Something that will come as a surprise to absolutely nobody is that China is the biggest manufacturer of bicycles on the planet. They are also the largest consumers. Although, with the advent of electric bikes and growing numbers of motorcycles, the usage of bikes in China has declined since the turn of the century, it is still the most popular mode of transport. The “Flying Pidgeon”, as it is colloquially named, has had over 500 million units produced, making it the most popular vehicle in the world. It has sold more than the Toyota Corolla and the Honda Super Cub motorbike combined. A hell of a feat.
Although usage has declined overall, it has seen a recent uptick as grab-and-go, dockless, rideshare bikes with apps become more and more available and popular. We all know about “Boris bikes” and this is the same idea, only without those designated docking stations and terminals for hire. Usage is done though a corresponding phone app, where you pay 1-2 Yen for half an hour’s use, much like with the Boris bikes in London.
Depending on where you find yourself, the bikes can be found either in neat rows, as they are set out and ought to stay or, frequently, in massive piles as city-goers scramble about their day-jobs, rushing from one thing to the next. Don’t worry if you find one of these piles – the bikes still work. It’s just that people don’t bother to put them back properly. Any bike that isn’t in immediate use can be acquired through the app, and they can be found all over the cities, wherever people leave them.
For more pleasurable biking, you don’t have to go far. China is, of course, a massive country with a huge variety of landscapes, mountains, deserts and forests to explore in the saddle. For breath-taking scenery, as well as a real challenge, you can attempt to ride the Karakoram Highway. It leads from the West of China, across the international border, to Pakistan and is the highest paved international road in the world, at an elevation of over 4,800 metres, the same height as Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in Europe. It is considered to be one of the ultimate challenges for the devoted cyclist.
Traversing the road alone is not frequently done, but it can be. Usually, one would go in a group with one of the many tour guide institutions in that part of the country. The elevation makes things difficult, of course, but if you can handle the height, the views are worth it. It is one of the few roads that lead through the Himalayas and can prove treacherous. The Khunjerab pass is blocked from January to April due to heavy snowfall, the desert regions in China can reach 45 degrees Celsius in the summer and, in the monsoon season, landslides frequently block parts of the road. It can be hellish if you don’t know what you’re doing.
If such a challenge doesn’t take your fancy, there are vast forests spanning miles and miles, untouched but for the roads that pass through them, passing lakes and through tiny hamlets. China is on the brain for obvious reasons but, looking past that, it is a beautiful country, and one that can be seen no better than from the saddle of a bike.