Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Photo Essay: Bikes in Shanghai

Just as the laundry hung out to dry on eletrical cables, parking signs and telephone booths, the prevalence of bikes in the streets of Shanghai struck me as so very different from what you see in an American city. This is an unusually contemplative and peaceful shot of two bikes parked in the market area of Nanshi, the Old City.

Bike riders are usually solitary apparitions in American cities, so I often felt as if an army of bikes was coming at me, as in this scene in the Bund area where a bunch of biking commuters are waiting for the light to change, like a platoon ready to charge. By the way, I loved these smart stop lights they have in Shanghai, that show how long it's going to take for the light to change. Pedestrian lights do that in Chicago, so as a driver I tend to watch those to see if I can still make it across the intersection or not.

Here the army of bikes is on the move, also in the Bund area. You can see the social strata displayed as well: Those who can afford it have a motor scooter, if not that, then a bicycle with a motor, and lastly, someone who actually pedals.

On wider streets, bikes will have their own lane, separated from the other traffic. Here a street scene in Suzhou, a "smaller" city about 1.5 hours from Shanghai. I put "smaller" in quotation marks, because in China, a small city like Suzhou has 8 million inhabitants, as opposed to Shanghai's roughly 20 million.

Bikes are everywhere. The "drrt drrt" sputter of a motor scooter even follows you through "pedestrian" areas like this walkway at Tiger Hill in Suzhou.

Parked bikes in front of an old garden wall in Suzhou make for a more contemplative shot.

A contemplative sight can also be this - a tricycle made for cargo where you feel the owner has just left. Hongkou District, Shanghai

Or here, a lone schlepper in the Bund area, in front of one of those amazing art deco buildings in Shanghai that seem so familiar and so Western, and yet there is something foreign about them as well.

Waiting for customers in the former Jewish ghetto. Hongkou District, Shanghai

A sidewalk is taken over by bikes in Hongkou.

Every kind of bike, parked a little more orderly, on a side walk in the former French Concession.

Here, another army, wet and disorderly, but at rest.

Still wet, but orderly - a bike parking lot, with greenery.

Bikers in formation, all equipped for the rain. Typical here also the stubby plane trees that line the streets of Shanghai, still naked at the end of March.

A peek into an alleyway in the Old Market area in Nashi.

Finally, a shot you already know from my A Market in Shanghai essay, but I just love this bike.


  1. I have a vivid memory of being in the back of a cab in either Beijing or Shanghai. I don't know where we were exactly, but we were at a huge intersection...maybe 8 lanes each way. As we're making a left turn, I see an army of bikes -- maybe 75 -- huddled in the center trying to turn as well. It was a crazy sight to see.

    Lovely post.

  2. Great pictures. I never knew bikes had rain covers.

  3. I'm sure Shanghai is much more dense in population than Iwakuni, Japan, which is where I drove my little mini scooter around quite a bit. In crowded streets, it's so easy to get where you need to go rather than driving a full size car.

    I used to love riding through the down town area.

    What lovely photos, too! Thank you so much for sharing your slices of life with us.

  4. love these pictures of the bikes!!!!

  5. Barbara - freut mich.

    Sara May - thanks for sharing your biking crowd memory of Bejing. That's exactly what I mean - armies of bikes rule the streets.

    Kelly - seeing those rain covers in Shanghai reminded me of riding my bike to school, as I rode in any weather, my rain cover got good use.

    Diane - thanks. I bike a lot myself, not on a scooter but a real bike, but I'm not used to biking in crowds like people in Shanghai. I figure that is a different experience altogether. Even when I used to commute on bike in Munich, it was still pretty much in single lane traffic on special bike paths, not taking over the street with a bunch of other riders.

    Anjuli - thanks!

  6. Thanks for stopping by my blog and comment on my ost about bikes. Shanghai is so different than Oslo. It has way more scooters than real bikes and often it seems that they use the bikes for different purposes than here. I esp. like picture number 8 and 11 :)