MY SWEET LITTLE BIKE

Beijing, 21 August 2015

When I was young (“so much younger than today” as the Beatles sang so long ago), I was a fanatic of the bike. Well, at least during the summer holidays I was. I would spend them at my grandmother’s house in France, where there were always a bunch of bicycles, big and small, old and new, lying around and ready to be grabbed and ridden. My cousins spent the summer next door, so we would spend endless afternoons bicycling around the Beaujolais countryside which surrounded us – I’ve already written about this in a previous post.

When I was 10 or 11, my parents decided that it was time for me to have my own bike. They took me down to the main bicycle shop in the nearby market town. After a certain amount of negotiation, we agreed on a Peugeot bike. How I loved that bike! It was an exquisite light green colour, with a real leather saddle, four gears, silver mudguards, white-walled tyres, a little satchel hanging behind the saddle with all the equipment needed to mend a puncture, a pump hooked to the crossbar, lights that worked with a dynamo which clicked into place on the front wheel and which purred as I flew down the darkened lanes at night… As you can see, that bike has been etched deeply into my memory. I spent many a happy moment cleaning it, burnishing it, oiling it, pumping its tyres. Whenever I arrived for a holiday, after a hasty peck on my grandmother’s cheek, it was to my bike that I rushed, to give it a loving wipe and the first whirl of the holidays down the lanes.

Well, I grew up and moved on. The bike stayed mournfully propped against the garage wall, while I graduated to motorized transport – the moped first, then the car. I would give it a pat from time to time, and then nephews and nieces began to use it, then I stopped going to my grandmother’s house, then one day it was gone.

It’s not as if I betrayed my bike with another. Apart from a year or two when my wife and I were living near Lake Maggiore and did everything by bike – going to work of course, but also the shopping, the post office, the cleaning, and simply touring around – I just stopped riding bikes. It’s difficult to ride a bike in cities, you know, and then the kids came along, and then, and then … Even in China, empire of the bicycle (well, fast becoming the empire of the car), I never rode a bicycle.

Until now.

I won’t go into the details, suffice to say that by pure happenstance I’ve been given the use of a bike, and I have a place to park it safely, both at work and at home. So now every day, I ride to and from work. On this sweet little thing.

the bike i get to use

OK, it’s not a cool racing bike like this one

racing bike-3

or this one

racing bike-2or even this one (whose green rather reminds me of the green of my Peugeot bicycle)

futuristic bike-7

And it doesn’t give me an excuse to dress up in this unutterably cool way

racer-2

Nor does it allow me to go around in this intriguing way

racer-horizontal-1

or this extraordinary way (apparently this bike works on water too)

futuristic bike-3

But that’s OK, it allows me to reconnect with the bike. And it gives my thighs a really good work-out! My daughter will be very pleased to hear that. She’s always telling me and my wife to do more exercise.

________________________

the sweet bike: my pic
Racing bike-1: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-V3gpmEz-om0/UxP8LMHKuCI/AAAAAAAAACI/rDNuF4gP888/s1600/Imageu.jpg [in http://nurhayara.blogspot.com/%5D
Racing bike-2: http://www.conceptbook.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/bicicletta-aria-marco-mainardi.jpg [in http://www.conceptbook.org/aria-marco-mainardi/%5D
Futuristic bike-1: http://cfs16.tistory.com/image/5/tistory/2011/01/11/11/41/4d2bc34ce7c68 [in http://myblueday.tistory.com/6676%5D
Racer: http://cyclingnz.com/profiles/a497_DSC_3075.JPG [in http://cyclingnz.com/cnz5_profiles.php?n=54%5D
Racer-horizontal: http://proporzionedivina.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/day9buatois1web1.jpg [in http://proporzionedivina.wordpress.com/2011/01/%5D
Futuristic bike-2: http://images.lainformacion.com/cms/bicicleta-anfibia/2012_10_29_PHOTO-ff2bca1b09886ed6447d13ad8dbedb0b-1351511060-9.jpg?width=995&height=650&type=height&id=HejqmIQJgDeHTw3t1hrgo1&time=1351512206&project=lainformacion [in http://noticias.lainformacion.com/economia-negocios-y-finanzas/diseno-e-ingenieria/las-bicicletas-del-futuro_oe04bAJ4zY9qK4YrwN4UX1/%5D

SILENT AND DEADLY

Beijing, 30 August 2013

I’ve mourned in a past posting the passing of the bicycle culture which so dominated China until a few decades ago. In that same posting I wrote about a sub-family of bicycles which seems to be surviving the onslaught of the automobile. In this posting, I want to write about another sub-family of bicycles which is surviving; indeed, seems to be thriving: the electric bicycle.

When we first arrived in Beijing, my wife and I were intrigued to see these machines cruising up and down the roads in large numbers. Here are a couple of examples of what greeted us:

electric bicycle-1

(this one being ridden by a lady avoiding the sun, about which I’ve also written in another posting)

electric bicycle-2

I have to say, they immediately reminded me of another motorized bicycle which had played an important role in my teens: the French VéloSolex. For those of my readers who are less than 40, I probably have to quickly explain what this is. Originally (i.e., just after World War II), it was a bike (vélo in French) on whose front wheel had been placed a motor (made by the company Solex).

solex-old-1

This motor powered a small ceramic roller which in turn turned the front wheel through simple friction. And when you wanted to use it as a bike, there was a lever which allowed you to pull the motor and roller off the front wheel. Very simple. Pretty cool. And cheap.

