and on the road by 9 am. She tries to stop for a break every 25-30 kilometers (every 15.5-18.5 miles) so her schedule has generally looked like this: Start riding by 9 am, ride, soda break, ride, lunch, ride, snack break ("cookies at a convenience store or from my personal stash of Luna bars from the U.S."), ride, check in at the hotel, nap and/or blog, eat dinner, relax, go to sleep, repeat.
    Shahid also stopped to see the messages written and displayed on a board at the Confucius temple. On a typical day, she's up at 8 am and on the road by 9 am. She tries to stop for a break every 25-30 kilometers (every 15.5-18.5 miles) so her schedule has generally looked like this: Start riding by 9 am, ride, soda break, ride, lunch, ride, snack break ("cookies at a convenience store or from my personal stash of Luna bars from the U.S."), ride, check in at the hotel, nap and/or blog, eat dinner, relax, go to sleep, repeat.
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  Still in Qufu, Shahid spotted this man cruising down the historic streets.
    Still in Qufu, Shahid spotted this man cruising down the historic streets.
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  Shahid also sighted this woman. "It looked like this she was working to introduce a child to cycling at an early age," she says. Though she hasn't been able to communicate with everyone she sees, Shahid reports the language barrier "is easier and easier to deal with everyday." Having a translated project description has helped. "Even if people can't communicate with me, after reading it they can see that I've went through the effort of trying to include them and they understand why I'm here," she says. "I think that's part of the reason people have been so supportive."
    Shahid also sighted this woman. "It looked like this she was working to introduce a child to cycling at an early age," she says. Though she hasn't been able to communicate with everyone she sees, Shahid reports the language barrier "is easier and easier to deal with everyday." Having a translated project description has helped. "Even if people can't communicate with me, after reading it they can see that I've went through the effort of trying to include them and they understand why I'm here," she says. "I think that's part of the reason people have been so supportive."
  • 
  Back on the road, Shahid biked along the Grand Canal, the largest man-made waterway in the world, which runs from Beijing to Hangzhou (south of Shanghai). "Boats haul materials for new construction and other material goods up and down stream," she observed.
    Back on the road, Shahid biked along the Grand Canal, the largest man-made waterway in the world, which runs from Beijing to Hangzhou (south of Shanghai). "Boats haul materials for new construction and other material goods up and down stream," she observed.
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  At one point, a strip of forest rose up between the road and the Grand Canal. Shahid paused and found locals assembling large reed mats from piles of dried branches.
    At one point, a strip of forest rose up between the road and the Grand Canal. Shahid paused and found locals assembling large reed mats from piles of dried branches.
  • 
  Throughout her journey, Shahid's path has been blocked by natural materials drying on the bike lanes. She's ridden around drying peanuts, branches, cotton nuts, and more. Shown here is poplar bark, which lined the bike lane for three kilometers (nearly two miles). "There were signs around pointing the way to a poplar demonstration forest," Shahid says. "I didn't go and I'm not sure what goes on there, but clearly the poplar is an important resource in the Jiangsu Province."
    Throughout her journey, Shahid's path has been blocked by natural materials drying on the bike lanes. She's ridden around drying peanuts, branches, cotton nuts, and more. Shown here is poplar bark, which lined the bike lane for three kilometers (nearly two miles). "There were signs around pointing the way to a poplar demonstration forest," Shahid says. "I didn't go and I'm not sure what goes on there, but clearly the poplar is an important resource in the Jiangsu Province."
  • 
  Shahid spots about two cows per day. "This was the first one I saw eating a willow," she remarks.
    Shahid spots about two cows per day. "This was the first one I saw eating a willow," she remarks.
  • 
  Upon arriving in Huian, Shahid came across this designated, secure, bike-parking lot. Fees were about 50 cents (USD) per hour. "Whereas in San Francisco we only have bike parking at special events when it's hosted by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, these bike-parking areas are designated, everyday places," she says.
