No more gas stations, no more honking. It’s time to get out of the car and see Dongguan the way it was meant to be seen: on two wheels. Just don’t forget a helmet.
Every time I flick on the television or talk to friends about their lengthy and taxing bike rides, my mind transforms into a Zen-like mode. I’ve watched Bicycle Dreams numerous times, marveled at the book The Flying Scotsman and thoughtfully pondered on a remake of the Japanese classic Onna Keirin-ō. I’ve seen cycling heroes such as Sir Chris Hoy, Sir Bradley Wiggins and Laura Trott. I’ve shot around the Manchester Velodrome on wheels and stared on at professional Team Sky riders in training afterwards. Am I an addict?
Spinning long hours on my apartment-bound exercise bike (150 RMB, well spent), I find cycling indoors can be a clutch stress release for rehabilitation after a hellish day. I whack on some music and burn hills from the comfort of my living room. I am infatuated with cycling, and my hope is to convince you to ultimately feel that way, too!
Many friends love their E-bikes because they’re indecisive. They like that it takes charge.
While cycling around Dongguan, I have carefully explored every township. I feel confident that without a bike, I wouldn’t have been so willing to have reconnoitered so far beyond my home base. Cycling can be a utility for things like deliveries or transit in urban areas; it can also be for touring and pleasure, exploring far off places from home. Then, there are mountain bikes for all kinds of rough terrain and the BMX variety created precisely for the extreme-minded among us. Though racing is a personal passion, it’s increasingly difficult to find the appropriate venues in Dongguan.
Popular routes include: the safely guided pathways at Songshan Lake (42km long and often surrounded by fruits and flowers); Tongsha Ecological Park for competition cycling; the lengthy Guangdong Greenway (I’d recommend the Shenzhen route because the Guangzhou route is less green). There are various leaflets and guides to the popular Guangdong Greenways available in many bicycle stores. The extended paths feature steep hills, dark muddied trails and forest-lined roads. Slow climbs and fast down hill sprints have allowed me to see kingfishers, fireflies, eagles and the odd lizard or two.
First things first, you need a some wheels. For the basic rider, a run of the mill utility bike that’s decent for all interests is usually available at an acceptable price—especially when pre-owned. Almost every district in Dongguan has a bike street or market, so try looking there before jumping online.
Alternatively, you can straight-away invest in a mountain bike, like those with sophisticated triple-chainring crankset gear systems that are good for mountains or a simpler “hybrid” design that’s better for street cycling.
Add flowers to your bike and call it a daisy chain
Once you have the cycle of your dreams, make the purchasing of instant street cred’ a priority. Nobody likes beginners. From Dongguan’s lowest to highest-end bike shops, you should be able to find a vast array of air pumps, tools, shoes and apparel (e.g. shorts, shirts and gloves) and so much more—all to enhance your look and feel. If you’re into technology, check out cycle computers. Mine was designed in Germany, but built in Dongguan. A friend from Songfu Lu’s Chashan Huanhu Bicycle Club (环湖自行车俱乐部) recommended it.
If you live in the PRD, you’re already familiar with the unpredictable wet weather. Despite the popular use of rain capes because of their low cost and basic utility, be especially careful to tie everything down. I once saw a cyclist caught in his pedals and chain on Guantai Lu. His handsome face wasn’t quite as beautiful afterwards!
When discussing all the accessories, it can be easy to forget about one of the most important: the tires. Having once suffered a spate of twenty punctures inside just two weeks (I frequently passed through industrial areas in Dalingshan Town), I heartily recommend multiple puncture kits and at least one spare inner tube. A day after beginning this piece, my friend Andrew from Ukraine fully felt the repercussions when problems of punctures strike on a racing bike. Because he didn’t have an adequate bike pump, I stayed to help him. It is the unwritten law amongst cyclists to always assist those with punctures that will forever keep us together.
