Ghost Ride
January 30th 2017

Today was one of those days. Whatever that means, who knows? Got up around 10AM.  My wife had planned to get up early to visit a temple somewhere in Shanghai, however she didn’t wake up until almost 11AM. Which is typical when she says she “plans” to get up early, I know it was needed rest for her though. I ate the proverbial “breakfast of champions”, chocolate chip cookies and orange juice, and planned on riding most of the afternoon. After about 11:30 my wife was out the door and I soon followed.

    I had the song Macho Man performed by the Village People stuck in my head, I believe it was a popular song in my early childhood, and it is buried deep into my subconscious mind. I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing, but it makes me crack up either way. Its kind of like the how the movie “The Shining” will always be a vivid memory for me, as my parents took me to see this movie in the cinema when it was released. I looked the part of the young child in that movie, same age, same hairstyle and clothing. I remember saying redrum with the same finger movements as the kid in the movie and getting many horrified looks.

    So I was off at around noon, the weather was perfect, 20-25C with moderate winds out of the southwest. Shanghai like most big cities in China this year, has banned fireworks for Chinese New Year. So it is unusually quiet and peaceful, reminded me of Minnesota, however I am also reminded why I left over 10 years ago. I need a little bit of chaos, disorder, peace and quiet in my life, just not too much of any of these at one time. This was one of those rides where I could truly relax, traffic was nonexistent at times, and all of the motorists I did encounter were unusually polite, except for one red sedan with Yunnan plates, which did the typical pull out into traffic maneuver without looking routine which is all too common in China. I could laugh about this though, I rode around Kunming and on the countryside roads in Yunnan and my experience tells me that most drivers from Yunnan are much safer than the typical Shanghai driver.

        As I reached the outskirts, it started getting very surreal. I’ve never seen this city this empty, ever, even late at night. There is always someone mulling around, or at least driving around. Minutes would go by and there was nothing to hear other than wind noise and my tires rolling over the pavement. Apocalypse? Not quite, the shopping malls still had signs of life and most of the chain stores were still open. I stopped at one of my usual places, a Sinopec fuel station, they usually have water and a toilet, suitable for a short break. I saw what appeared to be a Mother and her teenage son waiting around for someone to pick them up, they looked like they had been waiting for quite some time. The attendants were truly bored off their gourds, all of them sitting down, with their heads focused on their phones. Usually these stations are jammed with cars, trucks, horns honking with lots of shouting, refueling can be a real hassle as everyone must wait for an attendant.

         It was close to 3PM with a distance of 43km. I was debating whether to go for an overtime ride, or just stick to my original plan. I opted to head back. Cao-an Highway was quite empty and had a new layer of fresh pavement. The wind had picked up, out of the NW gusting to 30km/h. A tailwind, new pavement and no traffic, a trifecta. Normally this stretch of road is quite dangerous, as the traffic is unpredictable, and everyone tends to go as fast as possible. I’ve seen packs of riders doing group rides on this road because of the wide shoulders and the direct route into downtown Shanghai. Not today though, not a single rider was to be found in either direction, an occasional electric scooter or motorcycle is all. The road was fantastic, easily cruising at speeds between 35-40km/h. The whole road was available, I could choose whatever lane had the smoothest line.

    Made it back in record time, I was in the shower by 4pm. 70km total, no traffic, no mechanical problems, no issues whatsoever. Would have been perfect for a group ride as well, however the last group ride ride I took part in soured my taste in them due to reckless behavior by some of the other riders. I’d rather not crash or be involved with a group that caused an accident due to carelessness. I’m too old for that crap now.

Yunnan Countryside Ride
December 26th 2016

Did this on a folding bike. 10km/hr up the climbs, but far more interesting than any ride in Shanghai. Rough road conditions created by overloaded trucks with lots of ruts, and broken pavement. I now understand why road bikes are not popular with long distance cyclists in China.

Factory Five Disneyland Ride
February 7th 2016

I reluctantly joined this ride because I didn't know anyone there, and I had no idea what to expect. (previous blog posts indicated 30km/h+ pace) I fully expected to be dropped in short order. Somewhere between 20-30 riders showed up. There was a wide variety of bikes, riders, and abilities. My late 90's bike was the most outdated, and I was also one of the oldest riders there, most being under the age of 30, some of them teenagers.

As we started off, there was no clear idea of what the route would be, or who the leader was. (Some guy named "Taco" on a bright yellow cyclecross bike?) Every major intersection was a guess, left, right, straight, stop or go? Traffic signals and oncoming vehicles were an afterthought, also lots of random signalling of sometimes imaginary road hazards. My personal favorite, turn signals while passing through intersections, not before.

