People who know me, and my regular readers, will know I have three main hobbies in life. They are cycling, baking and music making.
Baking in Hong Kong is basically a no go. I don’t have A) any equipment or B) an oven. I’m also unwilling to invest the necessary cash in order to acquire tins/bowls/ingredients and an oven. I miss baking horribly. It used to be one of my major de-stressing activities as well as being a leisure activity that brought me actual joy. There is noting better than seeing a cake, set of cupcakes or new invention come to fruition. Obsessively staring through the oven window door to make sure you spot any kind of peak/dip in the sponge. My amputation from baking has made me incredibly determined to master pastry when I return to the UK.
Music making has been my staple source of therapy for about three years. It’s a great way to vent without really bothering people with your issues. You hide them in lyrics and melodies. When it comes to writing music, I have a partner in crime. He is, unfortunately, still in the UK and I find it really hard to get inspired without being in the same room as him. I enjoy the to and fro, the childish bickering and the general nonsensical conversations we have whilst drinking and writing. It’s not the same when you’re 8000 miles away. Music making is also a no go in Hong Kong.
Cycling. Cycling you can do in Hong Kong! I bought myself a bicycle. It folds and I decided he’s called Brian.
Now, he’s no Daisy. I miss Daisy. Brian will do for Hong Kong. You can cycle along the tram tracks when on Hong Kong island which is quite useful. They get you away from the traffic but there is the extra danger of getting wheels/tyres stuck in the tracks or generally falling off when crossing tracks (metal is basically ice for a cyclist when wet).
The New Territories in Hong Kong actually have a good amount of segregated cycle tracks which are for use by any and all. The most popular runs from Tai Wai all the way up to Sheung Shui. You don’t have to own a bicycle to take part. there are plenty of bike shops that hire out bikes for the day. I decided I would venture into the unknown territories of cycle paths and see what the fuss was about one weekend.
First of all, I wasn’t sure of the exact logistics so I decided to hire a bicycle rather than taking Brain. I paid $60 to hire a bicycle from a place in tai Wai. The $60 was for all day hire, which I think is ok value wise. The bicycle was maintained at, what I would call, a poor to medium level (I had to have them tighten the brakes and gears before I would pay them). Here’s a picture.
To anyone who isn’t ‘into’ bicycles, it looks like a standard bike. I saw it and thought… ugh, mountain bike, badly scaled gears, knobbly tyres on tarmac, saddle that is actually twice as big as my bum, handlebar grips that will indent their hard rubber pattern into my hands within 10 minutes, gear levers so far away from my brake levers that I will need to move hand position constantly, plastic pedals with slim to no grip on them and finally front suspension forks which are entirely preposterous on any bicycle which you use on tarmac. It was at this point that I realised I am a bicycle elitist and I needed to deflate my ridiculous expectations of hire bicycles. So I got on and rode it.
We began our cycle at Tai Wai. We followed the path all down the side of the canal which was lovely. There were plenty of places to stop and rest along the cycle path. We also saw good amounts of nature. I managed to get a snap of a crane in the throws of catching a fish.
As we cycled, the path became more and more densely populated with cyclists. Most of them looked to be riding hire bicycles like us but we spotted quite a few people on high end bicycles in full lycra cladding. Most amusingly, a man on a folding bike who was kitted out as if cycling the Tour de France. This really did make me chuckle as the sheer volume of cyclists using the path made any form of decent cycling impossible so there was really no point in wearing any kind of performance enhancing gear. ‘Performance’ is not an option on the cycle paths of Hong Kong during the weekend. They are teeming with cyclists who are either out for a relaxing ride with their families and/or friends, inexperienced or just in no kind of hurry to get anywhere. And who can blame them with scenery like this/
I will be very honest and say that I did not expect cycling on the cycle paths to be as popular as this and so expected a much quieter time of it. On reflection, that was naive of me.
The reason cycling in the UK struggles to attract this volume is, in my option, the poor facilities. our cycle networks and paths are badly advertised and poorly executed. We have very few segregated tracks and people simply do not feel safe when presented with vehicular traffic (for good reason). I once cycled the 35 miles of Sustrans cycle route from Boston to Lincoln in Lincolnshire and saw only 7 other cyclists in all 35 miles. For the most part, the path was separate from vehicles (as it is converted riverside railway track). The parts on the road with traffic were quiet country lanes. The encounters I had with vehicles were few but each was terrifying. Large HGV lorries careering along a road at 50mph barely slowed down. Cars and vans did not slow down at all. Inexperienced cyclists would have been quaking in their boots because even I had to take a few deep breaths to recover my nerves.
In Hong Kong, these cycle paths are genuinely, 100% free of vehicular traffic. Every junction crossing is managed via either underpass or light controlled crossing. There is no ‘fend for yourself and rely on your wits’ factor involved, well, not with anything much heavier than a person on a bicycle anyway. This makes cycling on the paths feel very safe indeed. As a result, everyone feels safer and that they can include themselves in cycling on them, as well they should. It is a fabulous facility for novice cyclists and people who want to see the sights by bicycle rather than on foot. There are some good views to be had.
Personally, I would dissuade any experienced cyclists from using these paths during a weekend unless they are prepared to be surrounded by people on bicycles who have no self awareness or slightest inkling of good cycling practises (e.g. a shoulder check before moving out or simply the ability to set your seat at the correct height). The cyclists I encountered were 95% completely oblivious to anything going on anywhere. The locals in Hong Kong cycle the same way that they walk. Completely erratically and without any regard for other living, breathing things.
In a way, cycling on the paths in Hong Kong was almost as terrifying as the square mile of London (a.k.a. the City of London) during rush hour. In London, there are very few cyclists venturing on their ‘first rodeo’. Sure, there’s still some awful cycling going on but, for the most part, it presents a manageable risk. Cyclists in London are rather predictable, for example, if there’s a bus stopped on the left, the cyclist is probably going to veer out to the right with no hand signal or shoulder check. That, I can anticipate. What I cannot anticipate is a reasonless swerve into my front wheel or a random direction change which leads to a collision with a wall, subsequent de-saddling and general carnage for anyone behind.
Riding alongside the locals on the paths was the only thing for a very, very, very, long time that has made me not want to be on a bicycle. I was positively grumpy by the time we arrived at Tai Po water front park. Thankfully, the park itself was far less crowded than the path leading to it. Tai Po water front park is also very beautiful as you can see. The path runs right through it.
It had been my intention to go much further than Tai Po but, there was no way I was subjecting myself to more of the local lunatics on bicycles.
In summary, if you are an experienced cyclist, use these paths expecting the worst and you may not be as shocked and frustrated as I was. If you are a novice, enjoy the safety of the paths and use them to build you self awareness and general riding skills. They are a great asset to Hong Kong and I hope many more people use them (with the correct expectations).