Cycling Around Beijing 1

Work has been super busy so I’ve been remiss in updating this website. Some of the images below are from a few months ago when Beijing was in a semi-locked down state during the pandemic outbreak. At that time, my home was in the restricted zone which meant that Didi (China’s Uber) and other ride hailing services could not come to my location. This provided an opportunity to see the city by the traditional method of transportation, the bicycle.

Rare circumstance to have so many bicycles on modern Beijing roads with so little traffic; this is on Chang’An Avenue; LEICA M11 35mm ISO-800 1/80sec f/3.4

With the sophisticated WeChat and Alipay ecosystems in China, it’s very easy to rent a bicycle. On every street corner, you’ll find hundreds of bicycles in different colours available for rent. Yellow for Meituan, Blue and White for Alibaba, and so on. I tend to use the Alibikes, better known as Hello Bikes. Find a bicycle that looks to be in good shape, scan the QR code, agree to the CNY 1.5 cost, and the bicycle magically unlocks.

By far, the best experience I’ve had during the pandemic restrictions, was the ability to see the city from a different perspective on a bicycle. With very few cars on the road, riding a bicycle suddenly became fun, efficient, and most importantly, very safe. The images in this post will be from a number of spots across a number of days of riding through this amazing city. I’ll try my best to give some backstory to the images where possible.

Palace Museum

X-T4 33mm ISO-160 1/150sec f/1.4

The Palace Museum or the Forbidden City as it’s known in the West is very challenging to photograph because it’s normally full of people. With the COVID related restrictions, this provided a perfect opportunity to photograph this incredible location with no people in front of it. It’s still not easy however, as you’re not allowed to stop the bicycle on the road in front.

X-T4 33mm ISO-1000 1/50sec f/1.4

The approach then is to go as slow as possible while firing off a number of shots, and hoping the IBIS in the X-T4 is capable of getting a sharp shot while riding on the bicycle. I think the camera did really well here and because I didn’t stop, I didn’t get chased and yelled at by the police positioned every few meters, like I saw others experience.

Yonghe Gong Lama Temple Area

X-T4 33mm ISO-400 1/50sec f/1.4

This is a restaurant near the Yonghe Gong (Lama Temple) area. Unfortunately, it was only open for takeout so we quickly took a picture and then left.

X-T4 33mm ISO-640 1/50sec f/1.4

The Yongehe Gong area is full of funky shops selling antics, relics and other artsy goods. This store had perhaps the most creepy display, especially with the streets so quiet. Something about the eyes and clown just creeped me out.

X-T4 33mm ISO-1250 1/50sec f/1.4

On a normal beautiful early summer night, this street would be packed with people. This night, it’s deserted with a few small restaurants open for take out. It was actually quite fun to get some food and eat it on the steps of a closed store. A few times, the local police came by to ensure our masks were on, but they were actually pretty casual with the people drinking and eating on the street.

X-T4 33mm ISO-160 1/50sec f/1.4

Sanlitun Shopping Area

LEICA M11 35mm ISO-64 1/320sec f/9.5

Sanlitun is normally a bustling area of Beijing with the Taikooli shopping centre packed full of people. It’s hard to believe that this is what it looked like in the middle of the day on a Saturday. It was however very nice of the security guards to let people in to get takeout food and then eat it in random places. It was surreal to have lunch while seated on the Apple Store steps. This would be unheard of in normal times. I subsequently went back several times to have food and coffee in random places in this normally super busy location. I even made a few friends eating on the steps or on benches throughout the neighbourhood.

LEICA M11 35mm ISO-64 1/100sec f/1.4


X-T4 33mm ISO-4000 1/50sec f/1.4

Finding food in the Hutongs became a fun pastime during the early summer. With restaurants technically closed due to the pandemic, we would ride around looking for take-out and then finding places to sit. Some restaurants would guide us to sit in areas that were socially distanced and barely within the rules. This led to some very unique experiences of eating barbecue chua’er and having beers on the side of the road with cars and bikes whizzing past.

X-T4 33mm ISO-2000 1/50sec f/1.4

Coca Cola, Beibingya (a popular local drink that translates to North Ice Ya, tastes similar to CPlus Orange), and a local beer from Yanjing that I quite like.

X-T4 33mm ISO-160 1/50sec f/2.5

Houhai area with all the small food vendors lining the river area. This is a great place to walk around and enjoy how life used to be in Beijing, with the river, food, hutongs and romantic views of the ancient architecture.

LEICA M11 50mm ISO-64 1/500sec f/6.8

Random Locations

LEICA M11 35mm ISO-64 1/640sec f/4

I’m a fan of MAD Architects (especially their game changing Absolute Towers in Toronto), but their Chaoyang Park Plaza complex is an eye sore with its deep black glass and imposing shapes and structures. Imagine if this had been a transparent complex instead; it would have been stunningly beautiful. The concept pictures looked good, but the reality of Beijing being a dusty city hasn’t helped the buildings look their best. It’s also a travesty that they put this behemoth right up on the huge Chaoyang Park.

LEICA M11 35mm ISO-64 1/250sec f/13
LEICA M11 35mm ISO-64 1/400sec f/8

The China Zun building is now the tallest in Beijing at 109 stories or 528m. Since the pandemic, security has been so tight that I haven’t had the opportunity to go inside and see the views. Hopefully in the near future, I can explore this interesting building.

X-T4 33mm ISO-160 1/1400sec f/4

Clouds are a rarity in Beijing so when they come out, you’ll see everyone with their phones pointed to the sky. However, this summer has seen record amounts of rainfalls and intense heat in the city. I’ve seen more clouds and rain this summer than all of the past eight summer’s combined. I wonder what winter is going to be like! This may be the year I finally see a snow covered Beijing…

X-T4 33mm ISO-160 1/200sec f/4.5

This building is one of the reasons I moved to Beijing. I fell in love with it while watching the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympics from my apartment in Toronto, Canada. I had to come see this building in real life, and it never disappoints. Even after all the amazing buildings that have gone up in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, this relatively short building is still my favourite. On a clear night, after a good rainfall, the building shines like a jewel.

X-T4 33mm ISO-160 1/800sec f/4

Hope you enjoyed this short post about cycling around Beijing. I’ll be adding a few more posts like this from around the city and countryside to give you some unique perspectives of this crazy city!

6 thoughts on “Cycling Around Beijing 1”

  1. Thank you! I always like your photos and insight! I noticed you are using the new 33mm. Also here in Beijing, so enjoy seeing your perspective.

      1. Hi Yarko, hope you’re doing well. This is the power and magic of Fujifilm’s In Body Image Stabilization (IBIS) system. My Peak Design tripod has been collecting dust since I got IBIS enabled cameras! 🙂

    1. Hi Kesh, thanks for writing in. Great to see fellow Beijingers on here! Good eye on noticing the XF33. I’ve had it for a while now and really love it. It has the kind of sharpness and contrast that I’ve come to expect of Fujinon’s Medium Format lenses. It’s really something special and I’m planning on doing a review of it.

    1. Hi Azra, thanks for writing in. It’s great to see a few readers from Beijing on here. I thought the site is very slow in China sometimes. Do you find it loads quickly or are your using VPN?

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