My bike wasn't stolen, instead I blew it up

Updated: 2011-07-19 07:55

By John Clark (China Daily)

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My bike wasn't stolen, instead I blew it up

I think a good story should start with a bang. This one does.

I blew up my bicycle tire recently. Literally.

I was using my cycle mechanic's air line and over-inflated the tire.

The explosion was like a pistol shot.

A toddler in a woman's arms started to wail. Everyone else hooted with laughter. I laughed too, but felt pretty stupid. After all, it was a new inner tube.

Now it was in tatters along with the tire.

My cycle mechanic and his friends smiled. I shrugged my shoulders. The toddler eyed me warily. A nut-brown refuse collector grinned.

The cycle mechanic's friend came over to examine the debris. He pointed to a series of tiny cracks on the sidewall of my tire.

I didn't feel so bad. It would have been only a matter of time before it failed. The mechanic fitted a new tire and inner tube in five minutes. Cost? 40 yuan.

No job is a problem for my cycle mechanic, a cheery soul with a big smile. Since I inherited my second bicycle (we're now a two-cycle family), the mechanic has replaced the saddle, seat pillar, spokes and brake blocks. At this rate I'll have a virtually brand-new machine in time.

When the handle on my first bike seized up the mechanic replaced the ball bearings in the front stem. A job that would have taken me an age, he did in minutes. He charged me all of 20 yuan.

One day he tightened my brakes. I asked how much?

"One yuan," he indicated.

My bike wasn't stolen, instead I blew it up

I tried to give him 5, but he refused to take them.

I pressed 3 yuan into his hand. He accepted 2.

My cycle mechanic doesn't have big overheads. He has a locker for his tools and carries out repairs on the pavement. He's a modest, competent man.

I bought my first Beijing bicycle from a colleague at work.

I asked around if anyone had a bicycle they wanted to sell. The next day Albert told me his wife had told him that he could sell his bicycle to me. I said I was much obliged to her.

She also told him that he could buy himself a new bicycle.

We agreed that he'd bring the bike in to work the next day. Albert arrived sweating profusely.

I went out to view his cycle. It didn't look much. The saddle was broken, spokes were missing and the chain was rusty.

I asked Albert how much he wanted. "100 yuan," he replied.

I offered 80 thinking he'd ask for 90 and we'd split the difference.

"All right," said Albert. So, I got my first bike for eight quid. Only later did I realize that it was a classic Forever. It's reckoned the Shanghai Forever Bicycle Company, founded in 1940, has made more than 100 million bicycles.

I soon discovered the pitfalls of cycling in Beijing.

Before I arrived in the city last August I imagined the streets would be crowded with cyclists.

According to a popular hit song by Katie Melua, a British diva, There Are Nine Million Bicycles in Beijing. And if that's a fact, then there is almost one bike for every two citizens.

I imagined I would be part of a phalanx of cyclists taking over the streets. We would ride shoulder to shoulder and I would be swept along in a tide of spinning wheels.

It would be like riding in the peloton of the Tour de France.

No such luck. It seems that upwardly mobile Chinese prefer the inconvenience of cars: expensive to buy, difficult to license, hellish to drive in Beijing traffic and awkward to park.

Seasoned cyclists agree the greatest hazard on Beijing roads is electric scooters. Silent, but deadly.

I almost collided with a black scooter at an intersection on Anyuan Road last winter. It was dark and neither of us had lights.

Call me an old romantic, but I think it's charming that young men in China carry their girlfriends on the back of their bicycles. I had my cycle mechanic fit a comfy-looking seat over my rear rack with a view to carrying my baggage there.

But my wife refused. On reflection, I suppose we are too long in the tooth to carry on like a courting couple.

China Daily

(China Daily 07/19/2011 page20)


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