Beijing-Paris Blog
About the Bikes
Practical Information
Event Website

See detailed map (Dark blue line)

Overall route, timing, and wind directions

The first and last sections of our route were great fun, however the middle section was pretty tough, and extremely dangerous. We also thought that the speed we attempted this in (12600km in 123 days) was just two fast. These two factors combine to make an obvious improvement on the Beijing to Paris experience: Cycle China, take a train to Ukraine, and cycle the rest.

Going from west to east would have been better, as by the end of the trip one can spend every night in a hotel without worrying about the cost. Also the wind direction is generally more favourable.

The wind situation was very complicated. We had tail winds and cross winds most of the time in China. However the earlier teams (departing in April) had some fearsome head winds and dust storms. In general Xinjiang and Gansu are much windier in Spring.

Arnold and Marieke reported tail winds in Russia, whilst Ting and I had strong head winds all the way from Kyrgystan to Poland. The prevailing direction at that lattitude is a westerly, so Arnold and Marieke may have just got lucky.

By the time Ting and I reached Europe it was just starting to get a bit cold, near freezing at night in Poland. Also, the daylight hours were getting short. So it would be preferable to start earlier than finish later. Taking a train in the middle section would improve this situation. One could start in June and comfortably finish in October.

Misty cold morning in Poland

The other factor was heat. The hottest parts of the trip were Xinjiang, especially the Turpan Basin (into the 40’s) and Kazakhstan (mid 30’s but sustained for weeks). It was possible to cross these even in the hight of summer, but we were starting the day before sunrise.

In Xinjiang we tried to get off the road by 1300 for safety, though this didn’t always happen. Sometimes we sheltered from the sun in the culverts under the road. It is unpleasant riding in the evening, there are only about three hours of cooler temperatures, and the sun is setting into your face.

Costs

I didn’t really keep track of the costs, treat this as a wild guestimate. Everything in AUD. I personally would chose to stay closer to home if money was a problem, thus saving on air tickets, vaccinations and visas (and flying is a bad habit anyway). Of course some of this stuff we had already, or will be using again in the future, so can’t really be considered a trip cost.

Bike building tools: $3000, Bikes: $2000-$3000 each, food and accomodation: $2500 each, visas: $600 each, air tickets: $2000 each, vaccinations: $800 each, camping gear and clothing: $3000.

Equipment

Bikes : Important to have round wheels, all else is a matter of personal taste.

Ting cooking by the lakeStove: Not necessary in China unless you are camping a lot or going somewhere really remote. From Kyrgyzstan onwards we used the stove nearly every day. We had one 600ml pot between two of us. This was not enough in Kazakhstan. We should have taken a 1L one. Our stove was a multi-fuel stove that works on anything except methanol. We met some Germans in Russia that were using a methanol stove, but they had trouble finding fuel after Ukraine. They were able to find it from medical places.

Crossing a ford in TienshanRain clothing: Our plan to take only the minimum and buy stuff along the way was not so good. It is difficult finding decent breathable waterproof gear until you reach Europe, by which time it is too late. I should have taken a waterproof jacket, trousers and shoe covers. In fact I had to buy a plastic poncho after one week in China anyway, so saved no weight by not bringing a jacket.

My modified helmetSun protection: Regular bike helmets are just useless as sun protection. However my modified helmet was a tremendous success. I cut the top out of a regular Australian broad-brimmed hat and sewed velcro onto it so it could be re-attached when not cycling. It just fitted into the helmet around the chin straps. It was necessary to have something on the helmet to stop it flipping up in the wind. One of those so-called sun peaks on regular helmets would serve this purpose.

Ting’s mask and leg extensions.Trousers: We modified some cotton shorts to have attachable leg extensions for sun protection. This was OK, but the velcro often came undone, and they scratched our legs a bit. The idea needs some refinement.

Face mask: It was essential to at least wrap a towel around our faces to keep the wind from drying out our lips and skin in the desert. I used a towel, Ting made a cotton face mask that attached around her head with velcro. Both worked well.