The youngest riders went to the front and treated the ride as a race, bringing the pace up to 50km/h at times. On the way out we had a strong tailwind, so it wasn't too hard for most of the group to keep up. After maybe 90 minutes or so we arrived at the destination, a newly built elevated highway that was closed to traffic. We were only able to ride a couple KM or so before encountering a roadblock with security guards, they wouldn't let us pass through.

The group stayed together for around 30 minutes or so on the vacant highway, mostly chatting, taking random pictures etc. Riders started to splinter off, some were bored, some had no water, some were hungry, and as the rest of the group started to leave, a homeless puppy appeared. Later, a few people went back to look for it. I followed one of the more experienced riders that wisely chose to stop at a fuel station to refill on water. The rest of the group kept going after we stopped to get water.

A few KM past the fuel station we caught up with some the group that was stopped at an intersection. They were not so sure about which route to take back. I told them there were many different options, it depends on what kind of roads they prefer. They didn't seem to care too much, just as long as they didn't get lost. I ended up leading this smaller group
(7 riders) most of the way back into a headwind at my normal pace of 25-30km/h. I was most impressed with two of the female riders that took pulls at 30km/h into the headwind. A few more riders split off, and finally at the end there were just four of us. Apparently, we all lived within 1km of the cafe we agreed to stop at. I only clocked in 69km total for the entire day, not sure who thought it would be 90km?

(Factory Five Night Ride Summer 2014)

Shanghai to Ningbo in two days
Thursday July 3, 2014

This was a spur of the moment idea, that could have been planned a bit better, however I have no regrets, this was a huge learning experience. My wife planned a trip to get together with some of her family in Ningbo about a week prior. At first I wasn't interested, because I've been there before, and its just a typical 2nd tier city in China. They also wanted to travel by car, ugh, no thanks, not my idea of an enjoyable holiday spending 6+ hours in a car and with the rest of the time being couped up in a hotel and restaurant. Then I thought.....what if I could take my bike with? Thought some more......and started checking the map....and thought.... what if I biked there? Could it be done?

A quick summary of my previous riding experience in Shanghai. I've been riding in Shanghai starting in November 2010, and since then the furthest I rode in one day is about 150km, out to Yangcheng lake and back in the Fall of 2011. I always wanted to go farther, but felt I needed more experience with Chinese traffic. Part of that learning experience involved a few crashes that resulted in fractured bones in my left hand, fortunately this was not serious. Most of the problem was my first bicycle, a Giant FCR3300, a good bike by Chinese standards, but for me, it never fit right or handled very well. Fast forward to 2014, I finally built up my late 90's Cannondale mountain bike frameset that I had brought with me from Minnesota in 2012. What a revelation, longer wheelbase, lower stance, and is actually much smoother riding despite the 26" wheels and stiff frame. Different bike, different attitude.

Shanghai to Hangzhou:
6pm deadline, pouring rain, and Friday rush hour traffic.
Friday July 4, 2014, 182 km (113 miles)

Got up early, (not a morning person) ate breakfast, packed my lunch and I was off at around 7am. Traffic starting getting ugly around 8am and I finally got out of the tangled web of morning commuter traffic by 9am. Then I hit my first snag. The Songzheng road bridge just past Songjiang town on the route is under construction. I've encountered this situation many times before in Shanghai and often times it is just closed to motor vehicles, usually there is a way to walk across, however this bridge had absolutely no way of crossing it, except by crane.

A bit frustrated, I found another crossing to the south on Minta highway, perhaps a 3km detour that probably ended up being closer to 10km because of a few wrong turns. After crossing the bridge, I felt relieved and had my first break around 10:30am. I discovered a rest stop near the southwest corner of Zhangjiagangong road and Guangan road. Functional toilets, a small hole in the wall store to buy water, and most importantly, very quiet and peaceful.

Arrived in Jiaxing around 12pm. It started to rain. I stopped at gas station near Chengdong road and Dongsheng east road, took another break, refilled on water, and thought about my situation. My wife booked a hotel in Hangzhou for me via Ctrip (a popular Chinese travel website) that had a 6pm check in deadline. With dry weather, this would have been easy to accomplish. I chose to continue on, however the rain made it impossible to use my mobile phone to confirm I was on route. I had printed out a cuesheet, however this became useless outside of Shanghai, as most of the streets are unmarked or have different names. I eventually found my way out of Jiaxing after a few wrong turns, and a bit of backtracking. I then proceeded southwest on the G320 highway.

The rain got worse, and turned into a downpour. The bike lane on the G320 was a real mess, flooded out, massive potholes, overgrown bushes, with many scooters using the highway which resulted in total traffic chaos. This highway, like most major highways in China, has lots of noisy heavy truck traffic, with air horns blasting constantly. I followed a three wheeled electric truck in the right lane for a few km until he turned off, and then continued very slowly down the rough muddy bike lane, not willing to risk mixing with traffic in the rain.

