Beijing, 29 January 2013
There was a time when China was famous the world over for its bicycles. To the few who were able to get into China, it seemed that the roads were just a torrent of bicycles.
That torrent has dried up to a mere trickle. Some of the older expats whom I meet talk with a certain wistfulness of the bicycle culture that still existed when they first arrived in China ten-fifteen years ago, a culture where it seemed that every able-bodied Chinese had a bike. Now, there is just a torrent of cars, a torrent which is growing exponentially with every passing year and fast becoming a flood.
So it looks like China’s bike culture has effectively vanished. But there is one sub-species of bicycle, if I may put it that way, which still flourishes in China, in the form of a tricycle which I have only ever seen here in China.
The design is really very basic. Absolutely nothing fancy here, one has the feeling that a series of pipes have been soldered together and three bicycle wheels have been added. As you can see, the key to this bicycle is the barrow at the back, which is used to carry. And boy, does this humble machine carry! All day, every day, you will see hundreds if not thousands of these tricycles criss-crossing every city of China, most often being pedalled by one of China’s army of migrant workers, carrying every blessed item you could possibly imagine. And sometimes, the volumes being carried are awesomely ginormous, from furniture:
To old telephone casings:
To car parts:
to a whole van, for Lord’s sake!
Inanimate objects aren’t the only things carried. Farmers use them to carry their pigs:
and who knows what else, while this woman is using it to carry kids
and this husband his wife.
I have to say, I do find that this particular husband is treating his wife rather cavalierly. There is a version of this mode of travel where the wife rides as would a queen, sitting regally on a throne-like armchair while her husband pedals slowly in front of her.
I’ve noticed that the couples always seem to be retirees. Young Chinese don’t go around like this. But that’s fine by me; I’m almost retired. I have decided that I will buy one of these throne-tricycles and bring it back to Milan. Like that, when my wife and I have finally joined the ranks of the retirees, I will be able to slowly pedal my lady wife around Milan in the style that she deserves and is accustomed to.
Bicycles in Beijing: http://heckeranddecker.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/bicycles-in-beijing.jpg
Car traffic jam: http://www.intellasia.net/en/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/china.car-market201211afp.jpg
Tricycle with furniture: http://cargocycling.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/furnituretrike.jpg
Tricycle carrying cardboard: http://ph.cdn.photos.upi.com/collection/upi/sb/2870/a5da8edd413c5f72aba13e80f2d0dc3a/Trash-trawling-as-a-career-in-China_2.jpg
Tricycle carrying polystyrene: http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/01410/tricycle-polystyre_1410326i.jpg
Tricycle carrying phone parts: http://www.mutanteggplant.com/vitro-nasu/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/ewaste.jpg
Tricycle carrying car parts: http://i.telegraph.co.uk/telegraph/multimedia/archive/01410/Tricycle-car-bumpe_1410335i.jpg
Tricycle carrying minivan: http://bitcast-a.v1.dfw1.bitgravity.com/nightmobile/cars/images2/120000/1000/800/121834.jpg
Tricycle carrying pig: http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/01551/pig-tricycle_1551633i.jpg
Tricycle carrying ducks: http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/01410/Tricycle-ducks_1410329i.jpg
Tricycle carrying children: http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/images/stories/large/2009/08/31/abortions-china-51343014-small.jpg
Tricycle husband carrying wife: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/en/focus/xin_7c24924aea7a11d7b21c0001030784d9_bike.jpg
Tricycle old couple in fine style: my photo