They line their bikes up along the curb outside the Changshu Road subway station and wait for fares. It’s a strict FIFO system, no jostling for line position or fare poaching. They’re all men in their fifties, and they belong to the brotherhood of “black” bikes. For less than the price of a taxi, they will ferry you from the subway station to your office. Most are riding gasoline powered Hondas and Suzukis, but a few have ancient three-wheeled models. The helmets are idiosyncratic. Some have the look of German army extras in a World War II film, others like dressage competitors, if you could compete in dressage with a cigarette dangling from your lips.
If you are lucky and catch a three-wheeler at the head of the queue, there is often a separate wooden seat over the back two wheels, otherwise you have to climb on behind the driver and share the banana seat. From what I’ve heard, the ride is harrowing. Speed is of the essence, and speed combined with the absence of any steel encasing and Shanghai’s chaotic traffic, must make for one eye-popping, heart-pounding experience.
Yesterday a policeman was shooing these “black” bike riders away. They started off in a pack, engines roaring, up the narrow Huating Road for about 50 feet and then stopped. The policeman followed shouting at them, and they started up the street again, but slowly, just keeping out of reach of the advancing policeman. After they had lured him about a block up the road, they sped off in different directions. They were back in their usual spots this morning.
The police won’t get rid of them without a constant police presence or nailing one of the bikers with a stiff penalty. A similar war against the area dan bing makers was waged several months ago. For a while the police simply required them to pack up their mobile kitchens and leave. Then one day, a van pulled up in front of these breakfast vendors, and 6 policeman burst out. The vendors bolted, but one unfortunate was quickly collared, and he and his remaining inventory were loaded into the van.
That was the end of the dan bing makers at the Changshu Road station, or so it seemed. This morning as I contemplated the ultimate fate of the “black” bikes I heard a clanging noise on the opposite sidewalk. It was a guy erecting his griddle to start making breakfast.