Olly’s shirtLong sleeved shirt: Forget about cycling and camping rubish. My shirt was a regular King Gee work shirt from an industrial safety shop. It had three pockets plus a pen-holder, dried fast, was cooler than a T shirt, UV50 sun protection, and was almost indestructable. It was 100% cotton, I find that anything else gets too smelly. It is often necessary to go for several days without washing it. I had only one shirt.

Warm layer: This one was not so difficult to find en-route. We did carry two very useful NZ-made marino wool singlets the whole way. Also one NZ-made thin marino wool pullover between us. We bought a second warm top for Ting in Ukraine, and I had the woolen one for myself after that.

Purchase of our tent, Pushkin, in SaratovTent: We started with no tent, but bought a one person tent in Saratov. With hind sight I should have just brought a two person tent the whole way. It wasn’t needed in China, but there was rain in Kyrgyzstan, and mosquitoes in Kazakhstan, then rain the rest of the way. Our Russian tent was only just good enough, and too small. Attempting to sleep two people in a one person tent was physically possible, but a bit too tough for such a long trip.

Inflatable matresses: We had one each, both were punctured by the end of the trip. No easy answers here.

Water: It was necessary to carry more than ten litres of water between two in Kazakhstan. We carried some of this in Australian wine bags. These are handy because they shrink up to nothing when not in use. A fancy plastic bottle that can take boiling water is very useful in China, because boiling water is widely available from petrol stations, hotels and restaurants. These bottles can be bought very cheaply from general food shops in China, or you can take an expensive one from a camping shop anywhere.

Preparation

I was a bit out of shape at the beginning of the trip, because I was using every minute of the day to build the bikes. However I cycle every day anyway, as it is my only transport at home, so this was enough.

Good maps are difficult to find in Central Asia, and China, take the best ones you can find from home. Also handy is a list of accomodation for every big city after China, and a simple map. Take particular note of the OVIR offices in Kazakhstan, as these can be diffiult to find. We carried no guide books. Internet is not so easy to find in the former soviet union. We didn’t even bother in Kyrgyzstan.

Visas

We got all ours before we left. The main problem is that the former soviet countries all want exact dates of entry and departure, and the maximum visa length for Kyrgystan and Russia is only one month. Two months is possible for Kazakhstan at more expense. It is possible to get the Kazakh one in Urimuchi, and get all the central-asian visas en route. Daniel did this, though it slowed him down a lot.

China: Do not mention the word bicycle if applying in Australia. Heather had some trouble in this regard. This is a hangover from earlier days, and the opinion of the embassy staff doesn’t necessarily match the official line. However the NZ embassies are no trouble at all. I just sent a letter explaining exactly what I planned to do. The 90 day visa was issued in two days. I hear it is more difficult in Europe.

Kyrgyzstan: We got our visas in London, with the help of family. Heather managed in Beijing

Kazakhstan: Again we applied in London. You must go to an “OVIR” office within 3 days of arrival in Kazakhstan to “register” the visa, or face big fines. Heather, Frank, Su Chun and all of the greenway team got their visas in Urimuchi. Several members were fined for forgetting to do this registration thing.

Russia: Straight forward process in Australia. However at the time of writing they still insist on this “letter of invitation” scam. You need to get one of these from an online travel agency. We still do not know if it is really necessary to “register” them in Russia.

Ukraine: Not needed for me (UK passport). Ting got hers through the Ukraine embassy in Australia. Normal kiwis and aussies still need them.

Poland, Czech republic, Hungary onwards: Will all be part of the Schengen visa scheme by 2008.

Flying

Ting and I try to reduce our flying on environmental grounds. The fuel consumption per passenger is only about 3L/100km for long haul flights, like two people driving a heck of a long way in a mid sized car. However the combination of high altitude, water vapour and nitrous oxide emissions mean that the total effect on the climate is actually much worse. But there wasn’t any alternative for us to get to the start on time. Our cunning scheme was to do such a big trip that we wouldn’t feel the need for a repeat.

Candice Lee having a haircutAll asian airlines have a 20kg limit including bikes. Ting and I paid no excess baggage, by keeping the weight down and wearing all our clothes onto the plane. Candice Lee (right) smiled nicely at the airline staff and got 36kg on free.

