Outside the wall

Dan and Sarala’s blog from Hohhot


10 Oct 2014

Bikes are everywhere in Hohhot. People of all ages ride every day, carrying toddlers, groceries, large boxes, and yes, even satellite dishes.

Here’s a shot of a middle school at 5pm; this was only one of the two massive bike parking areas visible from the front gate of the school:

Because it’s so flat, most of the bikes are one-speeds, though modern mountain bikes with disk brakes and 21 speeds are starting to make an appearance on the streets. Also on the rise: fixies!

At first we thought that hipsterdom had reached even to far-flung Hohhot, but the real story is even stranger. It turns out that China Mobile (the cellphone carrier) is incentivizing large pre-payments by giving away free bicycles, mp3 players, and tablet computers. Here’s a stack of not-yet-fully-unwrapped giveaway bikes outside a China Mobile storefront:

Of course, the most important bike-related news is that Dan got a bike. He opted for an old 红旗 (“red flag”) brand, which aside from the name is pretty much indistinguishable from old “flying pigeon”, “flying flower”, and “shanghai bicycle” brands. They’re all a faded black color with white-tipped fenders, fully enclosed drivetrains and push-rod brakes, with subtle variations in the design of the kickstand and rear rack. There’s a pretty good image of the classic Flying Pigeon on Wikipedia, but here are some detail shots for the bike nerds in the audience. Push-rod brakes:



When we got the bike, it was missing one pedal, the brakes stuck all the time, and (it turned out) the chainline was messed up, leading to a chain snap on the first long ride. The wheels are also waaaay out of true, but Dan’s hesitant to try and adjust them since the spoke nipples probably haven’t been turned in 20 years, and he’s afraid he’ll end up snapping a spoke or two in the process. When he mentioned to a local bike repairman that the wheels were crooked, the guy responded with something like “the bike’s old, man, what do you expect?” Regardless, here’s the bike in action, on a shortcut through a corn field on the way to the 大青山 foothills northwest of town:

Sarala's bike is borrowed from our landlady. It's not an antique, so we'll just show you one picture to prove that it exists.