I met Joan (pseudonym) near the intersection of Yanping Road and Xinzha Road in the Jing’an District of Shanghai, close to a creative park. The navigation showed a distance of about 3 kilometers, but once I stepped out, I realized that it took over 20 minutes to get there from the intersection of Yan’an West Road and Jiangsu Road, passing through Shanghai’s trendy old neighborhoods with numerous popular photo spots. In order to save time, as I was about to be late, someone who is not skilled in cycling like me grabbed a shared bike. I wobbled along, dodging electric scooters and stopping at each intersection to check the navigation. I even dropped my phone once. Finally, I managed to arrive at the destination within 15 minutes. This was my first cycling lesson in Shanghai.
Joan was pushing a Brompton folding bike when she met me in the courtyard, and she led me to the fourth floor where her studio was located in the office area. I walked slowly, while she pedaled alongside me at a walking pace. I watched the front of the bike twist and turned nervously, but she effortlessly greeted familiar shop owners along the way. There were almost no obstacles in the park, and there was a small ramp at the entrance of the office building, allowing bikes to smoothly enter the elevator and be pushed to the office door along the corridor. Inside the office, her other bike was parked, with a small front wheel and a large rear wheel, and a large basket attached to the front. She introduced it as a cargo bike, suitable for carrying things, with a stable frame design and a wide field of view. On days when she wanted to bring her dog to work, she would choose this bike.
Joan’s full-time job is as the founder of a lifestyle brand focused on snowboarding, and she is also the initiator of the “Sports Class” community. In 2017, she and her friends opened a juice shop, gradually bringing together neighbors, friends, and customers to engage in sports activities, which gave birth to the “Sports Class” community. The name of the community is simple because Joan has loved physical education classes since childhood, and she hopes that the community’s activities can be like physical education classes—coming together without a specific goal or a competitive mindset, just to keep the body and mind active. The juice shop closed down, but “Sports Class” remained.
The establishment of the “Sports Class” community originated from Joan’s discomfort with living in a big city. She grew up in a leisurely small town, but after coming to Shanghai, she spent a year trapped in the work of running a shop, completely disconnected from sports, and felt that her body and mind couldn’t breathe. “The first time I rode a bike in Shanghai was on a summer night, for a simple reason—everyone had bikes. After finishing work, I suddenly felt like going to a pub to have a beer, so I rode there with a friend along the way and had a drink.” Joan told me.
People who persist in cycling in the city generally have a similar emotional journey of seeking release. Shan Yu (pseudonym) is an old friend in the “Sports Class” community. He is a community doctor and also works as a psychological counselor, both of which are highly demanding and negative energy-intensive occupations. “In our line of work, none of the people we encounter are happy. They all come with pain and don’t share happy things with you, only pain and disasters.”