Last updated on Feb 29, 2012
China is known as a kingdom of bicycles. Free from traffic jams and crowded buses, the best way to explore Suzhou is to get on a bicycle and pedal down the thousand-year-old lanes where the town’s deep historical roots are still visible today. Famous gardens, museums, celebrities’ former residences and time-honored stores line these lanes.
To capitalize on growing demand for this affordable and time-efficient transport mode among visitors, Suzhou’s government in 2010 launched a public bicycle service.
There are 49 parking stations for public bicycles across Suzhou. Before you can access this service, please apply for card first. You don’t need to exert yourself too much when pedaling around this town.
Suzhou is a surprisingly level city, which you might not guess since it is surrounded by many lovely hills that bear the title of “shan,” as if they were mountains, such as Ling Yang Shan, and Shang Fang Shan. But the city that is really like three small cities side-by-side is very flat and is therefore a paradise for part-time pedallers.
Suzhou streets are designed for cyclists and have dedicated bike lanes on both sides. It is a great comfort that there is some kind of barrier, usually a row of trees or an iron fence landscaped with flowers, between the cyclist and the motorist.
Mopeds and electric cycles also use bike lanes, but they are more expensive than bikes. These silent whizzers do pose a challenge. You must check over your shoulder before turning either way or risk getting plowed into by an e-bike that is merely trying to get around you.
People often complain that the bike lanes are too narrow especially during peak traffic. Many small streets have no bike lanes, and cycling on pavements is not wise. One-way streets can also be a problem, so before you hit the road, work out a suitable route. But be careful when crossing a road. Local drivers are aggressive enough to turn right regardless of pedestrians and cyclists, even if the red traffic light is on.
Finding a reliable lock, or several locks for your treasured bike, is paramount. U-shape locks are the most popular among Suzhou cyclers. Some companies even guarantee refunds if bikes secured with their locks are stolen. Another wise option is to leave your bike at a bicycle parking lot, though it will cost you 0.5 to 1 yuan each time. There are usually watchers to keep an eye on the lots, keeping your bike safe from thieves. Remember, thieves are often smarter than you are.
Walking is great for sightseeing. Embrace the crowd. Don’t expect smiles because Chinese don’t often look into others’ eyes and smile to each other, even though most people are very friendly to foreigners.
When you decide to go out on foot, remember to take paper and a pen along. Once you are confused by the labyrinth-like streets, which are known for not following straight directions, write down your destination and ask a passer-by for help. Generally, youngsters in Suzhou can speak some English. Turning to traffic policemen for help is another option. Be patient with them, for their English is not perfect, yet.
It is again important to be wary of aggressive drivers when crossing the streets. When the streets become extremely busy, to avoid being stuck in a traffic jam, drivers may ignore the traffic lights. Even with the law on your side, you still need to be careful to avoid shocks. We do see a lot of foreigners cursing at rude cabbies and drivers who rush ahead of pedestrians to turn a corner.
Nowadays, some streets are equipped with countdown timers indicating the time left for you to get across the street. Sometimes the counters are accompanied with a “beeper.”
The downtown area is often crowded at weekends. Beware: thieves and frauds are always in the crowds. Keep an eye on your valuables and never bother to reply to any doubtful stranger. Last but not least, the elevated roads are absolutely off limits for bikes or pedestrians.
Guide to buying and registering electric bikes for foreigners
Foreigners who have bought electric bikes and plan to register their vehicles need to submit their current ID card (or passport), a copy of the ID card, an invoice or receipt proving purchase of the e-bikes and a copy of it, along with a factory inspection qualification and a copy of it. If the receipt is lost, the owner of the e-bike needs to get another one from the shop.
E-bike owners can entrust another person to register their vehicles. But trustees need to provide their own ID cards and a copy thereof apart from the materials mentioned above.
There are electric bikes for sale in almost all of the hypermarkets.
Places for e-bike registration
There are 209 places to register electric bikes in Suzhou, including police stations and police service offices in each community and the 8 Traffic & Patrol Police Brigades in the downtown area.
Traffic & Patrol Police Brigades Addresses
Traffic & Patrol Police Brigades in Jinchang District: 500 Tongjing Road N.
Tel: 65512259, 68269466
Traffic & Patrol Police Brigades in Pingjiang District: 8 Baijia Lane in Pingjiang District.
Traffic & Patrol Police Brigades in Canglang District: northwest from the intersection of West Ring and Laodong roads, on the east bank of Suoshan Bridge.
Traffic & Patrol Police Brigades in Huqiu District (SND): 555 Dengwei Road.
Tel: 68251172, 68251156
Traffic & Patrol Police Brigades in Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP): 248 East Ring Road
Tel: 67413580, 67244600
Traffic & Patrol Police Brigades in Wuzhong District: 2 Dangui Road.
Tel: 65622535, 65251132
Traffic & Patrol Police Brigades in Xiangcheng District: at the intersection of Chenghong and Jiayuan roads
Tel: 65756517, 65756710
Traffic & Patrol Police Brigades in Holiday Resort: Wanghu Road in Jiangdun