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Mountain Bike Beijing China

Have Bike, Will Climb

2004/09/01
Text by Mark Godfrey
  -->> Fragrant Hill Mountain Biking -Guided English Tour

I purchased my first real mountain bike three months ago and have hardly dismounted since.

The cooler autumn weather provides perfect conditions for me to take my two-wheeler to the mountains, to do what it was built to do. For a solitary Sunday ride there are plenty of single-track lanes on the city's outskirts. But my real purpose in getting the bike was to do team runs, with groups of other mountain bikers. Perhaps not surprisingly for the "kingdom of bicycles" there's a large population of biking nuts in the capital, certainly enough to fill a medium-sized bus early on a weekend morning.

The Mobsters, a weekend club for Beijing's mountain bikers, is hardly the team for hardened bar rats, though there's some in our number too. The bleary eyed sleep off their Friday-night hangovers on a specially adapted (it's got bike racks) bus we use to get to the mountains. Getting outside of Beijing is tough; it takes a good two hours to reach the worthwhile mountains. There, riders are normally dropped off at the foot of a hill. After a map-reading session and a pep talk from the leader, we begin climbing the hills. Mountain biking is a great way to see rural China, a world far removed from the bars, restaurants and skyscrapers of central Chaoyang District. Whizzing by farmers, goats and ducks, there's plenty of curious but friendly looks and occasional, "Hello!" from kids excited at seeing foreigners in funny tight clothes and hard hats riding fast bikes. Occasionally, during strenuous climbs, the gears on stressed-out bikes do some "ghost shifting," slipping without the rider's prompt. Once off the asphalt, riders get to rely on their bike's suspensions, which help bikers who want to let rip and have a great time on rough mountain trails. Beautiful valleys in the area and great mountaintop views are the pay-off for hard pedalling and stretching. An adventurous ride in the Ming Tombs area north of Beijing recently involved some steep off-road climbs, map reading, scrambling over rocks, some walking and even wading through a shallow river. But the valley views, the farmyard scenes and the autumn country air made the exertions worthwhile.

Beijing Mountain Bike

Mobster riders are often divided into two groups, one for keen bikers, the "mobsters," and one for "mushies," the beginner riders who favour less-gruelling rides. A recent ride near the Ming Tombs north of Beijing began and finished at a hamlet called Tialing. The mobsters struck out on a clockwise loop starting from Tialing whilst the mushies rode the bus to the top of the mountain pass to begin an anti-clockwise loop. For both teams there were plenty of hills and break-neck downhill passages to manoeuvre, before the two groups met in a river valley to help each other over rocks and waterfalls. The Tialing ride was physical, with a lot of bike-carrying and cross-county rough-riding. Each set of bikers covered 50 kilometres (km), with the mob climbing over 1,000 metres (m) on dirt roads and paths. Mushies climbed about 600 m, only half of it on dirt roads. Other rides involve more mileage but less strenuous climbs. A ride in the vicinity of Longqing Gorge brought the riders through beautiful harvest scenery, with bikers climbing and descending along a winding river for 75 km. The ride took about five hours, with the bus sweeping up anyone who couldn't make it to the finishing point. There are few better ways to get close to village life in the Chinese countryside.

Beijing Mountain Bike

Mountain biking was born among outdoor enthusiasts in the rural United States in the early 1970s, when cyclists began to experiment with fatter tyres and sturdier frames for mountain rides. The first successful fat-tire bicycle was built in Marin County, California, by Joe Breeze, who rode his bike down the rocky trails of nearby My Tamalpais.

Bike design has progressed a lot since Joe Breeze's first blueprint (he still designs mountain bikes). Beijing's cycling gurus -- you can easily become one after the adrenalin rush of a Mobsters ride-out -- talk about a bike purchase the way auto fans mull over a car buy. Since China is the workshop of the world bicycle industry, buying a good mountain bike is relatively inexpensive.

Expect to pay a minimum of 1,500 yuan (US$180) if you want a decent bike for regular mountain riding. Downhill bikes sacrifice light weight for sturdiness and support, and they are usually built with full suspensions (front and rear shocks). Protection from surprises (big rocks, unseen dips) is essential for downhill riders; hence the suspension front and back. By contrast, cross-country mountain bikes are constructed to be as lightweight as possible for climbing hills. Cross-country bikes are equipped with shocks up front, but not at the rear. A couple of Mobsters ride expensive hybrids: full-suspension bikes which are also lightweight and adaptable enough to be taken on cross-country runs.

There are several things to think about when buying a mountain bike, but the size of the bike and the position of the saddle are both vitally important. A bike that's too large or too small can cause a rider discomfort and even serious injury. When choosing the correct frame size for a mountain bike, straddle the bike in a standing position with your feet flat on the floor, the same distance apart as the pedals. The distance from the top tube to your crotch should be between three inches and five inches, five maximum. Your bike's frame should be light, strong and well-built. Chunky tires are essential for hard downhill runs; two inches should be okay.

Once you've got the bike there's plenty of chances to ride, and even race it. Beijing bicycle retailer Windspeed organizes regular races in the mountains, the most recent a 22 km climb in the hills of Mentougou District. Mountain biking is becoming increasingly popular among young Chinese. Others are realizing the commercial potential of Beijing's cycling craze. Trips offered by the well-organised CycleChina cater to cyclists who prefer leisurely paced road trips. While the Mobsters pedal up to 100 km on a day's ride, CycleChina's village tours and Great Wall spurs usually cover only 30 km of road. Each ride is van-supported, unlike Mobster rides where a photocopied map is all that stands between the biker and a cold night in the mountains. The Mobsters is a not-for-profit sports group that assesses fees only to cover operating costs, while CycleChina charges more tourist-oriented prices, up to US$80 for a day trip, with lunch provided. A good third option is a mixed group of local and Korean university students who regularly ride out of Beijing and camp one night before biking back. As true biking enthusiasts, the group prefers dirt-track and asphalt road riding. They meet regularly at Giant's Jingtai Lu outlet near the Lido complex. Chinese (or Korean) language skills are essential, however, to join the group, because none of the members speak English. The group uses mountain bikes and hybrid touring bikes that are preferred for long-distance road trips.

 

Back in the city, I resign myself to riding my rusting, old, steel-framed machine that's too ugly to be stolen from the bike rack, where I park it during workdays. It's an 18-speed machine with a basket and loose but serviceable brakes. The mountain bike remains safely stored in my apartment, awaiting Saturday.

The Mobsters meet at 8 a.m. Saturdays at the Agricultural Exhibition Hall, 400 m south of the Great Wall Sheraton Beijing on the East Third Ring Road (Dongsanhuan), opposite the eastern end of Dongzhimenwai. Call or e-mail ahead to reserve a place. Bring: bike, helmet (compulsory), water, sunglasses, snacks, bike gloves, suntan lotion, spare tubes, pump, basic repair tools.


 

 

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