Some human beings are put on this earth as mere passengers, eking out an utterly unnoteworthy existence, and leaving behind no mark on their short journey to the grave.
And then, there are those that are destined to push forward the boundaries of human knowledge and test the limits of mankind's endurance. To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.
Tim Chambers falls squarely in the latter camp.
For Tim Chambers is the creator of the Metro Challenge, whereby the best and brightest among us (so far, just Tim) ride all 17 lines* of the Shanghai Metro in as quick a time as they possibly can.
*Video made in July 2021, before the opening of Line 14
We caught up with this underground guru to find out more...
How did the idea for the Metro Challenge come about?
So I thought it was a standard game or challenge for the London Underground to ride all lines as quickly as possible, but now I can’t actually find any reference to that!
Maybe I got it confused with “trying to beat the train” which they do in London – someone gets out and runs above ground and attempts to rejoin the same train, which is possible there due to short station distance, but no way here in Shanghai.
Tell us about your tactics?
So, initially it feels like doing every line is going to take a long time, right? Like all those way north lines?
But, in fact, all the lines are quite dense around Honqiao and Xuhui and then over to the Disney area to pick up 16/18.
So, then it’s a case of identifying extension lines, which is mainly lines 5, 17 and 16/18... and then a natural route (mostly) appears.
Apart from that – luck!
Think anyone will ever beat your record?
Yes, I have now done the Metro Challenge twice, and I still think I have not quite optimized the route, so I plan to go again.
My first time was 3 hours 37 minutes, and then 3 hours 17 minutes the second time, so 20 minutes shaved off.
Beating 3 hours will be tough, and Line 14 opening will throw a big spanner in the works as it isn’t so well integrated with the other lines in the south west.
How much was charged to your card for the entire ‘trip’?
I think it was RMB5.5, definitely a 0.5 was in there, which is a bit weird, but I wonder if it was due to the large amount of time I was in the system.
That works out to RMB1.7 per hour of fun. I mean, tell me another Shanghai activity THAT cheap per hour.
It is about 10,000 steps on all the exchanges, so actually very healthy too! I think Yishan is the longest transfer; getting rid of that would be good for overall time.
Tim Chambers: It's him against the clock
What kind of responses do you get when you tell people about the Metro Challenge?
It’s actually quite consistent, always the usual nerd/weirdo/geek comments, but then you are talking to the same person still 20 minutes later as they try to second guess your route choice and how their route would be so much better.
I think this kind of reveals that we all have a relatively strong link to the metro system, like an unspoken but shared experience.
Have you always been into trains?
Not really. I’m not a real train nut, and there are many things about the Shanghai Metro system I do not know.
I’m more of a map nut; map nuts have much more fun than train nuts.
Is the Shanghai Metro your favorite in the world?
Not really; I love them all.
Any one in particular?
I’m interested in the Singapore system; it is similarly developing like Shanghai, but I'm sure much faster to get round each line.
Any plans to do a Metro Challenge in any other cities?
Well Singapore when travelling. No strong desire for others.
Any other wacky challenges planned for the future?
Often discussed is whether you would be able to visit every single station on the entire network in a single day, which I am almost certain is impossible – some of those lines are long!
The other would be how many unique stations could be visited in a single day. But both of these are marathons.
I’m currently a little obsessed with pinball machines, so maybe making a map of all the pinball games in the city.
There are also often discussions about combining the Metro Challenge and drinking. Either to start in random locations and meet up at the same bar, or to have a drink for each line (but at 17 lines this will be a real challenge).
I am wondering... a small Tsingtao on the odd lines and a shot on the evens?
Check out the Metro Challenge below...
Scan the QR to visit Tim Chambers' YouTube channel (VPN on):
[All images and video courtesy of Tim Chambers]