Not just bars and brunch.
I was in Shanghai this weekend to finally run the rule over the new bike. I arrived there in the early hours of Friday morning after my flight was delayed by a good couple of hours. Despite my lack of sleep I awoke the next morning full of enthusiasm and really looking forward to putting the bike through its paces. Jon, from LPY cycles, had set up his bike for me and I’d bought a bit of equipment up from Xiamen such as my tent, sleeping bag and air mattress to attach to the bike to try and get a good idea of what riding it semi-loaded would feel like.
The weather that morning looked rather ominous. I remember from my days living in Shanghai that more often that not the sky would simply change shades of grey at this time of the year, blue sky days are certainly something of a rarity in the city. The previous day had seen it pour down, so I was keeping my fingers crossed that the rain would stay away. After a quick cup of tea and some minor adjustments to the bike it was out in the heaving early morning traffic of Shanghai. I have to say I quite enjoy riding amongst busy traffic. Granted the pollution and heavy exhaust fumes aren’t ideal, but there is a certain buzz to be had zipping in an out of the traffic and of course there is the immense pleasure one can take in simply cruising effortlessly past people sitting in grid locked traffic.
That said it was initially hard to get any rhythm going as I’d forgotten just how many traffic lights Shanghai has, it was all a little stop start. Nevertheless the bike felt good and just as importantly I did too. The aim of this ride was to head out to Tongli http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tongli which is according to google maps about 80km from Shanghai, however it runs at more like 100km from the city centre. One reoccurring statement that I hear from people regarding my trip is, ‘won’t you get lost?’ As I mentioned previously I’d checked out the route on google maps and download the maps onto my itouch. In addition Jon had lent me a thick book with detailed maps of Shanghai and the surrounding areas. The reality is that China has largely excellent roads for anyone wanting to take long bike trips. The Huqingping highway or the A9 is part of the 318 State Road which actually runs from Shanghai to Zhangmu on the China Nepal border and totals 5,476km in length. Once I’d gotten outside the city, the shiny skyscrapers of downtown slowly gave way to the mass of bizarrely named suburban residential areas with names such as Beverly Oasis Garden House, Rancho Santa Fe , Windsor Park and my personal favourite Nice Year Villas. It wasn’t long though before the roads became lined with trees and I was heading out into the countryside.
The bike was riding brilliantly, I'd only previously ridden it for a couple of hours before and I was unsure of how it would handle loaded up, albeit not fully. It rode really smoothly on the flat roads and coped superbly well with the odd pot hole I failed to notice. I even took it off the main road for a bit as I wanted to test in on some rougher more heavy duty roads where I'm glad to say it more than stood up to the test.
I was fortunate enough to have a nice tail wind for the majority out the outward ride yet as I took the turning for Tongli and saw the last 19km sign this soon turned into a rather, lets say inconvenient cross wind. Once again the bike was really well balanced as I got out of the saddle and rocked from side to side as I battled with the wind. I finally arrived in Tongli just before five around seven hours after I’d set out. I had a couple of stops for lunch and a rained enforced stop just at the border of Jiangsu but the aim was to keep a steady pace all the way. I’m certainly having to change my riding style, whereas in the past most of my riding has been with fitness in mind and often pushing myself as hard as I can. I know that this kind of riding just won’t be possible on this trip. It’s not about how fast I get back but just making sure that I do.
I’d taken my camping equipment with me and had intended to pitch the tent someplace for the night. It’s an economic fact that I’m going to have to camp during this trip. I’m not adverse to this not in the least however I won’t lie and say that the thought of camping out in the wild doesn't fill me with a little bit of apprehension. I suppose it’s only natural. I’ve read a fair bit online about this and people have commented that once you overcome the initial nervousness of doing it then it really becomes second nature. I have to say on this occasion I did take the easy option of a hotel for the night!
I woke up the next morning feeling pretty good, some minor aches and pains but I just put these down to getting old! The biggest problem I had was my backside which was not used to the different saddle I was using. Being a real novice to the touring bike game I’d read a lot of people who swear by Brooks saddles. I’d also read that they do take a bit of getting used to and my bum was certainly testament to that.
It was necessary to get up at the crack of dawn to get in a whirlwind tour of Tongli, it was a holiday weekend after all in China so it’s always best to get in early and avoid the masses of people who would soon descend upon the narrow streets of this pretty little town.
A hearty breakfast of cake, rice and bananas inside of me I was back in the saddle, or at least for the first part, out of it due to my posterior problems. I took exactly the same route back but whereas on my outward journey the wind had been significantly in my favour this time it was blowing directly into my face. The additional light drizzle at least kept my face feeling nice and refreshed. Despite the head wind I made good time and actually arrived back in Shanghai quicker than I had anticipated.
I thought it would be a good idea to get a picture of me with the bike down at the Bund where tourists gather for the iconic shot of the Bund and the Oriental Pearl Tower in the background. As I mentioned previously getting lost on the trip isn’t a major concern of mine however getting lost in the city proved to be much easier. Despite the fact that I was armed with an extensive A to Z of Shanghai I decided that having lived in the city for going on four years my knowledge of the streets was good enough that I didn’t need to refer to it. How wrong was I? A lesson to be learned you might say.
I have to say that overall the trip was a huge success. Once again I have to take my hat off to Jon for all his assistance in helping me with the bike. He’s just waiting on the delivery of some more parts before shipping it all of to me. As for the bike well, I couldn’t be more pleased with it, really excellent quality and you can see that this is something that Jon has not only created himself but also something that he’s really passionate about.
For anyone who is interested in touring and more specifically in and around the Shanghai area then you really should contact Jon personally (firstname.lastname@example.org )as he’s a wealth of information. I believe he is also looking at setting up a rental service where 'would be tourers' can take out the bikes just as I did this past weekend to get a feel for it. In addition to Tongli there are numerous other spots where cyclists can escape the city for a nice break away. After all, Shanghai doesn’t just have to be about bars and brunch!