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An article from Shanghai Daily News Volume 12.12.05

Douglas Williams/Shanghai Daily news

CycleChina offers tours not only of Beijing but all across China.
Beijing has got the car bug and its got it bad. A visit to the city can involve passing a lot of time looking out at one of the many impressively modern though oversubscribed highways.

This view could be replicated the world over and has little benefit for the viewer. With a city as impressive as Chinas capital, the viewpoint is crucial and what better perspective than the one enjoyed by the majority of its 14 million citizens.

For many decades, the bicycle has ruled supreme in China and with good reason: It offers a very effective means of getting from A to B, inexpensively, reliably and quickly.

Regrettably, in Chinas headlong rush toward “modernity,” these benefits seem to somehow have been swept under the carpet.

CycleChina offers three-hour trips through Beijings historic hutongs on modern, well-maintained bicycles with a friendly and informative guide. One of the beauties of riding a bicycle is that its easy – in fact, its as easy as riding a bicycle.

After about 50 meters, this fact will strike those for whom a decade or more may have passed since last riding a bike, especially given the user-friendliness of CycleChinas bikes.

Departure is from opposite the East gate of the Jingshan Park at CycleChinas head office. A leisurely pedal around the Forbidden City along quiet, low streets that, like the rest of Beijing (and all of Shanghai for that matter), are flat, and before you know it, the grandeur of Tiananmen Square is opening up ahead on the left.

Wide cycle lanes protect from the swarms of traffic excepting other bikes, scooters and the buses which come sweeping in. Round the top of the square and then its off into the teeming side streets jostling with the other bikes and assorted bicycle related vehicles.

Fast-food vendors hawk curious looking sausages and meat on a stick and its impossible to feel anything other than right in the thick of it. Crash potential does exist, speed is highly inadvisable but why would anybody rush when theres so much to take in. Next, our cheery guide Angela was turning up an unfeasibly small alleyway and less than fifty meters along this alleyway, it was clear we had entered an entirely different world again – the hutongs.

These ancient dwellings date back to the 13th century, the alleys and lanes linking them are maize-like.

A guide is essential.

Tea houses, bath houses, brothels and post offices all figure in the tour. The day we toured the hutongs the temperature was well below zero. Thoughts of modern day cities stagnating traffic sadly superseding the pasts flow of bicycles were countered by the enormous strides that have been made in housing.
Shanghais upward as opposed to outward building policies are actually greener than they may seem at first glance.

As is the nature of the cycle tour, it is not absolutely necessary to stick rigidly with the guide, branches of the group can hang back or go ahead. If information is required or if it is being given out a quick speed up or a turn around is easily accomplished.

Zhongnanhai, the residence of Chinas President Hu Jintao on the left, precedes the return to the shadows of the Forbidden City, the frozen moat and Beihai Lake before its back to Headquarters.

CycleChina is run by people and as such it is flexible.

Shorter or longer, tours can be arranged itinerary dependent. Start times are not fixed either. The three-hour tour for three people cost 450 yuan (US$55.56) in total, the greater the number on the tour the cheaper it becomes. The staff were very friendly and helpful and, refreshingly, there was no other subtext to the tour other than to see the sights.

CycleChina, founded by Jeff Gao in 2004, also offers tours to the Great Wall, to skiing areas around Beijing, tours of Inner Mongolia, Xian of Shaanxi Province, Yunnan Province, Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, and there is now an office in Shanghai offering tours out to Nongtang with more to follow soon.
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