Landing the right bike in Hangzhou

Landing the right bike in Hangzhou

Buying a bike is one of the best investments you can make it China. First off, biking is a great way to see the city you’re living in. There’s nothing like being a part of the great bicycle swarm that overruns most Chinese cities during morning and evening rush hour. Second, it’s great recreation for a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. And finally, it’s a great way to get around. According to a 1972 issue of Scientific American magazine, biking is the most efficient means of human transportation in the known universe.

One of the benefits of living in Hangzhou is that the city is relatively compact. Most of the places one would want to go are within a reasonable biking distance, and if given the option between taxi, bus, or bike, 90% of the time I’ll go with the bike (unless of course it’s winter). Wanting a bike and finding the right bike are, however, two very different things. A lot of foreigners in China find that the bikes are too small, for instance. Meanwhile, many of the larger brands are beyond the price range most expats want to pay. It takes some shopping around to find the right bike. Here’s a guide to help with the process.

If you want a cheaper used bike that’s in good shape, there are a number of used bike markets around the city where you can get a solid bike for as low as 100 RMB and as high as several thousand (though I advise against paying that much). A word of warning: most of the bikes at the used markets are stolen. If you’ve seen the film Beijing Bicycle, you understand the moral quagmire unknowingly purchasing a stolen bicycle can land one in. The largest used bicycle market is outside the East Hangzhou Bus Station (杭洲汽车东站东边). It’s a bit sketchy, expect people to come up to you asking if you need a bike, at which point they’ll try to lead you to a store. Chinese brands are generally cheaper, but the quality’s not as good as what you get in imported bikes. Yongjiu, which means forever in Chinese, is the most popular Chinese brand. Yongjiu is also one of the tallest bike brands you’ll find in Hangzhou, which has made it popular with foreigners. The average price is around 300 RMB; don’t pay more than 500 RMB. The average price of 300 RMB goes for most other Chinese bike brands you’ll find. Always remember that the first price the vendor tells you will be at least double that amount at a used bike market.

Giant and Dahon, both American imports, are considered top of the line and are the most expensive. The nice thing about Dahon bikes is that they can all be folded up, making them great for commuting. Expect to pay somewhere between 300 RMB and 600 RMB. You can also find higher end Giant and Dahon bikes in the 4000 RMB to 5000 RMB price range, and buying them from a used bike market is of course cheaper than buying them from an official store. The downside to this is that you’re never quite sure what you’re getting, which is why I recommend not buying used if you decide you’re keen on spending more.

If you’ve decided you want a higher end imported bike, there are a number of official stores throughout the city, but here are a few to start. If you’re looking to buy a Dahon bike, there’s a big one at 272 Jiaogong Road (教工路272号), just outside the Bairui Hotel. Their number is 0571 8883 5568. The store is just north of the intersection of Wenyi Road (文一路) and Jiaogong Road (教工路). If you’re looking to buy a Giant, there are a number of Giant stores on the same street very close to the Dahon store. Don’t plan on bargaining, as the prices are fairly firmly set. Don’t expect to pay 100 RMB either – some of the high-end mountain bikes in these stores can fetch over 5000 RMB. If you do buy an expensive bike, don’t leave it locked up out on the street because sooner or later, it will get stolen.

If you prefer to buy from a department store, Carrefour and Wumei carry a number of bikes in the lower to mid-price range (300 RMB – 1000 RMB). My advice; don’t bother if you’re over 6feet tall as most of the bikes are small. For the greatest selection, I’d recommend checking out Zhejiang Province’s largest bike market, simply called Bike Market of Zhejiang. Be ready to bargain. The address is Zhejiang Sheng Hangzhou Shi Jiang Gan Qu Kai Xuan Lu #319 (浙江省杭州市江干区凯旋路319号).

If buying a bicycle’s not your thing, and you prefer to rent, head to your nearest Hangzhou Public Transit office and apply for a bus card. They’ll ask for a 200 RMB deposit for the card, which is good for both riding public transit and for renting one of the orange bikes you’ve most likely noticed around the city sitting around at the bike stations. The Z card is exclusively for bike rentals. If you want to rent a bike with the card, simply find your closest station and swipe the card to release a bike. It’s free for the first hour, two yuan for the second hour, and three yuan an hour after that. The major complaint from people is that sometimes it’s difficult to find a bike station where they can drop the bike off when they’re done, as the stations fill up in the evening.

So there you have it. While this guide may not get you the exact type of bike you’re looking for, it will at least get you on the right track. After all, anything’s better than aimlessly wandering and asking around (which is what I did when I first arrived in Hangzhou). Good luck.

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