By the time I came along, the VéloSolex had become a bulky bicycle. Or maybe a thin motorbike.

solex-new-1

My parents had bought two of them, for my elder brother and sister. They stayed at my grandmother’s house, ready for use during the summer holidays. As my siblings grew up and moved on, the VéloSolexes passed on to the next sibling. I reckon that by the time I inherited my VéloSolex it was third-or fourth-hand, as it were. No matter, I loved that bike. It was my set of wheels which gave me my freedom, which allowed me to escape from the house when things were really too boring, which they often were in my teenage years.

For me, the VéloSolex was France,

Velosolex_postcard

along with De Gaulle

De Gaullle

the Deux Chevaux

deux chevaux

The baguette

baguette

And Gauloises unfiltered cigarettes, which – I will confess – I smoked for a certain period of my life.

Gauloises Caporal

Who knows where my VéloSolex is now? In some knacker’s yard no doubt.

To come back to our electric bicycles in Beijing, they have one big difference with the VéloSolex: they are silent. Silent and deadly. One of the things which newcomers to Beijing learn quickly – or die – is to look VERY carefully, in ALL directions, when they are crossing a road, even if the little man is green. Right-turn at red lights is allowed, so cars turning right do so, regardless of whether you, the pedestrian, are crossing. Cars which have the green light and are turning left are anxious to do so before the cars coming in the other direction reach the middle of the intersection, so they whizz across it scattering to the winds any pedestrians that might be in the way. All two-wheelers, motorized or not, ignore lights and keep going, weaving around any pedestrians who may be in the way; to make their case worse, they drive on both sides of the road. In this last category of menace, electric bikes are the worst. They move fast, and they are completely silent. At night, they are even deadlier. None of their riders ever bother to put on their lights – so as not to run down the battery, no doubt – and the street lights are not particularly bright. So fast, silent, and invisible. They make me think of torpedoes.

But electric is the future! Even the VeloSolex, whose production ceased in 1988, has now been resurrected in an electric form

Velosolex-electric

And product designers have got into the act, designing excessively cool electric bicycles. And once they are there, you know the product is IN!

cool electric bicycle-5

cool electric bicycle-4

cool electric bicycle-1

So I guess my wife and I had better buy electric bicycles. Not only will we be riding the wave of coolness, but we’ll be running people down rather than being run down. When you can’t beat them, join them.

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Electric bicycle-1: http://thecityfix.com/files/2009/06/cycling.jpg
Electric bicycle-2: http://www.chinasignpost.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/electricbike_China-Digital-Times.jpg
VeloSolex-old: http://homepage.hispeed.ch/Spridget/solex/prototyp1.gif
VeloSolex-new: http://img175.imageshack.us/img175/8817/solex1.jpg
VeloSolex poster: http://cybermotorcycle.com/gallery/velosolex/images/Velosolex_postcard.jpg
De Gaulle: http://05.wir.skyrock.net/wir/v1/profilcrop/?c=isi&im=%2F5508%2F87355508%2Fpics%2F3147952278_1_2_Nvepv9eQ.jpg&w=758&h=1024
Deux chevaux: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/6f/Deux_chevaux_mg_1748.jpg/640px-Deux_chevaux_mg_1748.jpg
Citroen DS: http://www.blogcdn.com/www.autoblog.com/media/2009/02/citroen-ds.jpg
Baguettes: http://www.tranquilla.it/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/baguette-640×442.jpg
Gauloises : http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_siskXeTIdkY/S-6ACEDO1MI/AAAAAAAAADs/-Ny-fMbye2A/s1600/Gauloises+Caporal+-+ann%C3%A9es+40.jpg
Velosolex-electric: http://www.veloecologique.com/produits/128.jpg
Cool electric bicycle-1: http://evworld.com/press/smart_e-bike_profilecityscape.jpg
Cool electric bicycle-2: http://www.evrdr.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/leopard-electric-bike.jpg
Cool electric bicycle-3: http://www.designbuzz.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/vw-folding-electric-bike_xfBve_58.jpg

TRICYCLE, WORKHORSE OF CHINA

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.

File photo of people pushing their bicycles across a railway track during rush hour in Shanghai

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.

car jam-2

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.

tricycle-traditional

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:

furnituretrike

to cardboard:

tricycle carrying cardboard

to polystyrene:

tricycle carrying polystyrene

To old telephone casings:

tricycle carrying phone casings

To car parts:

tricycle carrying car pieces

to a whole van, for Lord’s sake!

tricycle carrying minivan

Inanimate objects aren’t the only things carried. Farmers use them to carry their pigs:

tricycle carrying pig

their ducks:

tricycle carrying ducks

and who knows what else, while this woman is using it to carry kids

tricycle carrying children

and this husband his wife.

tricycle old couple

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.

tricycle old couple-7

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.

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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: http://www.tariksaleh.com/moscaline/chinabike/cargobig.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