On Becoming a Bold Biking Babe in Shanghai

Some may jump at the opportunity to weave through Shanghai streets on a bicycle. Prior to the summer of 2005, biking was a deal breaker, for anything, anywhere. I’d signed up for a summer experience in Shanghai. I’d envisioned living near campus, walking to my classes, drinking bubble tea with friends, all by foot or sky train. I was tricked, or just naive. Day one in Shanghai was spent navigating the city by bike, as was day two, three and thirty-three.

There was a time in my life when I liked biking just as much as any other kid in the neighborhood. Then I rode my friend’s mom’s bike down a gravel hill, flipped over the handle bars, hit my face on a rock, got a concussion and sprained my wrist. Any desire to cycle left me that day. I didn’t live in a neighborhood. I lived off of a highway that my mother prohibited us from riding anywhere near. I accepted my future as a bike-less one and never got back on the two-wheeled wonder.

Our first day on bikes we broke up into groups to explore the city and get oriented. I spent this day hoping that my wobbliness on the bike combined with my blurry tear-filled vision wouldn’t send me crashing into a street food cart. Re-learning how to ride a bike in Shanghai felt akin to learning how to drive in Mumbai, without a metal bubble of protection.

Since I was there for six weeks I had to keep hopping back on the bike day after day after day. The first week was terrible. The second week was less so. By the third week I’d forgotten I had a phobia of biking. By the fourth week I was an invincible, zipping, weaving, bell ringing, speed machine.

The day I made a left turn at a very yellow light on a road we’d entitled “The Widowmaker” because of its six lanes, I realized I’m not afraid anymore. As I weaved in and out of the oncoming traffic, I realized I’m more than not scared anymore, I’m bold.

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