9 million bicycles in Beijing sung in the lulling tones of Katie Melua, and the Chinese independent film Beijing Bicycle, a touching -at times heart-breaking- movie charting the hardships of a Beijing courier, are just some of the associations between cycling and the great capital that have seeped into the collective conscious of Western pop culture. With its broad avenues and numerous cycle lanes, Beijing really is a city that is synonymous with cycling. Vastly spread by means of its utilitarian communist style city planning, back in the day a bicycle was an essential piece of kit for getting from A to B. Or indeed A to Z; if you are talking about taking a trip from Guomao to say; some far flung place, such as Daxing.
As you would guess, Beijing streets are very bicycle friendly; although as anywhere, it pays to be safety aware with correct lights and reflectors as well as the all important ‘skid lid' to keep your head pretty and as safe as possible. Besides the general convenience, what sets Beijing apart as a great city for cycling is the camaraderie of the city cyclist, plus the ease of access and the fact that Beijing is almost totally flat, making for effortless cycling trips in which you may need to slow your pace just to take in the sites fully. This article gives you a few suggestions for cycle routes which allow for a pleasant cycling experience as well as a bit of sight seeing along the way.
1) Purple Bamboo Park to Summer Palace
This route from the north west of the third ring road starting at Purple Bamboo Park and stretching out to the far north west of the city past the university district is wonderful, simply for the fact that it follows the meandering path of Wanquan River. Being a cycle path there are no worries about traffic and cyclists get the chance to see (and hear) a more peaceful side of the city sans cars.
You can start the route at the north gate of Zizhuyuan Park which is just west of the Beijing Zoo a five minute cycle from Xizhimen train station. Leaving the north gate and heading west you will inevitably reach the river which goes under a bridge on the third ring road. The river has a path on either side and can be followed in a north westerly direction toward Shijicheng's gargantuan ‘Golden Resources Shopping Mall' all the way up out of the suburbs and into the pleasantly peaceful surrounding area of the Summer Palace. This a perfect ride in the spring and summer when foliage is out on the trees and the combination of water and greenery makes for a wonderful atmosphere on the river bank.
2) Houhai, Xihai and Yonghegong
Houhai is without a doubt one of the best places to enjoy a bike ride alone or in a group. With the delightful ramshackle hutongs, views of the lakes as well as the two famous ‘drum' towers and the quirky commercial streets of Nanluoguxiang and Guloudajie this is a cycle tour destination not to be overlooked. This area is rickshaw central so you will have to be careful to dodge the hordes of red velvet draped commercial bike tours in the narrow alleys, as well as being careful of uncovered man holes. The path around Houhai Lake can be followed northwards to Xihai Lake where cyclists can enjoy the sights of the less commercialized Hutongs in the Jishuitan area. Xihai Lake is equally as beautiful as Houhai but the area is much less crowded with tourists.
For those wishing to extend the journey it is possible to take a ride through Wudaoying hutong, south of Guloudajie, through to the Yonghegong area. Highlights include: Lama temple, the Confucius temple and a number of cafes and boutique shops. Perfect for incorporating a bit of shopping or a refreshing drink into your itinerary.
3) Ditan Park to Yuanmingyuan Park
Between the north third and fourth ring roads from east to west there are a number of places of interest that are perhaps not necessarily worthy of allocating a whole day out to but are excellent to see as part of a cycle tour. Using Ditan Park, just north of Andingmen subway station on metro line13 as a starting point for this journey is a great idea. The park itself is worth a visit on a pleasant day and good place to limber up, getting ready for some serious cycling. You can follow Andingmen Waidajie northwards to the third ring road and then follow it westwards past the puppet theatre in Anzhen, all the way to Dazhongsi where the next site of interest is the Bell museum. Even if you are not a huge bell fan it is worth a visit for the serenity and period architecture. Following the ring road westwards still, you will reach Sitong Bridge where you can turn north and take in the glass and steel goliaths of Zhongguancun before you reach the fourth ring road, a journey westwards alongside which will bring you to Yuanmingyuan Park. It is one of the largest and most bike friendly parks in the north of the city.
4) Changanjie and Wangfujing
Wangfujing and Tiananmen (Changanjie) are literally at the heart of the city and bicycles in this area are not an uncommon sight. Although cycling is not permitted on the square itself there are places to park your shiny (or possibly rusty) beast should you wish to dismount and take a stroll around the famous square. Also worthy of some cycling time is Wenjinjie which is a charming street between the north and south parts of Beihai Park and lake.
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