Formed in 2000, FHL (Flying Hairy Legs) is an eclectic group of expat and local Chinese road cyclists braving the often-hazardous ring roads, secondary motorways and city streets of Shanghai’s urban sprawl, whilst providing a great starting-point for travelers and newbies wondering where the hell to start.
This was exactly the position I found myself in earlier this year. Three years of extensive business travel throughout Asia had greatly reduced my cycling fitness, and the quality of hotel gyms – an innate loathing of gyms aside – was too inconsistent to be a reliable source of cardio maintenance. There was only one option; travel with my bike, no exceptions. Thanks to an opportune encounter at Tokyo’s Cycle Mode show in 2009, I already had a bike bag. The next business trip was to China, so what better time to start a new routine? Simple.
Though several years cycling in Sydney gave me confidence in big-city traffic, I’d been a passenger in Shanghai’s cabs enough times to know that I would need help navigating the roads of Shanghai. Enter Google and Yahoo groups.
FHL’s Yahoo group had an open message board, which meant I was able to browse through posts to form an idea of what to expect. Satisfied I’d arrived at the right place, I registered as a member and submitted my first post. “I’m flying into Shanghai this Thursday evening, and will be in town for three days. I plan to do the airport ride on Saturday (sounds fun!), but could also use a gentle spin early Friday morning to loosen up after the flight. Will ride 60-90 minutes ideally, and I’m OK with loops. Is my best bet to circle Century Park around 05:30 to beat the traffic? I’ll buy coffee post-ride for anyone who’s willing to be my ride escort ;-)”
Almost immediately, an invitation to join a small group of FHL riders for the 6am Century Park ride arrived in my inbox. [This proved to be a great introduction to Shanghai riding, and I’d recommend Century Park to any visiting cyclist on a brief stopover. Though doing laps around this flat circuit does get boring after a while, it beats breathing stale air in a hotel.]
During my pre-trip “research”, it seemed a big focus on the FHL group pages was the Saturday morning ride – a supposedly serious (fast) 90km loop from the German Center in Pudong to the international airport and back. Invigorated by the Century Park ride, I used the message board later that night to see if anyone could help me get to the starting point (there’s nothing worse than waking up early, excited about a new ride in a new city, than getting lost and arriving well after everyone has left).
Once again – I love that Asia seems to be “switched on” 24/7 – an email promptly appeared. I was given a time and location close to my hotel where I would meet with ‘KP’, a long-time FHL rider, so he could ride with me to the German Center. Sure enough, KP was waiting for me exactly as planned the next morning. This proved to be a great help, as there were many twists and turns along the way and I probably would have missed the start without local expertise.
We arrived 10 minutes early, so I got to chat to several of the crew – many of whom were first-timers like me – as stragglers arrived by bike and by taxi (not unusual, given the size of Shanghai and dirt-cheap taxi fares). The nations of Germany, France, Australia, New Zealand and China were all represented, creating a terrific aural texture throughout the ride.
From the starting gun (figuratively speaking) the pace was on. Jacob Johansen, FHL veteran and former Geman pro cyclist, cranked it up further, flying off the front only 10 minutes into the ride. Latching on to his wheel with a few others, and having no idea whether this was a sustainable (let alone sensible) tempo, a rolling paceline intuitively formed, lasting all the way to the airport surrounds. At this point, we waited for the others before continuing along the closed service roads circumnavigating the airport.
Everyone stopped at a convenience store located – ahem, conveniently – halfway through the ride. I sent a SMS to my wife, marveling at my purchase of Snickers bar, bottled water and biscuits for only $1.60.
On the return leg, the bunch once again splintered into smaller groups all the way to Pudong. A tree-lined street marked the finish of the ride, where everyone assembled again for the opportunity to have a good-natured ribbing before dispersing across suburbia.
I’d recommend this ride to anyone with a reasonable level of cycling fitness and a road bike – although a very fit person on a mountain bike could cope, I’m sure. Hint: take your business card, if you have one, to exchange with people after the ride.