The Road To Shanghai Day One- Reflections on an Expressway

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Amy waiting by the bike at a rest stop on the highway

Reporting in from smoggy Zibo! Extremely clear day leaving Beijing today, something unusual for the typically polluted city, but apparently the local officials here in Zibo didn’t get the memo, because as soon as we entered the city limits, we immediately noticed the heavy smog through which the setting sun was filtering through.

One of the things I typically do in my “alone” time in my helmet when on trips in China is make comparisons with experiences from back home. Given that this was my first time covering any sort of long distance on the Chinese expressway, I spent a good part of my day thinking about the parallels with the interstate system back home in the US, which is now the only country with a larger and more developed expressway system then China.

No Motorcycles Allowed

This is certainly the most obvious comparison but is definitely worth mentioning: bikes aren’t allowed on the expressway. How did we manage to get on then you might ask. Well it seems that Beijing is one of the only places, at least around this part of the country, that will let you on without any trouble. This means you can basically stay on as long as you want until you leave at which point almost no one will let you back on. This meant we were the only bike on the road all day and also got quite a bit of attention for it along the way. At one point during the ride, we were behind a car for a while and for a good 10 minutes we could see the flash of a camera coming from inside the car pointed directly at us.

There Are No Laws, Only Suggestions

For anyone familiar with driving in China or Chinese drivers, this should not come as a surprise. Regulations such as speed limits, no tailgating, and even lane dividers seem to be treated as mere trivialities which drivers can choose to follow or ignore at their convenience. It seemed like every ten minutes I would look in my mirror and find someone only a few meters behind going 120km/h (a few yards away going 80 mph) flashing their lights at me to move out of the way. The worst was at one point there were a couple of trucks taking up both lanes with one slowly trying to pass. Meanwhile, there were four cars so eager to pass as quickly as possible that they were lined up all four in a space of about 100-150 meters long, again going 120km/h. It seems the traffic bureau has gotten wise to this tendency to tailgate as every 5 to 10 minutes there was a new sign saying “Rear End Collision, Keep Your Distance” and others enforcing a space of 100-200 meters between each car.Like I said though, suggestions, not rules.

BMW Drivers Are The Same All Over the World

Apparently driving something built with superior engineering also gives one a false sense of superior driving ability. Expressways in the US are known to motorcycle drivers as offering an experience of being pushed around by trucks and having BMW cars zip around you at far higher than necessary speeds. Turns out it’s no different in China. The fastest drivers by far were those in BMWs as well as a few other German brands including Mercedes, Audi, and even some VWs, some going at least 150km/h, usually deciding that my lane wasn’t big enough for the two of us. ;

Trucks Are Very Pleasant To Drive Around

Yep, you read that right! Contrary to what I’m used to back home and even on the regular roads here in China, the trucks and busses on the expressway were extremely well behaved, going at the speed they were supposed to be going at, staying in the lane they were supposed to be in, and not honking at all. Of course as soon as we got off the highway, immediately there was an obnoxious bus, incessantly blowing his horn and straddling lanes while trying to push past cars (and motorcycles).

Crossing Over A Cradle Of Civilization

Though I have crossed the Mississippi on my motorcycle before, there was something a little different about crossing a river like the Yellow River. Though both massive and centers of commerce for their respective countries, the Yellow River has been a center point for Chinese civilization for thousands of years, a thought that passed through my mind as we crossed a bridge today announcing the river. We will be crossing both of China’s great rivers on this trip, as we take a ferry across the Yangtze before arriving in Shanghai in a few days.

All in all actually quite a good experience for a first time on China’s expressways. Despite the high speed winds at the 120km/h speed limit making it a tiring drive, things went smoothly. Of course as soon as we got off, a toll booth attendant scolded us for being on the highway because it was too dangerous, and within 5 minutes on the “safer” road, we were cut off, honked at by busses, pushed out of our lane, and had to swerve away from an e-bike turning in against traffic!

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