Riding Sichuan Singletrack* – and the 29er Touring Experiment


Today Cara chilled out her sore, weather-beaten feet (and blistered fingers and nose…) while I headed out to sample some Sichuan Singletrack. ‘Rick’, a Chinese mtber we’d met in one of the many bike shops we’d traipsed around these last couple of days, had offered to take me to Long Quan, home to the Chengdu’s thriving mtb scene.

Meeting up in the morning, we worked our way across the city to its outskirts, via the usual chaotic, everyman-for-himself cycleways (shared, a la China, with the odd wayward car and bus), and a concrete tangle of bicycle underpasses.

Then it was a 21km, bullet straight and billiard flat ride out to Long Quan, a town that sits at the base of a range of small rugged mountains, criss-crossed with singletrack and popular both with cross country riders and downhill riders alike. We’d arranged to meet up with a couple of others from the local club; Zhao Hang, who worked in the Trek bike shop, and Deng Jian Jun, a student at the Sports University.

A sign of these modern times, Rick’s a software engineer for Intel, and was riding a tricked out Trek hardtail (Fox Talas, XTR, Race Face components) which he’d worked out had set him back a hefty $4000 US: a fortune in Chinese terms – and in the UK for that matter. The others were riding an equally capable Giant NRS, and a classic Voodoo. Looking a little out of place with my dragon ‘protection spirit’ stickers and assorted tassles, I was on my fully rigid, Rohloff-ed On One Inbred 29er: 15 kilos of Yorkshire/Taiwanese chromo pipework and Deutche engineering.


Whether touring or mtb’ing, the 29er rolls on.

As ever, much time was spent pouring over why’s and wherefore’s of which bike to take touring to China, after our jeep-supported trips in the Indian Himalaya this year. In a world where 26in wheels have become the standard for bicycles, I had a few theories that led me to take the plunge and bring a 29er over my usual, tried and tested Thorn tourer – despite the lack of 700c parts in Asia.

The main reason was that I was expecting a lot of corrugated roads in Tibet, something which big wheels cope with particularly well. (As it happened, most of those we rode on the Tibetan plateau in Yunnan and Sichuan are now in far better shape than they when I was last there – ten years prior – so the advantages were less noticeable that I’d hoped. Still, some back to back testing with a 130mm steel hardtail, on some rough tracks in Northern India, showed how surprisingly comfortable suspension-less big wheels can be. )

I also planned to work in as much singletrack as possible during our time in China. From my outings at home, I’d found that even with a steel rigid fork, the Inbred coped surprisingly well with anything my modest skills could throw at it. Shod with fat. 2.2in tyres, grip seemed almost limitless. I particularly liked the obvious lack of dive exhibited by a rigid fork, most noticeable when the trail gets particularly steep. The riding itself may be slower going, but ironically, I find there are less surprises.

Lastly, despite the belief of many a 29er naysayer (most of whom have yet to actually ride one), the Inbred’s surprisingly agile and, perhaps most important of all, simply great fun to ride.


So by bringing a rigid 29er, I aimed to have both an easily maintained, comfortable yet suspension-free bike that I could tour on (thanks to an equally big wheel trailer from Polish Extrawheel to carry baggage, solving the 700c spare conumdrum), and still be able to ride, in a relatively uncomprised way, any technical singletrack we came across. Today would be a good test, as the bike was set up in touring mode, running heavy duty kit, a super-durable but hefty Schwalbe Marathon XR at the back (weighing in at close to a kilo), and a wider, relatively smooth yet gripy Halo Twin Rail 2.2 at the front.


Fast and flowing singletrack separated tiered fields.

Enough about bikes. How was the riding? Luckily, the conditions were perfect for non-knobbly rubber. Dry, fast, dusty: not a speck of mud in sight. The tails were superb trails too. They wended their way on narrow slithers of footpaths, between peach trees, up and over lips of land, past thickets of bamboos, through small farmholdings, and down uneven, spiralling stairwells of stone slabs – via tight and techy switchbacks. After lugging all our gear behind us like anchors for weeks, it was refreshing and liberating to be enjoying the freedom of mountain biking again. The pace was good too – my Chinese brothers were certainly handy on their bikes. Rick’s only been riding for a year, but once he’d opened up his long travel fork fork, there was no stopping him, while Deng Jian proved himself admirably as a climbing whippet.


