You know those groups of people biking around at night with light up bunny ears and devil horns? Have you seen them? They look like they’re part of some kind of sober rave on the move? That was us Saturday, we joined the sober rave.
It’s a bike tour through Cycle China that’s been doing rides in Shanghai for about 10 years, bringing affordable ‘adventures’ to the masses. Their most sought-after event is a night tour with a visit to Yu Gardens after hours. It’s a three and a half hour affair covering 23 kilometers of street from Xuhui to Old Town to Yu Gardens to The Bund to People’s Square — basically Shanghai 101.
Here’s a little preview of the tour and musings on touristy places at night.
Xuhui and Old Town
The tour begins at Hengshan Road Station, Exit 1 around 8.45pm. There’s a group of 20 from the German Club of Shanghai standing in mostly quiet anticipation. They’ve arranged the ride as a social event and we’re crashing it. Everyone hovers over the same dark blue cruiser, a rental from Giant City Bikes, and wears festive bunny ears that flash red and blue lights.
A woman named Bato, an incredibly positive person who likely has a shelf of color-coded binders somewhere (she's organized), will be our guide for the evening. She’s from Shanghai and has been giving tours with Cycle China since their expansion from Beijing about a decade ago. She has two colleagues with her, bike technicians, who stay towards the back making sure no man gets left behind or jammed up by a flat.
We begin single file down Fuxing Lu at a slow-to-comfortable pace, stopping every other traffic light for a little tidbit. Like did you know there’s a statue of the composer of China’s national anthem on Fuxing Lu and those trees along the street are French Phoenix trees?
This first leg of the tour takes about an hour and a half. We cruise through the wet streets and duck into the narrow lanehouses alleys. From there we enter the Old Town for a mild flirtation with slum tourism.
And then it's the moment we've been waiting for...
Secret Yu Gardens Ride
If you're a resident of Shanghai, this is the main reason to check this out. Part of the tour takes you through Yu Gardens at night which is... y'know.
We roll up to a blocked-off entrance of Yu Gardens, Bato in the lead. She talks to a guard standing to the side of a short metal barrier between us and the bazaar. Bato smiles very nicely and the guard steps aside to let us pass. She says they have a special ‘connection.'
This part was hands down the highlight of the tour. It kicks off with about 10 minutes of biking through the market area, which is lit up and completely vacant. The lights and views are... breathtaking? Yeah, I'll say breathtaking. The place transforms entirely without the normal hustle and bustle. We stop in front of the Huxinting Teahouse to take photos and eat a snack of mini-Snickers and bananas. We’re not told much at this stop, just that this area used to be a legit market for locals and now is a tourist spot that was built up in the nineties to look old.
When it's time to mount our bikes once more, we exit by crossing the zig-zag bridge over the pond surrounding the teahouse. It feels wrong but exciting. A minor thrill.
Beers on The Bund
Next stop is The Bund (after getting the chance to use the toilet at Wanda Reign, which was a very pleasant experience #allseatsshouldheat). We park our bikes and climb the stairs for a quick Tsing Tao against the quintessential Shanghai backdrop. It’s past 11pm so we missed the lights, but according to Bato, it’s a view you can’t tire of. Ever seen The Bund? We stay here for about 20 minutes holding ponchos we were given in anticipation of rain. And like clockwork as we hop back on our bikes, the ponchos go on.
We end up skipping People’s Square because of the rainfall. The tour ends with a straight ride back to Hengshan Station to return the bikes around 12.15am. Bato continues to smile with her yellow poncho on, guiding us back through the rainy streets.
Who’s on the Tour?
The typical tour is a group of five or six people, but ranges depending on the night. Our group was a big one, since we joined the German Club. The majority of the clubbers live and work in Shanghai, but it seems the tour is best for people who are new (ish) to Shanghai, or for those visiting the city, or a thing to do with your aunt when she visits.
Have you got people coming in to visit you for October holidays?
And yeah, it’s a mostly sober night bike tour, so the crowd is a little older and are the 'they seem to really have their priorities straight' kind of crowd. There were also some tweens on our tour who seemed like they were enjoying themselves. So pretty solid family activity.
Pricing and Reservations
Cycle China has a few other tours in and around Shanghai, like a two-day trip to Xitang and an afternoon tour of the French Concession. They also offer personalized trips and can accommodate those who want to make the adventure a bit more rigorous. The company got its start in Beijing, so they still offer tours there and across China. If you're looking for some travel ideas, check out all the options on their website.
The tour costs 300rmb per person, but 250rmb in a group of 2-3 and 200rmb for groups of 5 or more. This along with the guided tour and two technicians, includes a bike rental, helmet, water, snack, beer, a poncho if needed, and, yes, light-up bunny ears. Tours run all week, you can join a tour or make a private booking.
Make a reservation by emailing email@example.com, or you can WeChat Bato directly at: hellobato.