Master negotiator Heather Burge talked a 1000€ charge down to nothing. Heather was trained in the art of haggling by the russian police force. The rest of the team were less fortunate and many had to pay hundreds of dollars.
Vaccinations
At the time I was immunised against polio, diptheria, tetnus, mengicoccal, typhoid, hooping cough, flu, Hep A, Hep B and rabies. Not Japanese B encephalitis or malaria as I wasn’t planning to head south of Beijing. There was some concern about urban dengue fever, however there is no vaccine for it anyway. I would normally have soaked most of my gear in prometherin, as a precaution against mosquitoes and other biting things. However on this occasion I was too busy and forgot.

As one might guess from this long list, it takes many weeks to get the right vaccines, as they can not always be administered at the same time and some do not take effect immediately. Rabies is a course of three vaccinations several weeks appart. I visited the doctor to get advice six months before leaving Australia.

Route in China

Crossing northern China was surprisingly fun. It is not nearly as desolate as it appears in the satellite pictures. Most of the way was through farmland irrigated from snow-melt. In Xinjiang we were riding from oasis to oasis, just like in Marco Polo’s day. The best way to avoid the worst of the coal truck traffic is to go north around Shaanxi, on route 110. There are still a few days of smog and trucks near the beginning.

Ting has previously crossed Eastern Tibet, but had more fun this time. There are few other cyclists, or tourists so we were treated very well. Just friendly honest people almost all the way. Only Daniel and Joff took the Tibet option, though I gather they both enjoyed themselves also.

It may become impossible to take the northern route some day if the authorities stop turning a blind eye to cycling on the new expressway. In parts of xinjiang there are no alternatives, the old road gets ripped up, or turned into a lane of expressway.

Route in Central Asia and Russia

Between the whole team we had at least eight serious safety incidents between Kyrgystan, Kazakhstan and Russia. It was by far the most dangerous part of the trip. There were four roberies, with varying levels of violence, and four crashes.

Kyrgyzstan: Arnold was injured when attacked by drunken youths near Kara Balta, and Olly and Ting’s campsite was attacked near Otmok. I think we were all pelted with stones on the road between Osh and Bishkek, both kids and adaults seem to find this amusing. Stone throwing was not such a problem between the Chinese border and Osh.

Kazakhstan: At least two members were hit by trucks. The driving was terrible. Road conditions were terrible, except there is a new road at least part way from Astana to Aktobe. Hot dry head-winds every day, but at least the population was superbly friendly to Ting and I. We camped in full view of the road sometimes without much concern. We actually really enjoyed Kazakhstan, despite the hardship. We hear that the road from Astana is much better.

Russia: The roads were just too dangerous. Suggest Russia should only be attempted if the trip involves quiet back roads. We didn’t see any obvious quiet roads for this route. Roads are narrow, cars drive very fast, traffic is heavy, and they think nothing of overtaking with oncoming bicycles. We were regularly blown off the road into the gravel by passing cars or trucks. There is no shoulder beside the white line.

Su Chun’s bike was stolen, though she got it back. Hung Lin and Brendon had to abandon their trip after being robbed at knife point by a gang, while camping near the Kazakh border.

Ukraine and Poland

Ukraine and Poland were both highlights of the trip, we followed a carefully planned route that avoided busy roads as much as possible. The traffic was much better behaved than in Russia, and quieter, except near Kiev, border crossings and big cities. Poland is covered with quiet small roads, though they are less direct. In Poland, and on the Sumi-Kiev section of Ukraine we rode through small picturesque villages every few kilometres.

Route in Europe

In our overall experience cycling in Germany, France and Denmark and Poland is considerably safer and more peaceful than in New Zealand, Australia or Taiwan. However some of the busy roads were as bad as those at home.

Cycling the MoselIf the route is planned very carefully it is possible to get some very long stretches on bike paths. There is a Eurovelo route going North-South from Scandinavia to the Mediteranian. There was no Eurovelo route for Ting and I, but there were several days of nice bike paths between Giessen (Germany) and Tionville (France). Most German rivers seem to have cycle paths along them. Germany has an amazing network of national long-distance cycleways. Try looking them up using an interactive route finder
It is often not necessary to use such routes in France, as there are plentiful quiet country roads with fantastic cycling.  Approaching Paris from the East, there is a path along le canal d’orcq, all the way from Meux.



%d bloggers like this: