Is it just me, or does riding a bike through a city completely change your perception of it, especially when all you’ve done previously is take taxi or subway rides? I know it did for Shanghai—I didn’t know my away around until I brought my bike and puzzled over a map for a while. In Shanghai I concluded that riding through the city was faster than most other transportation unless you ride like someone from the China league of beleaguered seniors. Maybe it’s the European design of the streets and infrastructure, maybe I just ride fast (probably not—look at my winter beer belly). Either way, it’s not bogglingly big or unapproachable. Maybe a bit bigger than my home HZ, but hey, it is Shanghai after all.
Shanghai is to Hangzhou as drinking at the bar is to drinking at home. Drinking at the bar is wild, the bar is bigger than your apartment and full of unfamiliar faces, but drinking at home doesn’t have to be lonely and depressing; you can invite your friends, lounge about wearing whatever the fuck you want, and shoot the shit without worrying about getting change.
But I’m not talking about Shanghai in this review. Beijing. Beijing. In one word, this review is: big.
I found out about the event little less than a week before it, which says something about the attempts at publicity outside of Beijing (or lack thereof, it goes without saying), and I hustled to the ticket office and bought my Friday sleeper train tickets to Beijing.
All I have to say about sleeper trains is: pray pray pray you don’t share a berth with someone who snores. Especially if you have to participate in a bike race the next day. This guy in my berth kept everyone awake with his olympian snoring abilities. I mean, he could snore on his side, his back, even with his face in the pillow. Even with my music all the way up, I could still hear him. Now anyone that cohabitates with a S.O. will tell you that snoring is a natural part of life, but I submit that there was nothing natural about this guy. It’s one thing if the snorer is at least consistent—I can fall asleep to that—but this guy snored like a huge congested frog hacking apart an even bigger frog. Really, that was the most memorable part of the weekend.
Fast forward to the race.
The sponsors Li-ning and Natooke pulled some big crews for this event (guess which one put in most of the cash): FTC, Nabiis, and myself. I teamed up with Jeaky, the only other Hangzhouvian there, and with the Nabiis crew from Taiwan, who promptly left us in the dust; but I’m getting ahead of myself here. Most of the racers were Beijing expats and Chinese, although those trickster rascals from Guangzhou/Shenzhen came as well, but not to participate in the race. I’d guess there were between 80 and 100 riders gathered at the Iberia Arts Center in the 798 arts district, which is just so full of hipsters so far beyond my reckoning that I won’t even start to make fun of them here. After all, we are talking about a white guy who lives abroad and rides a fixed-gear bike and studied at a small liberal arts college and I’m just going to stop right here.
The race itself…was OK. I decided right away that I wasn’t in this to win, the major factors leading to this conclusion being 1. How fast some of those Taiwanese guys here and 2. 15mph headwinds not matter which way you were going. I won’t bore you with a minute by minute, play by play recounting of the events. It’s enough to say that there were five checkpoints, and at each one one had to complete some sort of task, from lifting your bike over your head five times, or holding a bike fork in front of your face (which made me realize what an effective weapon a bike fork could be), putting the other end to the ground and then spinning around on the ground like that, which makes me a bit nauseated just thinking about it now. All of the checkpoints were difficult to find if you weren’t a Beijing ren, which is kind of lame if you’re having all sorts of fly people from outside of China come participate.
I finished in a little under four hours (but to my credit, I did help another dude with a flat tire for a while). I don’t know who the winners were because by the time I arrived at the finish they were starting the awards ceremony, slow people be damned, which, even though I wasn’t DFL, didn’t do wonders for my self-esteem. Also, I hadn’t eaten anything that day other than some chips and a Snickers, so I felt a bit like passing out anyhow. My bad.
After a bit a rest at the hotel, I headed back to 798 for the afterparty, which resembled a cross between an industry giant’s press conference, a convention, and a concert. It was weird, but had its charm, in a Chinese way. Jeaky of WHM bikes got me into the VIP section, where we both honestly just stood around acting like we were expecting to see someone we knew any minute now. However, we did get to meet and chat up chappies from FTC, Subcrew and Nabiis, and I was too tired, ignorant, and by this time buzzed off the free drinks (either Carlsberg or alcohol+vitamin water). There were some bike performances, and some rap performances, but it turns out, especially before the race when he insisted on mic checks while we were trying to get started, drowning out the organizers’ frenzied shouts about making sure that if you got stopped by the police to call it a game, not a race, MC Hot Dog is kind of a dick.