This downpour was relentless, so strong at this point that most of the bus stops were crowded with stopped motorcycles waiting for the rain to stop. I joined them and started to realize there was no way I was going to make it to the hotel by 6pm. I sent a message to my wife around 5pm updating her on my status, luckily they extended the check in time to 7pm. So now having an extra hour and with just 28km to go I felt I could make it.

Bad luck struck again as I felt my back tire going soft. I rolled into to another gas station just before it went flat, pulled out some glass that was very difficult to find because of all the mud, and put in my spare tube. It was now 6pm and quite dark. I turned on all my lights, continued on, and finally made it to the turnoff onto Xucun road. There were flooded roads here too, my feet were often underwater, sometimes approaching hub depth. I passed through a surprisingly wealthy farmer village, and made a few more wrong turns, then arrived on the outskirts of Hangzhou.

This was an amazing contrast from the G320 highway previously. People actually obeyed the traffic rules, passed carefully, and were not shouting "LAOWAI!" every few minutes. I finally arrived at the hotel at 7:30pm, covered head to toe in mud with a smile knowing that I made it halfway to Ningbo. The friendly hotel staff were aware of my situation thanks to my wife. I wheeled my bicycle onto the elevator and checked into my room on the tenth floor. I immediately took a shower, changed into clean dry clothes, and felt human again.

Hangzhou to Ningbo:
Massive heat, friendly locals, and a race against a thunderstorm.
Saturday July 5, 2014, 171 km (106 miles)
Total 353 km (219 miles)

I woke up around 8am and tried in vain to restore my bicycle to the condition that it was in when I left Shanghai. Most of the cables were seized, sandy grit was everywhere. Indexed shifting was no longer an option, so I switched to friction mode. Seriously high friction mode, that required full hand strength to shift, not just your thumb. Luckily my front dérailleur was mostly functional, and I was able to get the rear to work somewhat. The front brake cable was still operational, the rear was a bit stiff, and both sets of brake pads were worn to the point of needing replacement. The chain was bone dry and rusted, it looked like it had been sitting outside for years. I had cleaned and oiled it the night before I left Shanghai.

Resupplied at the nearby supermarket. I bought ham, cheese, bread, bananas, roasted almonds, cookies and water. I checked out at 10AM, a bit worried about the mess from all the dirt that was everywhere in the room. The housekeeping staff said it was no problem and I was on the road around 10:30am.

So, it was already quite warm, about 32C, sunny and very humid. I started to realize this could be more difficult than the day before as I rolled away. I was a bit disappointed because the gears were skipping, and the brakes were a bit sluggish. I crossed the Jiangdong bridge by using the elevator that brought us to the bridge deck. There was only room for three motorcycles in the elevator. Had to wait in line for my turn. I was thinking to myself, in a typical Shanghai rush hour this system would take hours. You could swim across the river faster. I was thankful to get across because the path is narrow, it would be all too easy to get clipped by a careless motorcyclist, be mangled by the guard rail and/or ejected into the highway traffic or into the river below.

After the bridge I was in need of a toilet. I made point to drink as much water as possible, so I stopped at the first fuel station only to discover they had no public toilet, or even water that I could buy. The chain was squeaking, grinding and making all kinds of nasty noises, so I was on the lookout for a small motorcycle repair shop. Turned east onto Hongshiwu highway, there was a strong tailwind combined with the rush of traffic allowed for effortless speeds around 30-35km/hr, too much of I good thing I thought. I was correct, the bike lane is directed off the highway after a few km.

I rerouted to Weilao line to the south, and found everything I needed. I spotted a repair shop that had a blue and yellow can of WD40 on the work bench, I pulled a u-turn and pointed at the can and pointed at my chain, the two young women standing there gestured that it was OK for me to use. I offered to pay whatever they wanted, they refused. I rode off giving them a big smile and thumbs up as I could feel my tired bike coming back to life again. Just past the repair stand I saw another gas station. I used the toilet, refilled on water, ate a banana and some cookies. The temperature was at least 35C at this point, but my confidence had been completely restored.

I continued following the intended route, which has a variety of small towns that transitioned into an industrial district closer to the Cao'e river. This stretch of road was gorgeous, although it was too hot to stop and admire the scenery. At last I found some shade under the G92 bridge, that doubled as a bus stop. It was not a pretty place with piles of trash everywhere. It was around the halfway point, and I figured it was time to eat. I ate the ham and bread that I bought, the cheese had melted and was quite soft, so I didn't open the package. By the time I finished my last banana, there were a few people waiting for the bus.

