7 Nights in Beijing: An Essay on Chinese Cyclocross Racing in Seven Edible Parts
Someone recently said to me: I love how beat to shit your bike is, it tells a story. This person was referring to my gold Speedvagen and, they were right. Not only has that jazzy beast gone to Japan, Italy, Canada, a smattering of U.S. states, and, now, China, but it has also been throttled, to say the least. I’ve ridden it on trails better suited for hikers with long legs. I’ve ridden it at my favorite event ever: Grinduro. I’ve twisted it through the paved and cobbled hairpins of Europe, and through mud you’d have to see to believe. I’ve chucked it into the ice-rutted snowstorm that was last year’s Cyclocross Nationals in Hartford. Taken it down the sandiest of “shortcuts” and into the unforgiving bellies of massive cities. The list goes on. I’ve also managed to eat huge shit on that thing more times than I care to enumerate.
The thing is, our bicycles enable us to create stories in our lives. Quite different ones than we would have otherwise spun or encountered. And, in a unique way, those same bicycles that give us the freedom to pedal down that street, across that bridge, through those un-plottable woods and weave tales of adventure and triumph and close calls, can also become the record of our stories. Our own personal Babylonian tablets, drifting beneath us. Not everything gets recorded. But still. Whether we own a home-assembled Huffy or a rusting Bianchi or a featherweight Trek or a smooth-mint Rock Lobster or a glowing Speedvagen, the stories, thankfully, are there.
Beijing, and probably most of China, is filled with bicycles. Motorized and non motorized. Some reveal their age, or at least their failure to weather well, through thick rust that hangs like dead coral reef from their tubing, their joints, all their vulnerable places. Others squint back as you squint at their sheen in the diffused light of factory dust and sun. Many slide by, unnoticed. Veiled by the sea of bikes and people and bikes in a country of almost 1.5 billion.
From strictly utilitarian to straight up aero, these bikes hold histories. Some more interesting than others. They are new and fast and slow. They are heavy and barely functioning and swift. Innumerable and vibrant novellas in motion, much like the humans propelling them forward in space and time.
"And, in a unique way, those same bicycles that give us the freedom to pedal down that street, across that bridge, through those un-plottable woods and weave tales of adventure and triumph and close calls, can also become the record of our stories"
And the colors, the colors are also many and as much a part of the story as the scratches and dents themselves. Eggplant and spearmint. Grenadine and hyssop. Pigeon grey. Shades of brown like a collection of taupe-inspired paint swatches from Sherwin-Williams: copper dust, russet fawn, morning syrup.
I don’t know the stories of these bicycles or the individuals who ride them. Whether they pedal out of economics or accessibility or convenience, out of joy or ease or necessity, I don’t know. The thing is, these people pedal. And while I’m convinced that the reasons for their doing so are simple and complex at the same time, these are not my conclusions to draw, however crystalline. In fact I don’t want to draw them. I want to make note of a country, or at least a large portion of it, where riding a bike is a way of life. Not a statement. Where it’s a way of existing in this world and moving through it. And of connecting point A to point B to point J, by way of two-wheeled memoir, over and over again.
Stay tuned for part 3 coming next week. Like what you read? Get in touch with Laura Winberry