Taking the brakes off public biking

China’s love affair with cycling has been rekindled in recent years as a fresh wave of bike mania sweeps the country.Millions of commuters choose to travel to work on two wheels, while bike-sharing apps have exploded in popularity, as witnessed by the throngs of hastily discarded bicycles that litter our cities’ sidewalks.

Many urban areas now boast wide bike lanes and some have even built dedicated elevated biking highways.

It would not be unreasonable to expect, therefore, that competitive cycling is also flourishing here, but the sport remains alien to many Chinese.

“I work only two kilometers from my apartment building, so biking is by far the easiest way to me to get to work. A bus or car would take much longer,” said one Beijing commuter, surnamed Huang.

“It does help me to keep in shape, but I see that as just an added benefit. It is not why I choose to bike.”

One impediment to the development of a competitive cycling culture here is a lack of tracks, with bike-only lanes conspicuously lacking.

In addition, professional cyclists are simply not revered among the sports-watching public in the same way that basketball stars, for example, are.

The hazards of negotiating China’s car-congested roads may also be a factor in cycling’s low profile here. People won’t start taking up cycling if they feel their safety and wellbeing will not be respected.

Several steps can be taken to boost road cycling’s appeal.

Enforcing existing traffic laws and creating new regulations to protect cyclists and to encourage more people to ditch their cars in favor of this very green mode of transport would help.

Crucially, too, bike lanes must be treated as such by motorists, who often use them as a shortcut in heavy traffic.

City authorities should also improve and expand the existing biking infrastructure, while parks should offer cycling-only tracks.

Finally, staging more annual races like the Tour of Guangxi, which is a stop on the UCI World Tour, would make the sport more visible to the general public.

Photo: Qicycling  VIA : China.org