Wheels of change: Rediscovering the city in the autumn breeze
The rustle of autumn leaves beneath spinning tires mingles with the sweet aroma of osmanthus in Shanghai's crisp air, heralding the most captivating season for cyclists.
Cycling has grown in popularity among urbanites in recent years, particularly in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bathed in the city's golden sunlight, riders embark on their two-wheeled escapades, exploring quaint streets, tranquil parks and hidden treasures nestled within Shanghai's embrace.
From dedicated athletes clad in sleek lycra to leisure enthusiasts seeking fun, Shanghai offers a diverse cycling community to cater to every rider's preference and pace.
Ride Now Cycling Club (RNCC), an expat-led cycling community in Shanghai, has gained widespread recognition among city riders for its early morning group rides and structured training programs.
Founded in 2016 by Singaporean bike enthusiast Ken Goh, RNCC started with only 20 riders. Ken was inspired by Shanghai's enthusiastic cycling community, but he also observed a need for safer riding habits and a sense of order among riders.
RNCC was founded with the goal of promoting a cycling culture focused on safety and camaraderie.
Group rides give cyclists a speed advantage due to drafting, and the sense of camaraderie inspires riders to go the extra mile. However, for newbies who do not understand correct etiquette, these group rides might be dangerous.
Ken underlined the need to join an organization with great leadership. RNCC, now one of Shanghai's largest expat-led cycling communities, has a wide cultural background and aggressively promotes road bike etiquette around the city.
The club has roughly 20 dedicated ride leaders who guarantee that safety standards such as obeying leaders, riding in specified lanes, wearing helmets and not using earphones are observed.
RNCC organizes rides five times a week to popular training spots in downtown Shanghai. Their routes vary in intensity, providing riders with a comprehensive training schedule for the entire week.
The group offers a variety of rides for serious cyclists, ranging from the Tuesday "BreakFast" ride along Longteng Avenue to the Thursday "Pain & Tears" route along Miaojiang Road.
They also provide a more relaxing experience for casual cyclists, with social rides in places like Thames Town and "Easy Peasy" rides along the scenic Suzhou Creek.
In addition to their cycling activities, RNCC operates a physical store in the heart of Shanghai, offering bike maintenance, sales and a unique bike rental service.
With the soaring prices of road bikes, the club allows cycling enthusiasts to access high-end bikes at a fraction of the cost.
For those interested in joining their rides or renting bikes, RNCC can be followed on Strava (https://strava.app.link/idW0D8i5RCb) or add RideNowCC on WeChat.
You can also visit its store on 501 Liyuan Road. Discover the thrill of safe, organized and enjoyable cycling experiences with RNCC.
Cycling extends beyond the realms of sweat, pain and speed.
Enter Purffect Journey Pedalers, a cycling community initiated by Miaomiao, a former chemistry teacher turned pro-cyclist, dedicated to uncovering Shanghai's hidden gems.
Ge Jiawen, an unassuming woman from Shanghai, defied expectations with her deep involvement in competitive cycling.
Her journey into the sport began unexpectedly when a student shared his passion for cycling. In a moment of spontaneity, Ge mentioned her own cycling experience, even though she used a modest US$150 commuter bike primarily for grocery runs. To her surprise, the students eagerly invited her on a 200-kilometer trip to Suzhou, an invitation she couldn't decline.
Despite daunting physical challenges and leg cramps, Ge persevered, completing the entire 200-km ride. This arduous yet exhilarating experience marked her official entry into the world of road cycling.
Fueled by her newfound passion, she made a life-changing decision, leaving her position as a head teacher in 2017 to fully commit herself to competitive cycling.
"Life is short; I wanted to do something extraordinary," she declared.
Ge founded Purffect Journey Pedalers after winning multiple national competitions and wanting to share her passion and skills with others.
She believed in the essence of cycling, which consisted of two components: safe riding and pure enjoyment of the activity.
Ge prioritized safety, which included gestures, queuing and suitable equipment. She made it a point to teach the community about critical safety precautions before each ride.
The genuine thrill of cycling, according to Ge, was in its communal aspect and the shared moments captured in images and films.
Riding, which is fundamentally social, is considerably more pleasurable when done with others. Capturing these moments not only preserved memories but also increased the joy of cycling.
Their vibrant presence on social media platforms inspired countless others to embrace the freedom of the wind and relish the blissful moments that cycling offers. Through Ge's community, cycling ceased to be merely a sport and transformed into a shared journey of joy and camaraderie.
PJP primarily organizes rides on weekends, each with unique themes. The next event will feature Halloween costume rides. For updated information, add catcat11112 or moduqixing on WeChat.
How to join a bike group
There are other cycling clubs that welcome cyclists of all skills and backgrounds.
To join a bike group, first look into local clubs in your area. Most clubs have websites or social media pages where they post information about their rides and events.
Many clubs organize monthly group rides for riders of all skill levels. Attend a few of these rides to get a sense of the group dynamics and preferred routes.
Before you participate, make sure your bike is in good working order and that you have the necessary safety equipment, such as a helmet, gloves, and reflective clothing. Learn basic cycling etiquette, such as signaling turns and talking with other riders.
Above all, be open to meeting new people and enjoy the companionship that cycling communities provide.
Nostalgia vs progress
The story of cycling in Shanghai is one of nostalgia vs progress, as the city's rich biking tradition collides with current urban demands.
Bicycles were the lifeblood of Shanghai before vehicles took over the roadways.
China's first bicycle shop opened in 1897 on Nanjing Road, Shanghai. By 1911, Shanghai's postal department adopted bicycles for mail delivery, showcasing their practicality.
Bicycles became one of the "three essentials" for a married couple in the 1950s, indicating a new chapter in life, and China was dubbed the "Kingdom of Bicycles" in the 1970s and 1980s.
However, the city's rapid growth has resulted in growing motorization, forcing bicyclists to the periphery. The once-bike-friendly metropolis has become ensnared in a labyrinth of restrictions and barriers.
Major traffic restrictions have fractured once-cohesive bike routes, changing them into fragmented trails with poor connectivity.
While Shanghai has a significant bicycle infrastructure, it is plagued by tiny lanes, insufficient separation from motor traffic, and a lack of effective management.
Accidents involving too exuberant cyclists on Miaojiang Road drew a lot of attention this summer. However, it is the result of improperly planned bike lanes and insufficient legal enforcement, not only unsafe cycling.
Both Goh and Ge convey an important message: their emphasis on safe cycling is more than just responsible riding; it is a call for sustainable urban design.
The promise of Shanghai as a bike-friendly metropolis is dependent on comprehensive design, broader and well-maintained lanes, strict traffic laws, and, most crucially, a cultural shift that values cycling as a sustainable means of transportation.
As cities around the world address environmental challenges and traffic congestion, Shanghai has made significant investments in creating a riverside green path for its inhabitants.
However, embracing eco-friendly transportation involves more than just bike lanes; it necessitates a cultural shift as well as careful municipal design.