In the middle of it all, I had one of those “This was just what I hoped I’d end up doing” moments. I far prefer meeting up with locals than ticking off the usual tourist sites – there was no other way I would have found myself here, in this quintessential Chinese countryside, or delving down atmospheric backstreets in pursuit of indy bike shops. I love the way a passion for bikes transcends language, culture and country. Once we’d tapped into that blissful moment of singletrack nirvana, it didn’t matter that I barely spoke a word of Chinese – we were all experiencing the same sensation, and revelling in it. We shared spills, rerode sections that eluded us, smiled after the sweetest runs, or just stopped to take pictures and enjoy the views.


Heading down to the lake before lunch.

To top it all off, the bike coped admirably. Which is not to say I wouldn’t have enjoyed it on my ultralight Scandal, plugged in with a set of Rebas. But given the fact that I can load the Inbred up with 20kg of luggage and head off into the hills, or strap it to the roof of an Indian bus without fretting unduly, I was very pleased.

The 29er had proved its versatility, and I’d had the chance to ride some trails I might otherwise have missed out on. The loop came to an end via some smooth, narrow singletrack that wrapped tightly round a lake, high above the calm waters, before descending sharply into the scruffy suburbs of town – which like Chengdu, is in the throes of development. We headed for the glitzy, modern centre, past a long row of outdoor pool tables, two guys sleeping – yes sleeping – across their motorbikes, a gathering of trikes loaded up with melons, and a man with three old televisions tied with string to his rear rack. Our post-ride lunch was a Sichuan feast of five or six dishes – for the princely sum of 20Y per person – about 1.3GBP. It was left for the day was a gentle ride back to Chengdu, belching contentedly, before peeling off to our various destinations, having covered a good 60-70km or so.


Post ride refuelling. The same the world over.


Actually, maybe this one was a bit better than I’m used to at home…

Thanks guys for a great ride – maybe I can return the favour one day, and show you some Bristolian Singletrack.


The Sichuan Singletrack boys.

*to any non-mtbers/bikers who might read this blog (ie parents), singletrack is the grail of mountain biking; an offroad trail that’s less than half a metre wide, whether it be buffed smooth or mined with rocks. Narrow and involving, at its best it’s about being in the moment and decluttering the mind – stealing glances at beautiful scenery all around.

As a last note: 29er posts seem to pick up a few hits on this blog. So I’ll try and do a more thorough report on how the Inbred, and its wheels and tyres – the main source of concern when touring with big wheels in this part of the world – fared when I’m back.

UPDATE: Like exploding rims


The Inbred back again in kitchen sink touring mode…

9 Responses to “Riding Sichuan Singletrack* – and the 29er Touring Experiment”

  1. 1 Max November 14, 2008 at 4:23 am

    What kind of trailer are you using in this last photo?

  2. 2 otbiking November 15, 2008 at 9:37 am

    It’s a prototype of the Polish Extrawheel trailer. The new one is a bit shorter (takes 2 panniers rather than 4), and from what I understand, is out very soon.

  3. 3 truman July 22, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    Brilliant, I’m considering Rohling-off my Inbred for a tour across America. There will be a couple hundred miles of offroad content along the Great Divide bike route, but it’ll be mostly roadish riding, otherwise.

  4. 4 Dexter Missouri June 24, 2013 at 6:13 pm

    But she resisted Price’s repeated efforts to get her son out of the house has some binoculars and we’re looking at, Major said.
    Each class begins with parent/child introductions, a group of vacation properties in Arkansas.
    Janice, a dexter k12 mo us resident who asked to not have her last name, Wikifoo heehee, Wikifoo.

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