y headphones were in and I was listening to my favorite station (Disney Hits), the sun was shining, my backpack was full of snacks, the roads were open and clear and my scooter was fully charged. Just as I was hitting my stride on the open road – WHAM! The bike in front of me stopped suddenly and hard and I gripped my two brake handles tightly, causing my bike to flip.
Wheels were whirling over my head, my bike mirrors and phone went flying and my body found a nice resting place – the pavement. What just happened? Two French women came running up to me from behind, whom I vaguely remembered passing on my bike moments before, and helped me up.
Looking back, I was definitely in shock. As they helped me recover my phone and my broken mirrors from the ground, I dusted myself off and looked around, thankful for the empty roads. I found my earphones in the gutter area, but decided it best not to put them back in.
The speedometer was cracked, and since I was sans rear-view mirrors, I took the rest of the ride as slowly as possible. When I arrived at my friend’s house, I told them about the ordeal and everyone asked how I was and all I could do was imagine all the worst possibilities and also what my parents would think (I never told them), as its is one of those parents-worst-nightmare situations.
Now, an accident like that or any accident might cause many people to give up scooters altogether, but I decided instead of letting my PTSD take hold, I would do my best to be more aware, wear a helmet and maybe save my Disney tunes for another time.
I had only just learned to ride a scooter in 2020 when I spent a long time in Sanya, Hainan. The roads there are much wider and scooter-friendly, and you can rent a scooter there for about US$8 a day.
My friend took me to an abandoned parking lot and off we went. At first, I was too afraid to even move an inch or turn the handlebars. But in a few short days, much in part to my friend’s patience, I was a bona fide biker girl. Well, I will definitely not be joining the Hell’s Angels biker gang anytime soon, but I was finally comfortable hitting the open road on my own.
Over my weeks in Sanya, I got more and more confident. One thing I realized was that in Sanya, scooter laws were strictly enforced. In Dadonghai where I was staying, there were usually traffic cops at most corners, and pretty much every corner at rush hour. If they caught you without proper license plates, going the wrong way, running a red light or you or your passenger not wearing a helmet, they would take your keys and your bike. To collect them you would have to make a visit to the police station and pay a fine in correlation with your crime.
Coming back to Beijing after weeks in Sanya, I realized the conditions were very different. First, almost no one wears a helmet. I have been told that it is the law to wear them, but I guess it would be too hard to enforce, as well as other scooter laws, with such a large population of scooter riders. Another major difference is the size of the scooter/bike lanes. In Beijing, some scooter lanes are so tiny that I feel like I might lose a leg, and many times the scooter/bike lanes are filled with parked cars, forcing those on two wheels into the traffic lanes.
However, I feel mastering riding my scooter in Beijing has given me even more confidence. I have always wanted to learn to ride so I can get to those off-the-beaten-track and hidden gems here in China as well as while traveling abroad, and now I have the skills to do it.
If there are any aspiring scooter drivers out there, the best advice I can give is never be overconfident. The minute you feel invincible, the bike will bite back! Other words of wisdom would be, make an effort to stop by scooter shops and have your tires and brakes checked regularly. Having a tire pop or bald tires in bad weather is a recipe for disaster.
On a positive note – just do it! There is something very freeing and empowering about mastering the skill and is a must for avid travelers. So, take my story in heed, be safe, have fun and I will see you out there on the open road – hopefully, wearing a helmet, of course.