Anybody who's done any kind of time in Shanghai will have been to the water-based peripheral towns of Suzhou and Hangzhou. These quaint second tier cities, gargantuan in their own right (both upwards of 6 million people - the population of London) are a fitting retreat when Shanghai's streets have become claustrophobic enough to warrant a weekend away.
In recent times, what was a half-day journey on the commuter train has become a stop or two on the Shinkansen-esque Gaotie (high speed rail). In the case of Suzhou it's barely an hour's journey away... plus the hour on either side getting to and from the train station.
Which is why we always talk about riding it. 100km across some of the world's flattest terrain between some of the world's fastest developing infrastructure. With Mission Workshop and John Prolly in town we donned face-masks and struck out west to see if the roads actually lined up.
They do! almost. Here's the route we took on strava.
Head north up to Wuning road and bear west as it turns into the Cao'an Highway. This is one of my favorite roads; fast, wide, smooth with enough room in the bike line for salmon-scooters and wayward trucks.
At Anting, do a dance with the checkpoints and motorway intersections and transpose south to the Baishi highway, from here it's a straight shot west to Suzhou. There'll be a resemblance of agriculture, roadworks for sure and you'll have a tailwind.
It's not a beautiful landscape. This is a zone of medium and heavy industry spaced between strip-malls and garbage dumps. On the approach to Suzhou the road becomes particularly gnarly with a new highway, metro line and chain of high-rises being envisioned in parallel.
But then, passing over the origins of the Suzhou Creek and through the outskirts of Suzhou and the Jinji Lake shimmers like a green carpet to say you've made it. Across the shore stands the new city's new office development and the gateway to the east - aptly named 'big pants'.
We've not quite made it yet though. Virtually anywhere actually worth going to in Suzhou is 10km from here further west. As the traffic and mayhem gradually builds, you'll come to realize that this city is a Shanghai home from home... with it's damn good snacks.