Cycling in China

“Sometimes my friends ask me why I only run tours in China when I could make more money running international tours,” says Wendy Xue, manager of our partner China Adventure Tours. “I say that it’s because I love it. I’ve seen so many different landscapes and cultures in China, and I want to show them to people who wouldn’t otherwise get to see them.”

For many travelers, China is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of trip, which means tours are often organised around the same main sights, major cities and historical monuments. Wendy worries that, as a result, most people’s memories of China are the same.

“For me, that is not the meaning of travel,” says Wendy. “To travel is to discover something new or to be challenged. It’s having the time to slow down, to talk with the locals or see some of the local life which gets eclipsed by the landmarks.”

And what better way than to slow down the pace than by traveling on two wheels? Cycling vacations in China are both a window into local life – wheeling down Beijing’s winding streets alongside students on their way to meet friends at a café – and an adventure. They open up the surrounding countryside, which is still untouched by tourism in many areas.

Slow travel is starting to grow in popularity in China, but it’s something that China Adventure Tours has been specialising in for years. “We want our travelers to have a more meaningful and unique experience,” says Wendy. “Slow travel allows our travelers to spend more time in one city or area – to really get under the surface of a place and see a different side to China.”

Where can I cycle in China?

Beijing, Xi’an & Chengdu

Whether you’re on a cycling vacation or simply exploring the streets in your free time, cycling is one of the best ways to see China’s cities. Hop in the saddle and ride around the hutongs of Beijing, where you’ll join locals out for a morning spin or on their way to meet friends at a café. Cycle the length of the country’s best preserved city walls in Xi’an, a 14km-long and 12m-high route that encircles the old town. Or pedal through downtown Chengdu on your way to the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base.

Bamboo forests, Sichuan

Guided tours through China’s Sichuan province take you on well-paved stretches of road that weave through tea terraces and tiny villages before plunging you into the shade of towering bamboo forests. As the ascents start to increase, stop to catch your breath in the ancient towns along the way, or swap your saddle for the seat of a truck as you cross the steepest mountain passes. Moving west into the mountains, you’ll notice the swaying seas of bamboo slowly disappear, replaced by the darker greens of the coniferous and broadleaf trees that cover the highlands.

Hainan island

China’s largest tropical island is best known for its beaches and boardwalks, but there’s plenty more to see by bike. While the south is often hot and humid, the cooler highlands in the center of the island are ideal for exploring on two wheels. Ride through rainforest hinterlands to the waterfall-studded foothills of Wuzhi (Five Finger Mountain), the island’s tallest peak that often comes cloaked by tropical clouds. These are the homelands of the Hlai and Miao ethnic groups – the island’s first settlers – who live in the traditional rural villages you’ll see on your route. Your final stop is the Pearl Coast, where sparkling waters and sandy bays offer some respite for weary legs.

Tibetan Plateau

The Tibetan Plateau rewards more experienced cyclists with big panoramic views and dramatic canyon trails. After breezing through the vast Jinyintan Grasslands, whose summer flowers inspired Chinese folk songs, your route might skirt the edges of Qinghai, China’s largest lake – a huge expanse of water backed by the not-so-distant Tibetan mountains. Nomadic encampments surrounded by lazily grazing yak dot the landscapes here. Tougher routes in the northern Yunnan province take challenge-seekers on a wild ride to the legendary Tiger Leaping Gorge, before following the curve of the mighty Yangtze River.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about China or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.


Our cycling vacations in China are typically tailor made trips, allowing you to match your itinerary to meet your group’s preferences and fitness. Solo cyclists will find a few small group tours (maximum 16 people) which offer guidance on how to prepare for your physically demanding adventure. Both types of tours come with support vehicles which transport all your luggage and act as a backup if your energy is beginning to lag.

Trips usually focus on one or two provinces, with some offering point-to-point cycling and others driving between different locations to maximise the amount you can see from behind your handlebars. Duration varies from seven days to just over a fortnight long, but be sure to check daily distances and gradients before booking – some of the tougher tours have days of up to 10 hours in the saddle.

Wendy Xue, from our China vacation specialists China Adventure Tours, offers some advice for cyclists looking at tours in the Tibetan Plateau: “For our challenging cycling vacations in Qinghai province, in the north-east region of the Tibetan Plateau, we’re looking for fit and healthy cyclists who are able to cycle over six hours a day over mountain passes and tricky terrain in some really remote areas. Ideally, cyclists will be experienced in cycling over mountainous gradients where numerous bends, turns and switchbacks frequently figure. We also like cyclists to have a positive mental attitude and a sense of determination as well as being able to deal with challenging weather conditions and the threat of altitude sickness.”
Written by Bryony Cottam
Photo credits: [Page banner: vinsky2002] [Intro: Kyle Taylor] [Beijing, Xi’an & Chengdu: Geoff McKim] [Hainan island: Anna Frodesiak]