I am writing to add my voice to those other letter writers regarding the ban on bicycles in our country parks. I would especially like to add the viewpoint of the drivers of motor vehicles in Hong Kong to this issue.

Forcing all cycling in Hong Kong on to the public roads causes inconvenience and danger to the motoring public.

While driving, I hate trying to overtake bicyclists. Let’s hear from the Automobile Association, the bus and truck-drivers’ associations and the police on this issue.

First of all, we should be clear: regulation four of the Country Park and Special Areas Regulations prohibits even the mere possession of a bicycle in a country park. This means that it is illegal even to walk with a bicycle on a country park trail.

On Sunday, October 6, a group of exhausted cyclists and I approached the Tai Tam Road entrance to Tai Tam Reservoir Road, which cuts across Tai Tam Country Park. There was the usual crowd of walkers and picnickers and fishermen there and also a park warden. At that point all we wanted to do was walk our bikes west up Tai Tam Reservoir Road to Hong Kong Parkview.

This would have avoided many miles of riding around Tai Tam Country Park on Tai Tam Road and Repulse Bay Road, which are narrow and heavily travelled by cars, buses and trucks. The park warden prohibited us from even entering the country park with our bicycles, citing regulation four, but the warden didn’t do anything about the fishermen.

As a consequence, we had to ride our bicycles on Tai Tam Road and Repulse Bay Road. This was not only risky and unhealthy for me, for which I accept sole responsibility. Also, many cars, buses and trucks were delayed and inconvenienced. Those that swerved out into the opposing lane to get around me (God bless every one of them) did so at considerable risk to themselves.

The country parks are for everyone’s use.

This includes not only the walkers, but also the motorists who would have to deal with fewer cyclists if cyclists were also allowed to use the country parks.

At the very least, the country park regulations should be amended to allow persons to walk their bicycles on country park trails.

Preferably, bicyclists should be allowed to ride on country park trails if they: Abide by a code of behaviour (for example, passing elderly walkers slowly, with caution and respect); and, Spend a certain amount of time each year maintaining the country park trails.

For example, the Hong Kong Trail along the catchment from the northern tip of Tai Tam Harbour south to To Tei Wan Village is so overgrown in places that it is dangerous even for walkers. I would be happy to donate 10 to 20 hours of my weekend time per year with a weed-whacker and some boots and goggles to keep this and other trails rideable. This would impose a clear and sensible limit on the number of cyclists using the country parks.

GILLIS HELLER The Peak

I heartily concur with the views of Lawrence Matthews ‘Cycling fines are ridiculous’ (SCMP, September 17) concerning the Government’s persecution of mountain bikers. Why has the Government chosen to effectively outlaw this sport by giving cyclists Hobson’s Choice.

Either they gamble with their lives against Hong Kong’s traffic on narrow, congested and lung-choking roads or they face imprisonment for daring to enjoy fresh air while taking some invigorating exercise in the green great outdoors? It is indeed lucky that an earlier incarnation of the Government did not choose to adopt a similar ban on the equally environmentally-friendly sport of windsurfing. If they had chosen to reduce the use of Hong Kong’s waters only to power-boats or swimmers, we would not have a gold medal to celebrate from the Olympic Games.

Mountain biking is now an Olympic sport and Hong Kong has talented mountain bikers, but there is nowhere to practise and bring these skills to Olympic standard without breaking the law, as all off-road trails are in country parks, which are designated off-limits.

We appreciate that there is a danger of hikers wandering into the path of a bike, but to prevent this is hardly cause to throw someone in jail. Off-road bikers stick to paths and do not cause any more damage to trails than walkers.

Furthermore, there are villagers who ride bikes through the parks purely to get to their homes. Do the concerned authorities jail them for using the only mode of transport available to them? I feel the Government should reconsider this law and rather than place a total ban, strongly consider designated trails for bikes, a code of practice, or possibly a time restriction allowing bikes into the parks at certain times with the proviso that hikers have the right of way.

In these days of fearsome and polluting congestion on Hong Kong’s roads, and with the average citizen confined to air-conditioned buildings for most of his waking hours, the Government should be encouraging people to ride bicycles.

Gregory Pinches

Yuen Long

Being a cyclist in Hong Kong can mean taking your life in your hands.

This is a story for dreamers about a forbidden pleasure. The pleasure is cycling. And it has to do with feeling free and being independent, transporting yourself, saving money, working muscles, burning calories and helping the environment.

Dreamers can think about living in a world where pedalling (as in China, New Zealand, Belgium or Oregon) gets you where you want to go, where bikes are accepted on trains and ferries, where bike racks are as common as taxi stands, and cyclists and drivers have a designated space on the road.

But the scenario works better in Bruges than Causeway Bay.

For the majority of would-be cyclists, cycling in Hong Kong is off-limits.

Out of a population of 6.5 million, there are a few hundred, maybe – the brave and skilled for sure – who persist in an inhospitable environment.

As Hong Kong car-owners face the threat of taxation, as the city grapples with traffic congestion, as the quality of the air worsens, and as residents grow fatter, cycling would have been a possible solution years ago for a far-sighted city planner. But not now.

But reality never stood in the way of dreamers. Simon Chau relies on his bicycle for transportation. But the linguistics professor, who lives in Tai Po, rarely ventures near the traffic-clogged streets of Tsim Sha Tsui or Central. He feels safer in the rural confines of the New Territories. ‘Bike lanes? The few we have in Tai Po took 10 years to get.’ When Sandi Butchkiss worked in Manhattan in the 70s and 80s, the American writer cycled 20 blocks to work. Her ad agency even provided bike racks for the staff.

‘The traffic in downtown Manhattan was so slow,’ Ms Butchkiss recalls, ‘cycling was safe and faster than the bus. But in Mid-Levels, her bike stays in the car boot. When the urge to pedal hits, she heads for the New Territories. ‘Cycle on the island? I’m not that crazy.’ Tim Obendorf remembers cycling on the island in the early 80s, when Bowen Road was still open to cyclists, when the Star Ferry allowed bikes on the lower deck, when pedalling the south ring of the island was more of a pleasure than a hazard.

‘It was easier then, there were more opportunities and fewer cars,’ says the director of International Cyclists to Asia, who confines his riding to Yuen Long, China and Tibet.

Regardless, cycling for work or play is an uphill struggle against lack of space, too many cars and lack of legislation.

It also goes against the Hong Kong lifestyle where children are not raised in a tricycle-bicycle environment, unlike other Asian cities or the Mainland, where economic necessity in Beijing makes bike lanes as wide as airport runways in rural North America.

Cycling also goes against the Hong Kong status quo: aspiring for a driving licence in order to attain and afford the coveted four-wheeled status symbol.

‘Young people are not interested in bicycles,’ observes Cheng Chi-fei. ‘They want cars. They look down on bicycles.’ But the Hong Kong-born graphics artist bought his first bike at 14, and decades later still pedals daily from Happy Valley to his shop in Quarry Bay.

His nine bicycles afford transportation and status. One of his sleek racers – an Italian import – retails, including parts, for $40,000. ‘It’s my Rolls-Royce,’ he says. For years Jaime Gill pedalled from his Pokfulam home to work in Happy Valley.

‘Hong Kong is inhospitable for many good reasons,’ said British-born Gill, who began cycling here at 35 for fitness. ‘Consider the sheer amount of traffic.

‘There are more than 500,000 vehicles registered. There are 1,600 kilometres of roads. That means there are three metres per vehicle. And cars are bigger than that.

‘A cyclist has a thin profile, only the width of his body. If he goes into a driver’s blind spot, he’s basically invisible to the driver.

‘So, if people insist on cycling and want to survive, you have to play like the big boys. You cycle as if you were an automobile.’ Working against cyclists and drivers is the lack of laws: none regarding helmets or bicycle registration. As the number of cars increase, so do the number of accidents involving bicycles.

According to statistics from the Royal Hong Kong Police, the number of traffic accidents involving cyclists is on the rise. In 1994, there were 689 accidents, including nine fatalities. In 1992, there were 527, including 15 deaths.

‘If you really want to bike in Hong Kong, get out,’ advises Iain Dacre, half-seriously. The 44-year-old tri-athelete, also known as ‘Bike Man’ has been cycling in Hong Kong for over 10 years. He commutes from his home on Lantau to work in Mongkok.

‘Hong Kong is not, and was never, designed for bicycles. It’s that simple,’ says Dacre. ‘You’ve got to be nuts to ride in Hong Kong. Go to the New Territories. But good luck in getting there.’ So how do nervous yet aspiring cyclists hone those skills when transporting a bicycle from Central to the New Territories, which is a migraine unless you own a car, borrow one or venture forth before 5am? Though cyclists have done it, the MTR does not allow bringing a bicycle on board due to lack of space. ‘They’re considered bulky baggage,’ explains Miranda Leung of the MTR.

But when asked for a definition, Ms Leung was at a loss. ‘We need one. And we’re working on one now.’ The by-laws of the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation (KCRC) stipulate that motor vehicles, motorcycles, bicycles and similar conveyances cannot be driven or parked on the trains.

Baggage by their definition cannot exceed 66 by 46 by 25cm, according to Jane Leung of the KCRC.

But when I questioned an attendant at the KCRC information desk at Tai Po station, she said bicycles are allowed during low traffic periods – with the station-master’s permission.

The Hong Kong Ferry Company allows cyclists on ferries going to Mui Wo, Peng Chau and Cheung Chau for a small fee.

The Polly Ferry Company allows bicycles on board for their service from Ma Liu Shui to Ping Chau. A bike fee is also charged.

Trajn Boughan solved the carrying problem by buying a bike bag. She slips the bicycle into the bag, and boards the subway ‘without a problem.

‘I’ve seen things on the MTR bigger than a bike,’ reports the American-born architect and avid cyclist.

Cycling with confidence comes from knowing the bike, knowing the rules of the road, how to ride and pace yourself in traffic. When he cycles, Shaun Eddleston rarely goes off Hong Kong island.

‘Cycling is a way to keep fit and ‘blow off the cobwebs,’ minds the surveyor.

‘I cycle on paths around Hong Kong island. There is a maze of them, but you have to find them. They exist.’ But he won’t divulge his favourites. Never in five years of riding has he encountered problem with a pedestrians, hikers or police.

‘You follow the biker’s code. Give pedestrians the right of way, wear a helmet, use toe clips, and when you ride in the street, have an attitude.

‘Assume you are a vehicle, not a bicycle. Don’t hug the kerb, or they [traffic] won’t respect you. When going downhill, ride in the centre of your lane, act like a car, and pedal as fast as one.

‘When going uphill, stay close to the kerb, but don’t hug it. Give cars space to pass.’

While there are 40 country parks, on paper not all allow cycling. Whether the law is enforced is another matter, according to many cyclists who challenge the ‘bikes not allowed’ signs. In Tuen Mun, according to one rider, the signs were put up by the water department, not the police. ‘The water department doesn’t want to take the responsibility of you falling into a 5-metre drainage hole.’ Wherever there is a paved road and residents, such as in Sai Kung park, one cyclist forges ahead.

‘If I get caught, who says all gweilos speak English? Or maybe, I just didn’t see the sign.’ Cheng believes cyclists need to be brave. His brother Kwong agrees. And now, he’s teaching his wife, a Hong Kong woman who never rode a bicycle until her mid-20s.

‘You build confidence by practice,’ says the computer specialist who takes his wife to a Quarry Bay playground and nearby streets every Sunday morning to practise. ‘When the traffic gets bad, we stop.’

Junior Police Call (JPC) members are not only dedicated to helping the police fight crime, but also very enthusiastic in driving home road safety messages.

The recent participation of the Sha Tin JPCs in a cycling safety publicity function was a good example.

More than 20 members took part in the ‘Sha Tin Safe Cycling Day’, which was held in the Tai Wai Bicycle Park. The function aimed at reminding cyclists to observe road rules in order to fully enjoy the fun of riding bicycles.

At the opening ceremony, the JPCs, some of whom were clearly bicycle enthusiasts, demonstrated cycling skills, while the others, joined by members of the Road Safety Patrol, distributed publicity leaflets to bicycle riders along the bicycle track leading from Sha Tin to Tai Po.

The colourful leaflets carried 12 lively cartoon pictures urging cyclists to observe road users’ codes while enjoying their rides. Over 15,000 leaflets were given out in the course of the morning.

One of the safety guidelines called on riders to keep their bicycles to the road’s left lane, unless they wanted to overtake the bicycle in front of them.