Venturing back to the bike, never skimp on visibility boosting accessories. Whilst Dongguan is a bright city, many lampposts and street lights leave fear inducing dark patches easily eliminated with the use of LED lights and beam lights. One of the other most important things you’ll absolutely need is a wailing bell: the louder, the better. You’ll need it, mark my words.
Get a grip on where to go
If you need a quick fix, the internet is your best friend. For routes in and around the city, Mapmyride.com has more than 150 user-created travel plans. There are other cycling guides online, as well, but I personally prefer tagging along for a ride or two with a few different clubs because they know the roads better than anyone else.
For a small fee, which goes towards assisting with group rides, roadside recovery and maintenance, many bike clubs will be happy for you to join them. For an easy introduction into this world, I highly recommend a casual talk over a cup of tea with the staff at Vision Bike shop (10 Xiang Yang road, Guancheng. 东莞市莞城区向阳路10号极限运动俱乐部). They tirelessly strive to pass on new routes and offer cycling advice.
Clubs also make it much easier to get accurate information on provincial events, such as sportives, open charity rides and more prestigious events like the Tour of South China or Tour of China. The good news is that almost every bicycle dealership seems to be affiliated with the varying bike clubs of Dongguan. There are clubs, for example, wholly based at the Merida and Giant dealerships on Dongcheng Middle Road and Houjie. It’s here that I met an unofficial club who gather to drink tea and then head out together to explore. I recently joined fellow enthusiast, Johnny, to tag along with him and a dozen of his friends as they traveled along mostly deserted roads into Dalingshan Park. The early evening light allowed for steady conversation, so I made the most of it.
“We cycle in numbers to look after each other. We care a lot for our friends and want others to join us. We rarely ride the same paths but often find quiet roads. Just look out for the snakes!” he told me. I asked him why. He told me that a cyclist once saw one, freaked out and fell down a sizeable hill until he finished in a lake.
“We don’t like snakes!” he emphasized. Their club rides about 30-40 km per tourney, but other groups may differ. I guess after that you might get tyred and cranky… [pun intended]
Challenges filled with adrenaline
With all the risk of pollution, crashes and injuries, some may wonder if cycling is even good for you. Still, it should be noted that these dangers are also possible even while walking or taking the bus. If you’re concerned about danger, consider parks or quieter streets. Plus, cycling is a great way to exercise whilst reducing any impact to knees and other joints.
To improve my fitness and overall cardiovascular health, I took to uphill cycling. I love it. It brutally hurts, but the more I do it, the perkier and happier I feel. The reward of riding downhill afterwards feels great, with the brisk air rushing through what little hair I have left to blow. Don’t forget to still lightly pedal downhill because you need to allow the lactic acid to distribute. You do not want cramp at 65km/h!
In all, the greatest dangers are rain and automobiles. When roads get wet, avoid riding; those nasty potholes hide away ever so easily. Especially during these moments, its paramount to brake correctly. Don’t hammer your brakes by gripping and slamming. To avoid overheating, tap and release in short slow bursts. If you do need to stop quickly, slide to the rear of the bike seat as you grip the edges of your brake handles sharply.
Keep your eyes peeled for storm drain grids, raised earthworks and any construction debris. Dongguan seems to always want you to keep your guard up, so when competing with others on the road, try to look them in the eye. It shows confidence and it may help you to read a driver’s intentions. If not, I simply recommend you bare your teeth and curse loudly. In both cases, you can also show your intentions with hand signals. Obey the rules of the road and give way when required.
In most countries, I’d say you need to firmly hold your ground to effectively position yourself in the heavy traffic. Here in China, you should gently move to the side. Avoid getting boxed in and watch all areas around you as best you can. When in doubt, get yourself out of harm’s way! There are cases for and against cycling globally and riding in China is no different.
Just hop on, prepare yourself and stay as safe as possible. There is a beautiful Dongguan beyond the dust and the grime. Remember, every time the bike hurts you, punch it right back. Really, in the end, it’s all a vicious cycle.