We were 16 Americans on lightweight bicycles in the strange world where heavy single-speed, black, diamond-frame bicycles for men filled the streets - no private cars were permitted. A family could save bits from each person’s monthly wage - equivalent to our $50 per month - and finally accumulate enough to buy one new imported bicycle. But they couldn’t buy it without a certificate. For the certificate, one had to appear before a committee and prove the family’s extreme need for a second bicycle. I was there in 1981 - 23 years ago.
My 15-speed French Peugeot had a bright, shining metal frame, and many people gathered one afternoon to talk about it when it was my turn to stay with our bikes while others went into some caves.
No one understood English, and I didn’t speak Chinese, but that didn’t keep us from communicating. About a dozen men gathered near, and one pointed to my tire pump. I snapped it out of place and pumped a few strokes and handed it to the fellow nearest me. He pumped it and was surprised when the air came out. Each one in turn had to discover this miracle.
The big surprise was when I flipped the front wheel’s lever, lifted the wheel out of the front fork slots and passed it around for all to feel its light weight and press the firm tire with their thumbs. I lifted "Peugie" with one hand, and they took turns lifting this lightweight, 1968 French Peugeot.
As we pedaled almost 200 miles in our 11 days inside mainland China, we saw only the working class.
For 30 years, a fourth of the world’s people were isolated from radio, TV, even newspapers and personal mail. China had no knowledge of what was going on with three-fourths of the world’s inhabitants. No commerce, no exchange of medical breakthroughs and no flu-shot formula.