Beijing Adventures: On Wheels
|Hutong rickshaws (Ewen Bell)|
Beijing was traditionally known as the City of Bicycles, but these days getting around by bike can be a scary prospect. This said, there are still designated cycle lanes and as long as you move with the crowd it's fairly plain (if polluted) sailing. But the best parts of Beijing to explore by bicycle are undoubtedly its hutong, which still offer the quiet rides of yesteryear—Shichahai and Qianmen are both great places to get lost!
If you want to see the best of Beijing by bike and not have to worry about finding your way around, Cycle China (+010-8402-4147,www.cyclechina.com) offers guided bike tours of Beijing and the hutong, as well as trips to surrounding sights, including the Great Wall. Trips outside the city are often a combination of biking and hiking and are vehicle-supported so if you get too tired you can simply jump in the van. Prices vary from ¥150-500, depending on group numbers and trip length, but all are professionally operated and managed and are definitely worth the money. Their offices are at 12 Jingshan Dong Lu (daily 9 am-6 pm), opposite the east gate of Jingshan Park, and they will provide everything you need. Cycle China also rent out both city cycles and quality mountain bikes.
For more serious mountain bikers the Mountain Bikers of Beijing, who like to be known by their MOB acronym, offer challenging weekend rides outside the city on everything from roads to rubble. Trips cost ¥80 and bike rental is ¥60. If you're interested, check out themob.404.com.au or call 131-6129-8360.
If you want to see the hutong on wheels, just not under your own steam, then a cycle rickshaw tour might be the answer. But make sure you're very clear about the price at the beginning as some of these guys are very unscrupulous, taking you into local houses, then demanding extortionate prices afterwards. To avoid such hassles head for the Beijing Hutong Tourist Agency (+010-6615-9097), which you'll find 200 yards west of Beihai Park's northern exit at 26 Dianmen Xi Dajie. They run tours at 8:50 am and 1:50 pm (¥180 per person), lasting approximately 2½ hours, that take you through the hutong as well as allowing you access to people's houses. If you want to go it alone you could head here outside of these times, or just hail a likely looking rickshaw driver and haggle with him. Beijing Hutong Tour Company also operates longer tours, which include the opportunity to enjoy a meal in a traditional home and even try your hand at making dumplings!
For an exhilarating day out in the beautiful countryside around Beijing and the Great Wall you can't beat the thrill of the open road riding a 750cc sidecar. CJ Club (+010-8456-2594; firstname.lastname@example.org) is a new venture that offers you chance to ride these magnificent machines (based on the design of a 1930s German model) out to remote villages and crumbling sections of the wall. They organize tailor-made guided tours to wherever you please—a good place for a day-trip is Huanghuacheng (Yellow Flower Great Wall). You need your home-country driver's license and adequate insurance and can get the equipment at their office at 36 Xiaojunmiao, Xiaoyun Lu in Chaoyang. Prices are ¥200 per day plus ¥2,000 and your passport as deposit.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication