I've always loved hills. Throughout my childhood weekends and holidays usually involved getting out walking the fells in the north of England and Scotland, ski trips to the Alps, then rock climbing as I got older.
Thus when this time last year a friend moved to Kunming and sent excited emails talking of beautiful countryside and clean fresh air, I was easily convinced. And it's here in the hills around Kunming that I have discovered mountain biking.
If you get high up enough that your view is not blocked by the apartment blocks and office buildings, look north and there is one hill which should tempt any walker or biker. Standing alone, tree covered to half height with a steep rock-strewn west face, Changchong Mountain (长虫山) dominates the northern skyline. One of the most accessible summits around, it is also home to some excellent mountain biking.
The day starts with a tedious drag northward up Longquan Lu, then a steady climb up to the top of Changchong's north ridge. Thankfully, just as time in the saddle begins to take its toll, the steep concrete road turns to dirt and a rest can be had in a cool shady spot surrounded by pretty farmland and distant views of town.
Rest well because the descent from here, if taken in one shot, is 12 minutes of solid concentration and effort and will leave you a shaky legged mess, jibbering with adrenaline and heaving for breath once it's spat you out at the bottom.
The trail is simply beautiful, a long twisting ribbon of dirt scything through open forest that gives way to a series of tight, steep corners with cruelly placed rocks guarding the easy lines through. Make sure you ride well within your limits the first few times you go out here, these trails are not built for mountain biking and a surprise may lurk around any corner.
The final descent is one of the most exciting trails I have ridden around Kunming. Drop your saddle right out the way, ahead lies a kilometer and a half of steep steps cut in to the hillside while rocks, trees, and huge ruts all conspire to smash your pedals, knock your bars round or swallow your front wheel.
It would certainly take the boldest and best to get down this with style on the first attempt, but it is simply a must for those who enjoy riding steep tricky terrain.
The reward is simple, it is the huge grin left plastered on your face and a feeling of satisfaction and calm which will last the rest of the day. It's just great fun.
Thousands of people ride mountain bikes in Kunming, and a growing number are taking their machines out of the city to enjoy the myriad of old trails which criss cross the hills surrounding us. There are rides to suit almost any skill level and don't be disheartened if your fitness holds you back your first time out, it will take a few weeks to get used to it but then a whole new aspect of life in Kunming will be there for you to enjoy. And Kunming is only the tip of a very big iceberg. So come on, get on yer bike!!!
Reasonable mountain bikes can be rented from Xiong Junwu and company at Xiong Brothers Bike Shop on Beimin Jie for 40 yuan a day and should you be spending more time in Kunming and wish to buy a bike, capable machines can be had for around 3,000 yuan.
If you're an experienced rider and want something a little more high spec then Xiong Brothers stocks a good variety of mid- to top-end stuff and will happily help you build the bike of your dreams.© Copyright 2005-2020 GoKunming.com all rights reserved. This material may not be republished, rewritten or redistributed without permission.