While millions are flocking to China's megacities, there are a couple of riders staying in a small farming village in the mountains of Zhejiang province, China. Their shins are covered with scars from pedal strikes. The town is picturesque, quiet, and between the sounds of rural Chinese life, you may hear the loud buzzing of a DH bike’s rear hub. On the mountain that towers over the village, they are digging trails and massive jumps. Their names are Ding Zai Gang and He Jun Yuan, and they are China’s preeminent downhill freeriders.
Ding and Yuan are the diggers behind Brave Peak Bike Park, often referred to as “Chinese Whistler” by the country’s downhill community. BPBP is a two-hour drive outside of Hangzhou, a bustling and ancient city now known for its fast-expanding tech industry. The drive from Hangzhou takes you into the Yongfeng Mountains. Meaning "Brave Peak" in English, the name goes back over eight-hundred years. The park is located in the village of Xia Bao. With a population of around two-thousand people, the village stands in stark contrast with the nearby Hangzhou metropolitan area, whose population exceeds twenty-one-million.
Ding hitting the big jump line
I overheard a newly arrived guest ask Ding what he did at BPBP, to which he replied, “I drive the shuttle truck”. In reality, he is the manager, promoter, guide, head digger, and whatever else the park requires of him. He is also one of China’s most well known professional riders; videos of him riding are shared constantly throughout the Chinese downhill community.
Ding, 31, has been riding for just seven years. Mountain biking is a young sport, but especially young in China. Few, if any, of China’s professional riders, actually grew up riding mountain bikes, but were instead introduced to the sport when it began to take hold some five to ten years ago. At that time, Ding was working an office job in Guangdong province. He began mountain biking as a casual XC rider and quickly found the sport to be the perfect escape from the hustle of modern Chinese city life. Ding came across videos of freeriders Cam Zink and Darren Berrecloth and longed to create a similar scene in China. With little resources and no mentor to teach him, he scoured the Internet for videos on how to ride and build trails. It started as a single man operation, but Ding slowly began to shape a downhill/freeride community in the area. He eventually quit his office job and opened a bike shop, focusing on building the community and attracting new riders to the sport.
Seven years later, Ding is a professional at the helm of the Chinese freeride scene. Riders come from throughout China to watch and learn from him. Besides riding, Ding says his favorite thing to do is teach. At BPBP, his passion for this is obvious. The young riders clearly look up to him, and he is always willing to take a break from riding to help them hone their skills.
Yuan is 27-years-old and, like Ding, has been riding for just seven years. He is a master on the dirt jumper and the downhill bike and is one of China’s most stylish riders in the air.
A native of Guangxi province, Yuan began riding while living in Guangdong. In 2013 he met Ding, who first introduced him to downhill riding. He soon replaced his XC hardtail with a big bike and began digging jumps.
In the early days of his riding career, Yuan worked full-time in a factory. He would get up at 4 am to practice on the jumps he built before heading to work at 7:30. Slowly, Yuan became recognized for both his talent on the bike and his skills with a shovel. In 2016, when the opportunity finally presented itself, he was invited to come to help build Brave Peak Bike Park, where he has been ever since.
Yuan enjoys backflipping his S-Works Demo
They've also built a pump track, mostly used as an area for young riders to develop solid technique
The original idea for Brave Peak Bike Park started in 2015. Cheng Jian Jun, a local of the village, began looking for a new venture to help promote economic growth in the region. The village, Xia Bao, clearly had the natural resources to become an outdoor tourist destination but lacked the infrastructure. After partnering with the boss of Fox Head China, Chen Xiong Qiang, the project began. The team brought in Ding and Yuan from Guangdong and also enlisted the help of a Canadian trail builder named Keith William. The early stages of construction faced some difficulties. Building a bike park in this region of China had never been attempted; the geological features of the Yongfeng range were unknown; Ding and Yuan had previously only built trails by hand. They now had the proper machinery and more land to build on than they could have dreamed. The process took lots of trial and error, but Ding says after his first year of building, he began to have a better understanding of the geological layout and became comfortable digging with large machinery. After two years of construction, BPBP opened its doors and is currently the largest bike park in China. Ding says the park is young and that construction is still in the exploratory stage. They are constantly adjusting routes and digging new lines.
Right off the side of the shuttle road, one of the hotel chefs harvesting bamboo shoots for dinner
While Ding and Yuan have, quite literally, carved out a nice living for themselves at BPBP, China’s pros don’t have it easy. At present, there is not a single rider in China who has full sponsorship. Ding is supported by SLH—a Shanghai-based bike shop that distributes throughout China—who hooked him up with his Commencal Furious. Yuan, who has received some support in the past, is currently unsponsored. When I asked him if he was looking for a new sponsorship, he said no. Often these contracts are unfair, requiring the rider to attend a certain number of races and events but expecting them to pay their own way. There is also the issue of societal constraints. China very much values a safe, steady job, purchasing a house and raising a family. The idea that you can make a living from riding a bicycle seems absurd to many. While this also holds true in the west, it is certainly amplified in China. Against it all, Ding and Yuan are relentlessly following their passion.
Mountain biking, especially freeride, is still very much on the fringe in China. Reminiscent of the North American/European scene’s past, before the sport became more popular, riders here are a renegade few. But they are here. They are in the massive industrial cities, in the Himalayas and the far reaches of the country’s western deserts, in villages and isolated mountain valleys. What is the future of mountain biking in the world’s most populous country? That’s hard to say, but it’s riders like Ding and Yuan who are already shaping it.