Schwalbes Pass the China Test
The 2017 TDA Bamboo Road tour has just spent the last month cycling south from Shanghai to the Vietnamese border via Hong Kong, allowing us to see a large portion of the Chinese countryside and thoroughly immerse ourselves in the exotic culture of the locals.
China has been an experience, to say the least. While the East Asian giant isn’t the most glamorous destination that TDA cycles through, it’s definitely one of the most interesting, for a whole host of reasons – mainly in that China is very much its own world. In some ways I felt more cut off from the outside world here than when I was touring with TDA through the Sudanese desert. It’s been educational, challenging, humbling and exciting.
We’ve covered a lot of ground on this trip so far – more than two and a half thousand kilometres over 25 riding days, along windy concrete paths in the remote hills of rural southeast China, through mega-cities no one in the west has ever heard of despite having populations upwards of 10 million people, and across bridges buzzing with the hustle and bustle of commuters on scooters, bicycles, and just about every type of motorized vehicle you can imagine.
Cycling through this region has required a lot of concentration and skill – you need to have your wits about you and keep your head on a swivel at all times; especially with the silent but deadly electric bikes, which can sneak up behind you so easily.
Where other TDA tours such as the Tour d’Afrique can be testing in terms of the lack of amenity and climatic conditions you are cycling in, China offers its own unique challenges to long-distance cyclists. Thankfully, “poor condition roads” is not among that list of challenges.
Right from the starting line, when we convoyed out of Shanghai from the Bund, I was very surprised at how clean the roads were. This is something that continued all the way to Vietnam. There was never any rubbish, debris or broken glass to swerve around – just the occasional rock or pebble on the wide highway shoulders.
However, regardless of how good a road might be, cycling thousands of kilometres inevitably comes with the occasional flat tire. With that mind, I was relieved to see that just about every single bicycle on this trip is sporting a nice pair of Schwalbe tires!
While the main roads were all pretty immaculate, there were times where we’d be cycling on some pretty horribly potholed roads as we weaved through tiny towns, and this is when the riders’ Schwalbes were put to the test. We also had some pretty muddy patches, where people were arriving at the hotel covered from head to toe in sludge, and the Schwalbes held up their own through these stretches as well.
There only seems to be a couple of culprits on this trip for constant flats – when I say constant, I mean at least one flat tire every second or third day. And funnily enough, these flat tire victims consistently appear to be the only riders on the trip who aren’t cycling with Schwalbe tires…