Mountain biking in Yunnan, a province in the southwest of China, is not exactly a common sight and quite different from what it is like at home. There are no bike parks here, hardly any built trails and definitely no masses of riders swamping the forests on weekends. Basically, there's just our guide and us, the "two crazy girls", that he probably sees us as, as we're flying down yet another tricky trail that he himself prefers to push. For me, what we are doing here feels not so much crazy, but incredibly special. Mountain biking at the roof of the world, that's a brilliant and unforgettable experience.
I am travelling with my Swiss team colleague Nathalie Schneitter and we have ten days to discover Yunnan. We have riding plans for most days, but we also get to explore the culture of the region, visit temples, markets and taste the culinary "delicacies" of the region. The cultural and religious influences from Buddhism and the proximity to Tibet in the north of the province make for incredible diversity and are mega interesting. And the region's nature is just beautiful. We are mesmerized by the landscape along the Yangtze River, by the wide plateaus at an altitude of over 2,000 meters and by the view of the snow-covered six-thousand-meter peaks. Speaking of snow: While we are riding through the Sino-Tibetan highlands we decide to camp — in the middle of December, somewhere in the middle of nowhere — at 3,300 meters above sea level. Brrr, pretty cold!
Considering there are only very few mountain bikers in this part of the country, the trails are incredibly good. They are completely natural and almost unknown - what a special feeling! If you are tempted by this adventure, I'd recommend taking an enduro bike with you on the trip. We opted for Trek Fuel EX bikes with 130/140 mm travel that are pretty perfect. If you want to go up to the highlands as well, you need to make sure you have the right gear and clothing with you. Keeping warm up there is tough. Plenty of tea and even a Bunsen burner to warm your feet before going to bed can be of great help. A warm sleeping bag and good merino underwear do the rest. Waking up at an altitude of 3,300 meters at -7 degrees, opening the tent and being greeted by the sun - that is definitely unforgettable!
Such a trip is perfect for adventurous riders who want to experience something extraordinary and are not afraid of the cold. In summer it is of course warmer, but it also rains a lot here, while in December it is actually very dry. Our winter is therefore a good, albeit cold, travel season. In Dali there is even a small mountain biking scene: "Dali Enduro". They organize shuttles and tours here. We travelled with Zouba Tours (zouba.tours) which were great!
Waking up at 3,300 meters in the middle of nowhere at -7 degrees, opening the tent and being greeted by the sun - that's pretty mega! But it got better, because now the descent came! Descending from this height after a night in the December cold was simply unique and unforgettable. The curves were all shaped, of course, and we drove through a kind of tunnel, as it was completely covered with vegetation. Awesome!
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On the way back from the Shaxi Temple we came to this point, it is one of my absolute highlights of the whole trip: an extremely rocky section of the trail that I think has never been ridden by bikes before. Accordingly, we didn't know whether the trail was even drivable, which made the whole thing even more exciting and really cool - exactly our thing!