Meanwhile, other JPC members rode on an open-deck bus decorated with cycling safety messages and took part in a parade from Tai Wai Train Station to Ma On Shan.

Senior Superintendent (Traffic NT South) David Thomas said at the function that 681 traffic accidents involving bicycles occurred last year, of which eight resulted in death and 216 led to serious injuries. The figure represented a 17 per cent increase over the toll of 584 in 1993.

‘Many of these accidents could have been avoided had these cyclists taken safety measures and paid attention when they were riding,’ Mr Thomas said.

Noting that the promotion of safe cycling was an important item of the district’s road safety education this year, Mr Thomas said that Sha Tin was one of the districts in the territory where cycle tracks were built along highways and roads for use solely by bicycle riders.

‘In October last year, Tai Wai Bicycle Park became a gazetted area for the riding of three-or four-wheel multicycles,’ Mr Thomas said.

‘Although cyclists are provided with such good facilities, the responsibility for safety rests with the cyclists themselves.’ The ‘1995 Sha Tin Safe Cycling Day’ was organised by the Road Safety Office of the Traffic Police’s NT South Region and the Sha Tin District Board.

 

Cyclists, enjoy yourselves – but please observe the road rules, for your own safety.

Like other road-users, cyclists should also strictly observe road regulations, traffic signs and road markings in order to fully enjoy the fun of riding bicycles, said Senior Superintendent of Police (New Territories South Traffic), David Thomas.

Mr Thomas was officiating at the launching of the ‘1995 Sha Tin Safe Cycling Day’, held at the Tai Wai Bicycle Park last week. He revealed that there was a drastic increase in the number of bicycle traffic accident last year.

In 1994, there were as many as 681 accidents involving bicycles, resulting in eight deaths and 216 cases of serious injury. The figure represented a 17 per cent increase over the toll of 584 in 1993.

‘Many of these accidents could have been avoided had these cyclists taken safety measures and paid attention when they were riding,’ Mr Thomas said.

Noting that the promotion of safe cycling was an important item of the district’s road safety education this year, Mr Thomas said that Sha Tin was one of the districts in the territory where cycle tracks were built along highways and roads for the sole use of bicycle riders.

In October last year, the Tai Wai Bicycle Park became a gazetted area for the riding of three-or four-wheel multi-cycles.

‘Although cyclists are provided with such facilities, the responsibility for safety rests with the cyclists themselves.’ The safe cycling day publicity drive featured a cycling demonstration by the Bicycle Association and an open-deck bus parade running from Tai Wai train station to Ma On Shan.

 

http://www.scmp.com/portal/site/SCMP/menuitem.06f0b401397a029733492d9253a0a0a0/?vgnextoid=b7a9076c93d02110VgnVCM100000360a0a0aRCRD&s=Archive

It is a sad fact that the sport of mountain biking has been given a bad name by a minority of individuals who are too selfish to consider the environmental impact of their riding and the safety of other trail users.

I refer to the banning of cycling in all Hongkong country parks. The Agriculture and Fisheries department regard the sport as being dangerous. Let me attempt to allay their fears.

Most cyclists are friendly, considerate and forward thinking. We yield to other trail users.

We consider the environmental impact of our riding and try to minimise it. We don’t damage plants or grass and don’t scare animals.

The amount of damage that we create on rides is minimal compared to, say, a group of picnickers. Yes, our tyres do leave marks, but then so do the boots of hikers.

The machines we use are reliable, with certain breaking power and the gearing to tackle the steepest of climbs. Mountain bikes are designed to be able to handle terrain previously thought unsuitable for cycles. We wear helmets.

So the Agriculture and Fisheries department needn’t be afraid for our safety.

The Agriculture and Fisheries department should change this outdated law that was passed in the area one speed BMX bikes.

EDWIN CHENG Jardine’s Lookout

 

Why spend a trip to China cooped up in the ”aquarium” of a tour bus when you [sic]
SCMP

There was one overriding question which had the Cantonese villagers utterly perplexed: why would eight funny foreigners come riding here on their swanky bicycles when they had their own minibus in tow? It was left to Mr Su – guide, fixer and, in this case, oracle – to provide an answer. ”It’s because they are overweight, and need to take exercise to get fit,” he ventured, diplomatically.

