There was a ton of excitement over Portland’s bike share announcement last week, so it only seems fitting to post about Beijing’s bike share system. I’m glad to hear the Portland system will finally be rolling out, and those green bikes are dead sexy. The Tilikum Crossing, bike share, legal weed, y’all are getting all the nice things now that I’m gone.
I was debating whether or not to sign up for bike share here. Public transit can get you anywhere you need to go, but I miss riding a bike! The parade blue is gone, but the fall rains have started and the pollution drops after a heavy rain. This past weekend was relatively clear (from rain and smog) so I decided our Sunday outing to the old summer palace should happen by bike.
In my opinion the best feature by far is that you use your transit card to rent a bike. The municipally owned system really is an extension of the transit network.
But before you can take a bike for a spin you have to enroll your transit card in the bike share system. This can only be done at a few locations during certain hours. They require a 400 yuan refundable deposit (about $60) and some paperwork, which is translated in English. I had my husband Eli with me who speaks Chinese so it was a seamless process. (Yes, I’m completely cheating at this whole being immersed in a foreign language thing. An intern from 2011 recounts what it will be like for the rest of you.)
After your card is activated for bike share all you have to do is swipe it at the docking station. The price is unbelievably cheap. The first hour is free, and every hour after that is 1 yuan (about 15 cents). The maximum amount you can be charged is 10 yuan (about $1.50), for the entire day!
As for the bikes themselves, we ran into a few problems. The brakes didn’t really work on the two bikes we selected, but the main issue was the size. I’m 5’9 and Eli is 6’2 and even with the seats as high as they would go we just didn’t fit. Our plan to ride to the summer palace (about 7 miles away) was quickly dashed because it would not have been a comfortable ride. The average height here might be shorter than us, but we have seen plenty of tall people, so I wonder how they manage.
We did take a spin around the neighborhood for the requisite photo shoot. There is usually a separate lane for two-wheeled traffic and car parking on major streets, so that is definitely a win. You do have to share this space with motorbikes and utility trikes but it is much less stressful than riding next to traffic. There are also a ton of e-bikes here, used for delivery and everyday transit. Permanent or temporary separation, both are appreciated.
As far as the biking culture in Beijing goes, this recap from 2011 is still accurate. Still no helmets, lights, or cycling clothes in sight. I was struck by the lack of bike racks. On the street where I live there are just painted boxes on the sidewalk. People either don’t lock their bike at all or just lock one of the wheels so it can’t be rolled away. Apparently this is the bike parking situation in Shenzhen as well. This obviously wouldn’t fly in Portland since you could just pick the bike up to steal it. A possible theft deterrent could be that most people here ride rusty old bikes that look like they haven’t been maintained since the 1980s. I’ve seen a couple flashy new ones, but they are few and far between.
The bike share system debuted in 2011 and now has over 40,000 bikes available at stations concentrated in the central city and a few suburban enclaves. I had trouble finding current information on ridership rates, but this article from 2013 reports that ridership was low in the first year. I see a lot of mostly empty docking stations, so perhaps ridership has gone up in the past two years.
Hopefully this system can help reclaim some of the mode share that was lost to the car takeover. It is really a story that is too sad to tell – the Kingdom of Bicycles reduced to a honking, gridlocked fiasco. Apparently these days it is all about form over function. You’ve got to love the quote from a woman who would rather be crying in a BMW than laughing on a bicycle. Well, she’s got plenty of time to cry when she’s stuck in traffic while the bicycles roll on by.