Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Daan Che (Bicycle)

Those of you who know me well understand I have, and have long had, a great love for the bicycle.

When we got the news that we would be going to Hong Kong, one of the first things I did (much to Shannon’s disgust) was scope out the potential for cycling there. My research revealed that there was some potential for road riding up in the New Territories where we’d be located, and our proximity to the Country Park made me hopeful there might be some mountain biking trails nearby.

My internal debate about whether to bring my road bike or mountain bike was silenced, however, by my realization of what it would cost to ship the thing there and back—nearly as much as I paid for my entry-level mountain bike. If I were going to ride in Asia, I’d have to buy a bike there.

As it turns out, riding on the road here is pretty feasible. Traffic in general is quite orderly—far different from Paris or New York. And up here in Tuen Mun, there are plenty of four-lane roads that see relatively little traffic. Moreover, there are lots of bike paths, though they can be crowded at points.

Pack of serious roadies on the street in front of campus

Mountain biking would be tougher to pull off. The trails out our backdoor, up Fu Tei Road, are not really designed for bikes, being largely carved into stairs. There is excellent riding elsewhere in the Country Park, but getting there would require hauling it to a trailhead on the other side of the park—probably a half-day’s adventure at minimum. If I’m taking a half-day to do anything, it’s usually going to involve a family outing; so true mountain biking, at least on a regular basis, was out. So, any kind of riding would be on the roads.

The more I thought about it, though, the less it seemed appropriate to sink more than a minimal amount of money into a bike. Getting any kind of decent road bike involved more money than seemed reasonable for five months of usage.

No, what I needed was a beater. A used bike, probably mountain-bike-ish, seemed perfect. They’re all over Hong Kong. I could store it locked up outside and not worry. I could just leave it after five months, or gift it to someone in need. I could use it to tour around the area, but when I wanted I could put the hammer down for a decent workout.

So, I took the light rail up a few stops to this rickety-looking little bike shop I had seen from the train. There, in a crowded little shop, I found an impressive range of bikes, from high-end Fuji mountain bikes to nice folding bikes (they make really impressive folders in HK) to used beaters.

More impressive than the bike selection, however, was the woman running the shop. As I browsed, she wrenched bike after bike for people riding up from the adjacent bike path. And she was good! I’ve done a lot of bike work, and I was really impressed with her speed and skill. She had all her tools laying out on the sidewalk, where she did the repairs.

Wrench-heads will note the nice Park Tools wheel truing rig

I found two used beaters of the same model and color, distinguished only by their tires and level of wear and tear. I finally got her attention and asked about the price. I realized this would be another transaction in which we would have virtually no understanding of the words coming out of each other’s mouth. She wrote down the price so I could understand: HK$400, which is about US$50.

OK, not bad. But I needed some things swapped out. The bike was a touch too small, and a longer seat post would solve the problem. I tried to make her understand what I wanted using gestures and bits from my Cantonese phrase book. It was not working. Luckily, a bilingual customer (once again) stepped in to help. It would be another HK$40 for the post, more than I wanted to spend on it. So I declined. But, she was happy to swap out the double-wide, spring-loaded saddle for a slimmer and firmer model more to my liking. No charge. I didn't bother haggling, because I suspected there was no way she was going to budge. She had too many customers to bother with haggling.

After picking up some of her tools and making adjustments to the fit, I rode away, a happy customer. It was a glorious ride home. Partly it was just nice to be on a bike again (I haven’t ridden since the Ironman at the end of July), but it was also great to experience the city from that perspective. You see more of the world, and from different angles, on a bike. It reminded me why I’ve always loved the bicycle so much.

So, here she is—a real beauty! Someone shod her with some beefy mountain bike tires—the rear one looks like a downhill tire. She weighs a ton. Suntour components (yikes!). But, as I suspected, the shopkeeper dialed in all the gearing and brakes and it runs perfectly. I’m looking forward to getting out for a real ride soon.


  1. How about bikes for the boys? Now, that would get them some exercise and blow off some steam! Glad you can so what you love. Judy

  2. It sure will get you to places faster than walking. Glad you were able to find one to your liking and you will be able to explore different places. How much do you miss the car?? Mom

  3. Great looking bike! Glad you were able to find one to your liking - the shopkeeper is very impressive - hope you get to do a lot of touring on the bike and hopefully you can rent bikes for the boys & Shannon on days when you want to do a family bike outing

    Aunt Trish