As I am starting to pack up my things, the person sitting next to me asks, Hey man, where are you going? I say, "Ningbo coming from Hangzhou". He replied, "That's cool, I think you are about half way!" I asked him where he is from and what he does for work, he replied he is from the local area and works in manufacturing. I asked him who he practices English with, he said he learns mostly from books and listening to English material, and speaks with anyone he can. I start riding again and had to make another detour, as Google expects me to cross the Cao'e river by using the railway bridge. I chose to take the G329 highway bridge across, since it is part of the route. At that time, I was feeling quite strong, the break I took was very much needed.

I crossed the G92 highway again, and was coming down a bridge incline towards X514 intersection, when I spot a car coming up quickly in the right lane behind me in my helmet mirror. The light is green, the highway traffic is stopped and the bike lane is clear. I'm coasting at about 35km/hr as the car continues to try to get ahead of me even though traffic in front of him is stopped, He snaps his car to the right towards me while directly looking at me, forcing me to brake, then he cuts left back into traffic and proceeds to take a left turn at the next intersection. I was livid. There is no way that was an accidental move, it was pure aggression on his part. I kept pointing at him to stop, and I rolled into the gas station near the intersection thinking he might be stupid enough to drive over and get out of his car, lucky for him, he never did.

After cooling down, I felt grateful that I had enough awareness of that situation to avoid an accident. While I was using the toilet, a lady that was standing outside talking on the phone walks up to my bike, when I came out she walked away, I assumed she was just curious, however as I left I realized my bicycle computer stopped responding. It was loose in the mounting bracket, and the wheel magnet was loose as well. I had to laugh, its not that expensive, 100RMB ($16USD) or so, her phone costs waaaay more than that, but then again, maybe she didn't pay for it?

At this point I was looking forward to getting on the back roads again, busy highways seem to make everyone crazy, including myself. Turned off the G329, at Yuexing road, back onto a countryside road. I smelled a pig farm and just as I got close I heard tiny piglet squeal as it took off at top speed away from the road. As I stopped to check the map, I heard thunder booming away off in the distance. I turned around and saw it was quite close. Not wanting a repeat experience of pouring rain, I pressed on. I turned east onto the S319 and started to feel the wind at my back, with the storm clouds getting closer. There were a few lightning strikes and a cool rush of air as the storm front approached.

Apparently I wasn't the only one who wanted to try and outrun the storm. Everyone was going at top speed, even the other bicycles. It started getting really dark. I turned on my lights and I got behind a 3 wheeled electric truck that had a windshield, which provided a perfect draft. He frantically maxed out his machine at speeds up to 50km/hr while nervously checking his rear view mirror. I'm not sure if he was afraid of the storm or me, every time there was a bump in the road his little truck would bounce off the ground, it looked like it was hard to control. After maybe 10km or so, it was time for me to turn south and cut through Yuyao city.

Just outside of Yuyao, I started to feel my back tire going soft again, I stopped under a huge electric transformer that is supported by two utility poles and patched the puncture, as there was just enough light from sunset to see clearly. Lots of people walked by, checked to see if I was OK, and then kept going. When this happens in Shanghai, it always draws a crowd of onlookers that stand around and point and laugh like its a circus attraction.

I followed the Guzha line, which had a wide bike lane, but it was wet from a previous rainstorm. There was not much traffic so I used the right lane that was dry, quite comfortably during most of this stretch. As it got darker the road started to climb and descend and curve a bit, nothing too extreme, just some foothills, this was a beautiful way to enter Ningbo. It was now about 7:45pm, the battery on my phone was almost out of power. I stopped at another gas station, this time for about 30 minutes, ate some cookies and refilled my water bottles for the last time while I tried to recharge just enough to finish my route.

I made my way through Ningbo, for about an hour, and of course the battery died again about 10km away from the hotel. I pulled out my spare phone and called my wife, telling her I was close, but it might be awhile before I find the hotel without GPS. She came to my location with her cousins husband who picked me up with his car and drove us back to the hotel, and we finally arrived at 10:30pm. I was a bit annoyed with myself for not bringing a spare battery. As I stated in the beginning, this is all new to me, and quite the learning experience.

Final Thoughts
Sunday July 6, 2014

Deadlines suck.

Ride time was about 8 hours each day with an average speed of 20km/hr.
I spent the rest of my time checking the map, resting, and waiting for stoplights.

My preference is the countryside, or big cities.

Industrial areas and busy highways are best avoided.

Full fenders may have helped in a rainstorm,
however it would be better to avoid or wait out the

Bring oil, spare derailleur and brake cables, and an extra battery for the phone.

Overall I was happy with China Mobile 4G coverage,
much better than in some places in Shanghai.

Google seems to have the best English maps of China.
(requires a VPN though)

Schwalbe Durano tires are great on dry roads,
but they are easily punctured on wet roads.

Most importantly, I should take a rest day if I ride more than 100km.

Also, I admire those who take the time to write detailed journals,
they make it look so easy