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Beijing Is No Longer a Cyclist’s Paradise

March 27 (Bloomberg) -- A decade ago, Beijing seemed like a cyclist’s paradise. True, there were no dedicated bike lanes, but that was because two-wheeled, man-powered vehicles owned the road. In what seemed like a scene from an environmentalist’s (slightly socialist) fantasy, scores of bikers would wait patiently for the light to change, then embark en masse for their destinations. By contrast, biking around my hometown of Boston seemed faintly crazy -- an invitation to being sideswiped by one of our famously considerate drivers.

Today all that has been turned on its head. When I went to rent a bike upon my arrival in Beijing last week, people looked at me as though I were mad. As I tooled around the old neighborhoods near the Forbidden City, I was often the only nonmotorized thing in sight. There were bike lanes, all right, but they were populated only by motorbikers and the occasional fellow intrepid Westerner. On the back streets, I saw a few older Chinese cyclists, wearing expressions of thorough disgust. Meanwhile, Boston, like lots of other U.S. cities, has become a reasonable place to bicycle. I still wouldn’t recommend it to the faint of heart, but as long as you bike defensively, you feel like a member of a forward-looking tribe of change agents.