Bicycles are still the primary form of transport for millions of Chinese people, although the proliferation of cars and smog make biking in the cities a chore. Large cities like Beijing, Chengdu, Xi'an, Shanghai, and Guilin have well-defined bike lanes, often separated from other traffic. Travel by bike is common in the countryside around places like Guilin, for locals and tourists alike. Locals don't use gears much—take your cue from them and just roll along at a leisurely pace. Note that bikes have to give way to motorized vehicles at intersections. If a flat tire or sudden brake failure strikes, seek out the nearest street-side mechanic (they're everywhere), easily identified by their bike parts and pumps.
In major cities, some lower-end hotels and hostels rent bikes. Street-side bike rental stations are also proliferating. Otherwise, inquire at bike shops, hotels, or even corner shops. The going rental rate is Y15 to Y30 a day, plus a refundable deposit. You will usually be asked to leave some form of ID. Check the seat and wheels carefully.
Most rental bikes come with a lock, but they're usually pretty low quality. Instead, leave your wheels at an attended bike park—peace of mind costs a mere Y0.50. Helmets are nearly unheard of in China, though upmarket rental companies catering to foreign tourists usually stock them. They charge much more for their bikes, but they're usually in better condition.
If you're planning a lot of cycling, note that for about Y150 to Y200 you can buy your own basic bike, though expect to pay three or four times that for a mountain bike with all the bells and whistles or for a "Flying Pigeon," the classic heavy-duty model.
Bikes in Flight
Most airlines accommodate bikes as luggage, provided they are dismantled and boxed; check with individual airlines about packing requirements. Some airlines sell bike boxes, which are often free at bike shops, for about $20 (bike bags can be considerably more expensive).
Backroads. U.S.-based Backroads has China bike tours suitable for families to Beijing, Xi’an, and southern China. 800/462–2848; www.backroads.com. From $5,498.
Bike China Adventures. Bike China Adventures organizes trips of varying length and difficulty all over China. 800/818–1778; www.bikechina.com. From $2,500.