That made more sense; in the city everyone feasted so much. The city had everything, and no one would want to leave it voluntarily, surely, to get sweaty and muddy and tired. Happily, Mr Su had economised on the truth. He did not say that the visitors had motored as fast as they could out of the dusty metropolis of Zhaoqing, past the billowing dirt of the construction site which was trying to engulf Guangdong, and leapt aboard their mountain bikes at the first opportunity to swish downhill through the green riced valleys and suck in the sweet air that whistled past their cheeks.

The exhilaration which is a natural by-product of such a pastime is enhanced by the pleasure of seeing China ”over the handlebars”, in just the same way that so many residents do on their ubiquitous national transport.

The rhythm is slow enough to take in the countryside, there is no stuffy coach routine, nor the dependence on a railway timetable; simply the dictates of pedal power.

For a few blissful years in the 1980s the whole of China lay open to anybody on two wheels. These days, officials can turn back mountain bikers (definitely at Shenzhen, possibly at Zhuhai, perhaps further up the coast), but going it alone is a risky venture which, even after the border, will continue to dog itinerant – and thus illegal – cyclists’ treadmarks. The only sure-fire way to get across and take to the road is to go with an organised group.

The prospect is hardly daunting. Somebody knows the way. A coach takes you past the dodgy bits. A lorry follows to transport the bikes. Hotels are booked ahead. All that remains is to point the front wheel at the most picturesque parts of Guangdong province, slip into gear and push on.

Mountain-biking through Guangdong grants an instant buffalo’s eye view of Chinese agricultural life. As a biker, it’s easy to identify with others who are similarly mounted, although theirs are the home-grown versions, used as an all purpose workhorse.

OUTSIDE the towns and villages, there are few places not carpeted with the lush green sward of rice or vegetables, and there are few fields not being hoed or tilled or weeded.

For these farmers, knee-deep in the paddy, bowed down by gigantic loads, or simply squatting by the roadside, it is hardly a bucolic scene, so an octet of gaudily attired and mounted foreigners comes as a welcome diversion.

Guangdong’s greatest joke is not so much a one-liner as a one-worder. Its comic punch-line depends less on timing than on its mere utterance, and it can be delivered by resident or visitor at any time of day: ”Hello.” Its mere mention is guaranteed to transport whole villages into paroxysms of mirth.

”Hello,” scream urchins from behind a hedge. ”Hello,” bawls the motorcyclist roaring past. ”Hello,” replies the mountain biker, to fresh howls of laughter at the strength and speed of his repartee. Initially and superstitiously camera-shy, the villagers react enthusiastically to the barest smattering of Cantonese, and in general are happy to see and be seen – welcoming and genial to a surprising degree.

There are highlights along the way, from the lakes and mini monoliths at Seven Star Crags national park, to the caves at Little Guilin, where the tour guide translates every million-year-old stalactite into some form of animal or fish, mythical or otherwise.

Further on is the 191-metre-high Zebra Stone, famed in China as the largest of its kind on the planet, not counting Ayers Rock. In reaching these goals there is a sense of satisfaction which could never be gained from items one, two and three on a coach tour. Other tourists – and there are few in the area who are not Chinese – may look on the cyclists pityingly from within their mobile aquariums, but it is the freewheeling two-wheelers who know that getting there is much more than half the fun.

Provided the normal precautions are followed, that is.

Colour co-ordinated outfits are not essential, but padded cycling shorts designed for the purpose are ideal. China’s roads are rough and the skills of truck drivers (who are protected by a picture of Mao Zedong tacked up in the cab) rarely measure up to the volume of their air horns; hospitals are few and far between so a helmet makes more than just good sense.

A local poncho (HK$1!) will both ward off the rain and the seemingly ineradicable clay and mud which dyes clothes a rusty orange. Gloves protect hands during the more punishing bumps and jolts, while a water bottle (and fruit powder or electrolite drink to flavour its contents) will be vital to assist in de-parching.

Cycling as much as 80 km a day sharpens the appetite, and even with the odd rogue item like snake soup on the menu, there were few empty plates at the end of a meal. The long rides took their toll on extraneous flesh over the tour. So, in a way, Mr Su was not far wrong about losing weight.

A four-day International Cyclists to Asia tour in Guangdong costs $3,600 including bikes, meals, accommodation, visa and transport. Tel: 454-9191 Fax: 463-5520.