Shanghai Insiders is a tour company that operates local city tours via Changjiang 750cc motorbikes with sidecars. This totally unique way to see Shanghai is something you can't do in any other city (except for Beijing with their sister operation). Forget Segway or bike tours, zooming through Shanghai on the back or in the sidecar of one of these professionally-driven bikes is a total thrill.
My son, husband and I took the tour with About.com's Adventure Travel Guide, Lois Friedland. Check out her complete description of the tour here.
How It Works:
The company has a fleet of operational vehicles so you can book for a large group (if done in advance) or for as few as one. All tours are tailor-made so you basically decide if you want two or four hours and where you'd like to go. We were four people in our tour and this was fun because you enjoy watching your friends' motorbikes, taking photos of each other and still managing to stay together. I can imagine in a large group that you must split up. I can't see the Shanghai authorities looking upon a large fleet of tourist-carrying motorbikes hitting the small alleys of the French Concessions
The payment policy is RMB cash at the end of the tour to the driver.
More on the Motorbikes:
The Changjiang 750cc are communist replicas of communist replicas (the Russian Ural sidecar) of the 1930s BMWs. At the end of World War II, the Russians moved the BMW factory from Eastern Germany to the Ural mountains. In 1957, the Russians shared the technology with the Chinese in a gesture of friendship. The technology has hardly been modified ever since which makes Insiders' bikes unique and a most appropriate machine to discover Shanghai.
Taking an Insiders Tour is something I've been meaning to do since I first heard about the operation in 2008. After you've been in Shanghai a while, you'll come to realize that these old sidecar motorbikes are ubiquitous in the city and the expat-hip like to buy and restore them and then zoom around on these old bikes wearing goggles, blonde hair whipping behind them. I thought it was so clever to combine this very Shanghai transportation with a tour operation because one of the best ways to seeing the city is by just enjoying street-level life.
We were four in our group so had two drivers on two bikes. We started the tour by having a look at the city map with one of the drivers and discussing where we'd like to go. We decided on a tour through the French Concession since one of our party was a visitor and hadn't seen that part of Shanghai yet. On we hopped and away we went.
One of the best things about the tour is simply enjoying the ride in the open air through the leafy streets in Shanghai. Obviously, this is a tour best enjoyed in good weather, but it could really be done anytime as long as you're wearing the right clothing. (Although I dare say I wouldn't do it in the rain!). We drove about the streets and then had several stops where one of the drivers took us down lanes or into historic buildings, all the while explaining some of the history and background of Shanghai.
I highly recommend seeing Shanghai this way. While it won't be the most educational tour you'll take, it is certainly one of the most fun. The driver-guides are knowledgeable and safe. Ask lots of questions and don't be afraid to tell them about parts of the city in which you're interested. You'll soon find those two hours have slipped away and will probably find yourself booking another two!