Cycling in Beijing – Part 2

lion sculptureEvery year when the temperature descends past freezing point, friends and colleagues have taken to ask if I’m still cycling in the cold. Depending on my mood I’d give them either the long or the short answer.

The long answer would go something like this…

I picked up my first bike two years ago on the coldest day in Beijing. It was -15 degrees Celsius with strong winds! Today’s nothing!

And the short answer is just plain…Yes!

The person I speak to will then respond in one of the following ways..

  • Give me a thumbs up and tell me I’m strong, brave or both.
  • Shake their heads while saying I’m insane.
  • Tell me what I should get on Taobao to protect my knees from the cold (how do they expect me to cycle with a blanket over my legs?)

More often than not, I meet seasonal cyclists, that is, people who cycle only during late spring, summer and early autumn (read: when it’s warm) and when the air quality index  (AQI) is an acceptable number (read: under 100). You can count the number of days these people cycle in Beijing with both hands.

There are days when I’m cycling in Beijing in subzero temperatures and howling wind, teeth chattering, nose and feet numb and battling to keep my bike heading in the right direction when I tell myself never again. But then I’d get to my destination all warmed up, relaxed and filled with a sense of achievement, and forget everything I told myself just moments ago.

People also argue cycling in filthy air probably do more bad than good to our bodies.  I recently read a WeChat post by a fellow cyclist who hated wearing face masks when cycling. When the AQI went through the roof earlier this year, he decided to take the subway instead of cycling to work. After five days of battling epic crowds to get on and off the subway and being squashed into inhumane postures for his hour-long ride to and from the office, he bought himself a face mask so he could resume cycling to work in a healthy manner.

He made a statement that very much resonated with me, “It’s natural to assume cycling an hour will be more strenuous than sitting in the subway for the same amount of time. But the truth is, I always felt revitalised and refreshed after cycling to work, but I was always stressed and drained when I took the subway to work for a week because I killed so many brain cells working out how to get on and off the subway everyday.”

Taking the subway in Beijing during peak hour traffic is a life-threatening exercise.  After falling out of the carriage and wedging my right leg in between the platform and the carriage 4 years ago, I banished all excuses about cycling in Beijing from my head, got on a bike and never looked back.

It’s interesting how much a simple thing like cycling has taught me about psychological barriers and overcoming fears. It’s always easy to find excuses not to do something. What’s yours?

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