    Upon arriving in Huian, Shahid came across this designated, secure, bike-parking lot. Fees were about 50 cents (USD) per hour. "Whereas in San Francisco we only have bike parking at special events when it's hosted by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, these bike-parking areas are designated, everyday places," she says.
  • 
  The Mid-Autumn Festival was in full-swing when Shahid arrived in Huian. A common tradition is to a wish on a paper lantern before releasing it into the night sky. Here, a couple works together to ensure a successful launch.
    The Mid-Autumn Festival was in full-swing when Shahid arrived in Huian. A common tradition is to a wish on a paper lantern before releasing it into the night sky. Here, a couple works together to ensure a successful launch.
  • 
  Shahid packed three extra tubes in case of flats, though it turns out she can stop and buy one anywhere. "Roadside bike mechanic stands are very common in large cities and in small villages," she says. "I've been very surprised to see all the bike support." Local cyclists and mechanics have been surprised by Shahid's bike, which sports handlebars, gearing systems, and cogs they haven't seen before. "They come over and poke around my bike all the time in a non-threatening way," she says.
    Shahid packed three extra tubes in case of flats, though it turns out she can stop and buy one anywhere. "Roadside bike mechanic stands are very common in large cities and in small villages," she says. "I've been very surprised to see all the bike support." Local cyclists and mechanics have been surprised by Shahid's bike, which sports handlebars, gearing systems, and cogs they haven't seen before. "They come over and poke around my bike all the time in a non-threatening way," she says.
  • 
  In Huian, Shahid observed these two women walking their bikes instead of maneuvering them through the market and its crowds. "The bikes were still useful for being big enough to open a crowd and for carrying newly bought goods," she says.
    In Huian, Shahid observed these two women walking their bikes instead of maneuvering them through the market and its crowds. "The bikes were still useful for being big enough to open a crowd and for carrying newly bought goods," she says.
  • 
  Shahid spent a short time cycling along this small, local road that followed Hung-Tse Lake. "I was happy riding along this dirt road as a break from the traffic flying by me on the national road that I've been following," she says. Shahid's original plan was to stick to local roads, however, about a day into the trip she discovered that local roads are "just compacted dirt and rutted out in areas," she says. She switched to the national roads, which are one step below main highway arterials and have proven to be very well-maintained, be quite manageable, have relatively low automobile traffic, and have wide shoulders. "Most cars and trucks give a courtesy honk about five to ten seconds before they pass you," she says. "It's loud and obnoxious but it's their way of letting you know they're there. In addition to the honk, they move over a lane to give you more space when they pass."
    Shahid spent a short time cycling along this small, local road that followed Hung-Tse Lake. "I was happy riding along this dirt road as a break from the traffic flying by me on the national road that I've been following," she says. Shahid's original plan was to stick to local roads, however, about a day into the trip she discovered that local roads are "just compacted dirt and rutted out in areas," she says. She switched to the national roads, which are one step below main highway arterials and have proven to be very well-maintained, be quite manageable, have relatively low automobile traffic, and have wide shoulders. "Most cars and trucks give a courtesy honk about five to ten seconds before they pass you," she says. "It's loud and obnoxious but it's their way of letting you know they're there. In addition to the honk, they move over a lane to give you more space when they pass."
  • 
  "It's very common to see children riding in the laps of or in front of a cycling parent," Shahid says. "I'm amazed at how well-behaved they are for the ride." Stayed tuned for a third slideshow from the last stretch of Shahid's journey coming next week and an interview to follow, when she's back on U.S. soil.Don't miss a word of Dwell! Download our  FREE app from iTunes, friend us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter!
    "It's very common to see children riding in the laps of or in front of a cycling parent," Shahid says. "I'm amazed at how well-behaved they are for the ride." Stayed tuned for a third slideshow from the last stretch of Shahid's journey coming next week and an interview to follow, when she's back on U.S. soil.

    Don't miss a word of Dwell! Download our FREE app from iTunes, friend us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter!

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