Every year I try to do a solo bike tour in Europe and then a group bike tour in Asia. My favorite country in Asia to bike tour is China. People have this really weird view of China and think that its dirty and polluted all the time because of the photos we see of Beijing. Thats like saying that Montana is polluted because you see a photo of Los Angeles. China is a really big country – very big. Often when I bike there, the cobalt blue skies surpass anything I have seen in America.
If you have never left America before then do it with a bang – choose China. China is an amazing and vibrant country and is about as different from America as you can get – a perfect first experience! If you do choose this shock and awe approach, I strongly recommend Bike Asia tours as I have taken two and found them to be 5/5 stars. I have no affiliation with Bike Asia other than being a very satisfied customer.
Safety in China
One big concern many first time international bike travelers have is safety. The news is constantly talking about some horrible attack in this country or that. The news would have you believe that in going overseas you are defying death. The truth is that crime of any type is rare in Asia and violent crime virtually unheard of. If you are concerned about your safety, the best thing you can do is to leave America :) Seriously though, look at the homicide rates of various countries and you will see that China only has 1/10 the homicides as America.
Getting a Visa for China
One great development last few years is that now when Americans get a Visa for China (required), it is valid for 10 years instead of a single visit as it was in the past. Its a pain to get a Visa and once you bike in China, I can pretty much guarantee you that you will want to go back. Two ways to get your Visa. The way I did it was to go to the Chinese Embassy and you need to schedule two full days for this. The first day is to submit your application. Make sure you have EVERYTHING they require because it would really suck to wait 8 hours for your number to be called and be missing one little document. A “letter of invitation” is required for a visa. Its a letter from your tour company listing the dates of travel and what hotels you will be staying in each night. Also make sure to bring meals, and drinks because you could be there a long time. Don’t forget quarters for the copy machine. After submitting your application and giving them your passport, they will give you the day you need to come back to pick up your Visa and passport. Again, it can be a long wait so bring food and drink.
The other way to get the Visa is to pay an expedite service and basically they wait in line for you. For many people the few hundred dollars they charge will be worth saving having to take two days off from work.
Solo bike touring in China
Not going to happen. First of all, it would be very difficult to impossible to get your Visa if you are an American because you will not have a “letter of invitation”. The second issue is that although its easy to bike tour in Europe without knowing the language, in China that is not going to work so well and you will have a very hard time finding accommodations. They do not have “expedia” or “airBnB” in China :) The other problem is that because of the rapid development in China, the best bike route today is going to suck next week. I can guarantee you that if you find a great route on someones blog or a tour companies old website, that route will be horrible by the time you get there. There is no Google-Maps in China as google is blocked in China.
Let me give you an example of something that happened on my bike tour several times. Take a look at this road:
Its a brand new concrete road with no cars on it. This road did not exist the week before. The route that was planned was a busy stretch of unpleasant city and instead we were in the beautiful countryside with a road to ourselves. Without a local guide, we never would have found this. For the best experience biking in Asia you need a guide.
China bike tour photos