This is an article about China that has nothing to do with geopolitics. I write it in both English and Chinese with regard to mutual understanding. I think that by focusing on individual people, even if it is through the lens of our small and seemingly inconsequential sport, you can see a glimpse of life in this country from a new and different perspective. So read about Du Yao, a professional Chinese rider, and a trip we took to Dali—a beautiful city on the southern edge of the Himalayas。
I first met Du Yao a couple years back in the city of Kunming, China. I knew him as the guy who could throw a backflip on a DJ bike off just about anything. He would occasionally show up to Kunming’s mountain bike trails on a downhill rig that his friend had let him borrow. As is so often true for those with skills on a BMX or dirt jumper, Du Yao’s transition from small to big wheels was remarkably smooth and fast. The 27-year-old is now a sponsored freerider and downhill racer, with plans to participate in races throughout the country in the upcoming season. But it’s certainly not easy to race bikes professionally in China. The market is small (especially considering the country’s massive populace) and disciplines like enduro and downhill are often regarded as foolishly dangerous. As an Olympic sport, and generally more accessible, cross-country is the dominant discipline. In China, if you’ve somehow managed to become anything close to resembling a real professional downhill rider, you are about ten in 1.4 billion. Du Yao is one of them. Over the past year, I have watched as his abilities on the bike and his infectious love for the sport has helped to strengthen the Chinese mountain bike scene.
大约两年前在昆明我第一次认识杜鹞。当时我只知道他是那个会做很大的土坡后空翻的车手，不过他很少骑速降. 那时他偶尔会骑借来的速降车来速降道玩一会儿。从土坡小轮换到山地大轮对他来说没什么大问题。他现在是有赞助商的速降和自由骑车手，今年将参加许多比赛。在中国成为一名专业山地车手并非一桩易事. 中国速降车市场的规模相对较小，而且有很多人认为这项运动是在作死。在中国，接近外国专业车手水平的车手很稀有，不过杜鹞的技巧可以达到这样的水平。在过去一年中，我亲眼目睹了他的精湛的技巧和热情，和他对中国山地车运动发展的促进。
Du’s local downhill trails and jump park (where these photos were taken) are located in the western mountains of Kunming, the largest city in Yunnan—a province that borders Sichuan, Tibet, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar. The riding area is named after the local temple, Bao Zhu (pictured below), which shares the forested hillside with the trails. Kunming’s mountain bike club, Jade Dragon, builds and maintains the trails; there are a couple of purpose-built downhill runs, as well as countless natural tracks that weave through the enormous forest park of Qipanshan just behind Baozhu’s main summit. Kunming’s winters are almost desert-like in their dryness, and so building occurs in the summer months when the rains soften the dirt. At least partially due to its temperate year-round climate and proximity to the mountains, Kunming undoubtedly has the largest mountain bike scene of any Chinese city.
Du Yao has also built a pumptrack and dirt jump spot near the city center. In addition to being a spot where local riders can come to improve their skills, it is also a bike school for kids to learn the basics. These types of pumptracks are becoming increasingly popular in China, but not many of them have a teacher with an ability level as high as Du Yao’s. It’s always fun to watch the parent’s and kid’s reactions to what he can do on two wheels. Mountain biking is often done deep in the forests, away from the masses of people in city centers, and so it is quite rare for your average Kunming resident to stumble into the local trails and see what is possible on these bikes. By building this spot in the heart of Kunming, Du Yao has not only created a place where China’s younger generation can discover mountain biking but has also helped to increase awareness and understanding of the sport.
杜鹞在昆明修建了一个pumptrack 场地与土坡包场。当地车手不仅可以去那里练习技巧与提高水平，这里同时还是一所让孩子学习山地车基本技术的学校。这些类型的pumptrack 场地在中国日益流行，但很少有像杜鹞这么高水平的老师。观看孩子们和家长们对他的自行车技术反应很有趣。山地车经常在远离人的树林或山顶进行，所以大多数人从未见过这项运动。通过修建这个在市中心的包场和pumptrack，杜鹞不仅创造了一个儿童和青少年可以发现山地车的地方，而且还提高了人们对这项运动的认识和理解。
Du Yao and I set out on the five-hour road trip to Dali, a mountainous area of northwest Yunnan on the eastern reaches of the Tibetan Plateau. I had been to Dali two years before and found the area’s potential for riding to be huge. The problem was there weren’t enough people riding and the trails, while many in number, desperately needed some love. But that has already changed, and on this time around, both Dali’s riding culture and trails blew me away.
Dali is a large area that spans an ancient city, a new city, Er Hai lake, forests, pastures and farmland. The constant between all of these is the Cang Shan mountain range, which features 18 peaks standing at least 3500 meters and hovers wall-like over the entirety of Dali. Recently, the local riders took to Cang Shan with spades and shovels and simply asked the forest guards, “can we make these trails better?” Of course the answer was yes, who doesn’t want better trails? Many of the local riders in Dali had raced in the Asian Enduro Series in Malaysia and came back eager to dig trails. Cang Shan is vast, steep and perfectly suitable for enduro-style trails. The plan is for Dali to become a race destination for the upcoming Asian Enduro Series, which currently holds races from Nepal to Thailand, but none in China. Dali is listed on the AES website here
, with a scheduled race date of October 24th-25th.
大理是一个湖光山色的地方。它包含古城，下关，洱海胡，苍山，森林和农田。苍山有十八座海拔三千五百米以上的山峰。近来当地车手在苍山开始修路。他们问防火员“能否改变自然的林道使其成为更适合骑行得车道”，当然，他们得到了许可。去年许多大理车手参加了Asian Enduro Series 比赛，回来大理后急于修路。苍山又大又陡，真适合Enduro方式的车道。如今呢，规划是让大理举行一场Asian Enduro Series 比赛。大理在AES 网站上公布，比赛日期是10月24日。
Below, I've also included some photographs by Zhu Mei Xin, a very talented young photographer and filmmaker from Kunming. His photos can be differentiated from mine by his watermark in the bottom center. Check out his edit on the Chinese freerider Ding Zai Gang here.
Much of Dali’s blossoming riding scene can be attributed to the passion and work of my good friend, Lao Fan (pictured above and below in the red Fox jersey). He has a deep understanding of mountain biking and has shared that knowledge with other Chinese riders. When he first showed me Dali’s trails two years ago, he had a dream of opening a mountain bike specific hostel at the base of Cang Shan. That dream has been realized, and Lao Fan’s hostel is now a fully functional rider’s paradise.
On our third day of riding we drove to Dali new city, just a few kilometers down the road that separates it from the ancient town and neighboring farmland. While most of Dali’s trails are inside the Cang Shan range, there is also another mountain that climbs westward out of Xia Guan (the new city). Zhe Mo Shan is the go-to spot for riders who live nearby. It has a classic, rough and long track that begins at the mountain’s peak and descends into the city. The trail is rocky and challenging, leading many to dub the mountain 折磨山 （a play on words as it is pronounced very similarly to the mountain’s actual name), which literally means “to cause physical or mental suffering”. I rode this trail with Lao Fan a couple of years ago, and it remains one of my favorite trails in China. The difference this time around was that we now had over twenty others riding with us. The Dali MTB scene is alive and well, and in my opinion, is one the best areas to ride a mountain bike in China.
As my time in China comes closer to an end, I would just like to express my thanks to all my Chinese riding friends. It has been an amazing experience which I will remember for the rest of my life.
随着我在中国时间越来越接近尾声，我只想向我所有的中国车友表示感谢. 这次经历在我的心中留下了深深的烙印, 今生难忘。