Cycling is a great way to explore around the areas you visit in China, enhancing your experience of a destination and opening the way for surprises that motorised tours will often miss, especially if you enjoy meeting people along the way.


In addition to using cycling as an interesting sightseeing tool, there are many itineraries that will take in the best of the scenic areas, lasting from a few days to journeys of between one and two weeks. For the hardy cycler, there are also several epic rides that may take several weeks.


For one day cycling trips, there are numerous opportunities to enjoy China’s places of interest, such as Beijing, Xian, Hangzhou, Chengdu, Kunming, the Great Wall and Shanghai and its surrounding canal towns, such as Suzhou. Extended cycles around the Grand Canal, Suzhou and Hangzhou can take up to 7 days. 


In Yangshuo, close to Guilin there are a host of scenic half day or day long cycle and mountain biking routes of various grades to enjoy the fabulous natural visuals of the landscape found in the area. There are also a range of longer options around Guilin and Yangshuo from five to seven days.


Another scenic area to cycle is Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, which you can do on a five day tour, but because the Wulingyuan and Tianmen Mountain are so steep and inaccessible, you’ll occasionally have to leave your bike in favour of some hiking and the odd cable car. 


The 4-7 day cycle route around Qinghai Lake on the Tibetan Plateau follows the route of the international cycle race annually held here and is a relatively easy 360 kilometre ride on good roads with the greatest physical challenge being the altitude at 3,200 metres. A route also runs from Qinghai to Lhasa a route of 1,100 kilometres, taking 9 – 10 days and achieving a maximum altitude of 5,100 metres.


If you really want to get away from civilisation as you know it, there is a 10-15 day, 990 kilometre route through the Silk Road and Gobi Desert, from Urumqi to Dunhuang, which will bring you into contact with the Uygur, Yugu and Kazak cultures, visiting features such as the Magao Buddhist Caves, Xinjiang and Mount Tianshan. 


The relatively easy cycling is only complicated by the possibility of dust storms. Another variant of the Silk Road is the longer 1,100 kilometre ride which leaves from Lanzhou and visits the western extremity of the Great Wall at Jiayu Pass.


If the desert isn’t your thing, the island of Hainan offshore from southern China provides a 650 kilometre circuit taking between 8 and 10 days, enjoying its sandy beaches and tropical atmosphere.


There are a number of cycling routes from Kunming, from 6 – 11 days cycling though the Yunnan countryside to the Stone Forest, some of which include the Tiger Leaping Gorge, while in Lijiang itself, you can include Tiger Leaping Gorge with the mountain route to Shangri La on a 10 day excursion.


From Chonqing, there is a cycle route to visit sites such as the stone Buddha at Leshan and the Dazu Carvings, as well as an eastward extension route to Zhangjiajie.


Chengdu is the focus of a number of routes which also include Leshan and Dazu. 


Some areas of China remain closed to foreigners, but for serious cyclists there are a number of established routes for long distance cycling. China is a vast country, however, and many of its top cycle routes cover extraordinary distances and require considerable time to fulfil.


If you are up for the long haul and a gruelling challenge, there is a 2,200 kilometre, 25-30 day, high altitude route from Chengdu to Lhasa in Tibet, which traverses over ten mountain passes at altitudes of between 4,000 and 5,000 metres, and is only advisable for the most highly trained cyclists.


A slightly easier, but still very tough route from Chengdu is the 1,500 kilometres return circuit lasting anywhere between 20 and 30 days depending upon fitness and route choices, that takes in the best scenery and cultural features of Sichuan and Yunnan Provinces, which includes Shangri La, Tiger Leaping Gorge and Lijiang.


The ultimate Grand Canal cycling journey, follows the 1,780 kilometre route of the canal all the way from Beijing to Hangzhou passing through some of the most historic areas of China over a period of 20-25 days.


For those with enough time and energy to travel a truly long distance, the immense 3,900 kilometre journey from ultra-modern Shanghai, a beacon of contemporary trade, to the contrastingly important trading hub of the ancient Tang Dynasty at Urumqi, on the silk road is a great way for the committed cyclist to cross a vast swathe of China. 


The route passes through six provinces via Wuxi, Nanjing, Hefei, Xinyan, Nanyang, Xian, Pingliang, Lanzhou, Wuwei, Jiuquan, Jiayuguan, Liuyuan, Xingxingxia, Luotuo Quanzi, Kuul and Turpan and will reasonably take you from 40 – 45 days.