Chinese, to Go
For sheer epic grandeur, it’s impossible to beat a bike tour of western Sichuan Province. Feudal towers crumbling into dust, bubbling hot springs, serene Buddhist temples, and lush, bamboo-covered panda reserves are among the hundreds of sights that greet travelers to this out-of-the-way region, one of China’s most mountainous and most gorgeous. The roads here tend to be well-maintained (with some jarring exceptions), the traffic light, and the vistas sweeping; if it’s an unforgettable, long-distance adventure you seek that will get your legs and buns into Olympic shape, look no further.
Most bicyclists begin their tour in Chengdu, a 21⁄2-hour flight from Beijing. (If your trip takes you into Tibet, check local conditions to ensure there will be no administrative problems with travel to the area.) From Chengdu, it’s a steady uphill climb into the foothills of the Himalayas and the western reaches of Sichuan. Vehicle support is usually available on organized bike tours, making visits to the most remote hamlets and farming villages possible without lugging too many supplies in bike panniers.
The Wolong Nature Reserve is a must for panda-lovers; at 2,785m (8,950 ft.), it’s a cool, humid sanctuary for these lovable beasts. Most routes take bicyclists to the base of magnificent, snow-peaked Four Sisters Mountain. The city of Danba beckons with its 500-year-old lamasery; the hillsides around this ancient town are dotted with Tibetan defensive towers. Bamei is another favorite stop, where road-weary bikers can soak their bones in the local hot springs—a welcome relief after grinding over a 3,790m (12,630-ft.) mountain pass. And throughout the entire region, breathtaking glacial valleys with rivers sparkling like silver ribbons in the distance mesmerize travelers to this magical land. It’s a journey of about a thousand miles, and it’s worth every one of them. —ML
When to Go: Mar–June and Sept–Nov.
Shuangliu Airport (18km/11 miles).