my first 100+ km ride

Cyclists waiting for leader to find a cycling path around Huairou Reservoir
Cyclists waiting for leader to find a cycling path around Huairou Reservoir

So I went on my first 100+ km group ride two Saturdays back.

I admit I was quite unprepared for the ride. Before that, the longest ride I’d been on was about 80 km with only one cycling companion, F. Since our Mentougou ride, F and I have been tossing around the idea of going on a longer ride to Pinggu. So when F spotted a cycling event to Pinggu organised by a local cycling club, he signed up and asked me to come along. It took me all of five minutes to forego indoor rock-climbing for a 140 km cycling trip happening two days later.

I prepared for my first 100+ km ride by buying a pro cycling top with pockets sewed in the back and a pair of cycling gloves.  For some reason, I assumed I could get away with 5 hours’ sleep before the ride, and so woke up at 4 am to watch a World Cup match (probably the knock-out stage).  That was the first of a number of misjudgments I made.

Waking up at 4 am, I was naturally hungry by 5 am and had breakfast by 5:30 am. It did occur to me that the air quality index was high (read: quite polluted) and humidity was over 50%, which was not ideal cycling weather. But my pride and sense of honour won out in the end, and I joined the other cyclists at 7am at the designated meeting spot.

Over 30 people turned up for the ride, and out of these there were about seven women, including myself. I’d expected to be in the slow group, but after about two hours of cycling, I was not just in the slowest group, I was literally the last rider in the group. The other riders did all hey could to help me ride faster. They oiled my chains, pumped my tires full of air and eventually told me to ride a brand new bike another girl was riding because she ran out of energy and had to be chauffered in the back-up car to the restaurant.

In the end, it wasn’t my bike or the new bike that held me back. It was my hunger and thirst. My stomach began grinding in hunger 3 hours into the ride. I was perspiring profusely but was fearful of finishing off my water supply without a means of replenishing it anywhere along the way. By the time we got to a convenience store and I downed a sports drinks and a Snickers bar, these things no longer had an effect on me. My energy had been completely depleted. I cycled for another 5 km to catch up with the back-up car and rode the remaining 10 km to the restaurant.

I managed to ride all the way from Pinggu back to Beijing after a proper rest and stuffing my face at lunch.  I properly did close to 130 km that day, which was the longest distance I’ve ever cycled in one day, and I should’ve been proud of my achievement.

Instead, all I remember on the return leg of the ride was feeling like puking most of the way back, because of all the polluted air I’d breathed all day, and cycling while my legs were cramping, trying not to fall over. When I got home at 8 pm that night, I managed to shower and order some pizza before collapsing on my bed, physically and mentally exhausted. If it wasn’t for my hunger pangs, I probably would’ve slept through the pizza delivery man’s knock on the door.

I remembered thinking, I’m never doing this again.

A gorgeous day at Huairou reservoir
A gorgeous day at Huairou reservoir

I recovered from the ride in less than 48 hours and began scouring the local cycling club’s website for the next long distance ride. And sure enough, I went on a 90 km ride to Huairou reservoir on the following Saturday. This time round, the air quality was excellent, and the sky was blue with some cloud cover. I wished I could say I cycled faster this time, but it didn’t matter. What’s more important was that I enjoyed this ride so much, I’d finally acquired a taste for long distance cycling.

Anyone interested in cycling along the border between DPRK and China for five days? 😉

 

Is cycling safe in Beijing? – Part 1

cycling_safe_in_beijing
Before I started cycling in Beijing, I used to ask myself relentlessly, “Is cycling safe in Beijing?” For the uninitiated, as I was then, the answer had to be ‘no’. Just looking at the congestion and the types of vehicles on the roads was enough. Cyclists in Beijing were either very brave or very good at cycling.

So I thought.

Then I got on Sottie’s bicycle and cycled almost 15 km from Jianguomen to Chaoyang Park. I was starting and stopping at inappropriate spots on the road, I almost collided with another cyclist on the Third Ring Road and I fell off my bike a couple of times through no fault of others. The most important thing was, I survived my first ride in over 20 years relatively intact. And that changed my view of Beijing roads and drivers.

After being asked this question upteen times by friends and acquaintances, I’ve decided to put my thoughts on the matter into a post, or three.

Cycling in Beijing can be safe depending on:

  1. where you ride your bike
  2. how fast you ride your bike
  3. when you ride your bike
  4. weather and air quality
  5. how often you ride your bike

Where you ride your bike & how fast you ride your bike

This is the route I take when I cycle to work everyday:

Home -> west along Liangmaqiao Road (4-lane road)-> south along Third Ring Road (6-lane road) -> arrive at Fortune Plaza bicycle parking lot.

Total distance = around 9 km.

I used to ride along the west side of Chaoyang Park instead of along the Third Ring Road, because the scenery was better. But as I leave my apartment later and later in the morning, I began noticing that Chaoyang Park Road had way more traffic lights and pedestrians than the Third Ring Road and so it made sense to go along Third Ring Road instead. Of course, there’s also more motor vehicles and exhaust fumes along the Third Ring Road and there’s no scenery to speak of, but after cycling along the same route for the last 9 months, even Chaoyang Park’s wondrous greenery has lost its shine. Getting to work on time has been claiming higher and higher priority these days.

To avoid breathing in too much exhaust fumes and Beijing’s generally polluted air, I almost always wear a Respro mask while I’m cycling. That takes care of the pollution argument.

Dealing with cars, buses, trucks, mopeds, motorbikes, ebikes and crazy pedestrians in peak hour traffic, however, is quite another matter.  It’s no fun being sidelined by a bus/truck or hitting the brakes suddenly to avoid hitting something/someone, especially when you’re cycling at your favourite speed or just begun accelerating.  I cycle at at average of 20 km/h, and am simultaneously hailed by one group of friends (infrequent or non-cycling) as a speed demon and rubbished by another group of friends (manic cyclists primarily from Western Europe) as an elderly snail.  From experience, it’s the safest speed on Beijing roads. Go too slow and you’re constantly cut off by other vehicles. Too fast and you won’t be able to do an emergency brake when faced with an imminent headlong collision.

When should a cyclist stop? When should a cyclist accelerate? Based on my experience, it’s best to look at both the traffic lights and the oncoming traffic when deciding if I should stop or accelerate at a green light turning red and vice versa. Here’s why —

  • Drivers don’t necessarily brake when they see a red light in Beijing. They might stop if there’s a policeman standing next to it. And that’s a maybe.
  • Most drivers I’ve encountered while cycling in Beijing would deliberately slow down when making a turn to give me enough time and an excuse to speed past on my bike. Panicking and stopping will attract a barrage of distasteful verbal abuse from said drivers.
  • When I encounters motor vehicles while cycling along designated bike lanes, I take it upon myself to return the courtesy and shout verbal abuse at the drivers.
  • In China, it’s always better to be more aggressive than whoever you’re sharing a road with, unless it’s a ginourmous coach or truck.

In short, what I’m trying to say is, you need to have all your wits about you whenever you’re cycling in peak hour traffic in Beijing. Don’t assume everyone will follows road rules religiously, cycle at a reasonable speed, make sure your brakes are in a good working order and you’ll be right.*wink*