February 07, 2004

Traversing China by Bicycle: Some Nuts&Bolts

Posted at 06:39 AM Feedback
From: Benjamin Hart
Sent: Friday, April 30, 1999 6:55 AM
Subject: qi zixingche heng quan zhongguo

> Hi. I'm planning a cycling trip across China similar to the one you
> completed - only in reverse. I was just wondering how long the whole trip
> took, and did you pull a cart or just use saddle bags?
> Thanks,
> Benjamin Hart
Hey Benjamin,

I pulled a B.O.B. the whole way. Since this was the first and (still) only long-haul cycle tour, I can't offer a comparison between panniers and trailer. However, everyone I cycled with envied me. I didn't often envy them.

The short answer as to duration is from Beijing to Kashgar:

5597.5 kilometers in precisely 50 days of riding over a period of 95 days.
I took a bus from Yan'an to Xian, and a train from Baoji to Lanzhou. These days are included in the 95 total.

There was a month and a half hiatus from cycling upon reaching Xian. This time is not included in the 95 total.

Average speed calculated over the whole trip was just under 14k/hr (cumulative per day, from saddle-up to end of the day dismount, including rest stops and meal breaks along the way). And, as you can calculate for yourself, I averaged just under 112 k/day.

Caveat: I picked up a riding partner, a novice cyclist, in Xian who lasted until we hit the real desert in northern Gansu. She hadn't trained, was overweight, and really held us back for the first two weeks out of Xian (forcing the train ride between Baoji and Lanzhou). To her credit, she picked up the pace somewhat as the weeks progressed and showed some grit and determination in the face of adversity. However, after we separated at Liuyuan, I added an average of 30 K to every day's ride.

Conclusion: your mileage may vary.

I've got a triplog worked out on an Excel spreadsheet which I'd be glad to provide you with.

An extraordinary trip, no matter how you do it...

Crossing Xinjiang is a lot of desert. [pix] Were someone to talk me into repeating the journey, from either direction, I'd probably take the bus from Kashgar to Kuqa (don't miss the Thursday market there), then again from Kuqa to Korla. You won't miss much in the way of towns or scenery, so if you need to shave any time to complete your tour, this is the place to do it. To be honest, my perception is coloured by the fact that dust storms had destroyed the visibility, however, that's 1,000km of gnarly desert, prone to dust storms and relatively level. Aside from Kuqa and its environs, there's not much to see which isn't closely approximated in the rest of the journey. From Korla to Liuyuan is another 1,000km of significantly more interesting (and often taxingly mountainous) desert. And the Hexi Corridor, from Liuyuan to Wuwei, is another 1,000km of desert interspersed with Oases in increasing frequency. So, there's plenty of opportunity to ride desert, even if you skip the first 1,000K. I love the desert, and 3,000 km of it was a bit too much.

Then again, I could have hopped on a bus or truck at any time (I certainly had enough offers from the drivers), but by then it was a matter of "completeness". I'd promised myself Beijing to Kashgar, had already been forced to hop an overnight train over several hundred kilometers of marvelous countryside, and wasn't going to take any prisoners on this final remaining leg.

Another shade in the spectrum is Kashgar which was the final destination. After Kuqa I could smell it, I was exhausted, I wanted it to be over. <grin>

Actually, the new rail line between Kashgar and Korla might be running by the time you get there. [ED: It's complete now. Taking it would likely be preferable to the bus.]



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