Before the start of this tour we are a little worried about how much of a guide our driver, Shane Ullman, will be able to be. It seems doubtful that we’ll be able to hear much over the noise of our vehicle and the wind in our face.
Fortunately, such fears are unfounded. There’s a persistent rumble from the Chang Jiang 750 bike, but it’s not the deafening roar we’d feared. In fact, looking at the city from the road like this is probably one of the best ways to see Shanghai. As you’re driven down the middle of the road, through the centre of the city, you’re free to observe everything on either side. Observing the city from the road instead of the pavement seems like a minor, superficial adjustment, but it truly makes you feel in the middle of the city, not pushed out to the side.
It’s good the noise isn’t excessive because Ullman proves to be an extremely capable guide; completely at ease dodging Shanghai’s notorious traffic whilst recounting interesting titbits of local history. When we dismount and visit the colonial era lanes and alleys behind Baoshan Lu market, Ullman demonstrates a real interest in the history on display, pointing out, for instance, a decorative piece of stonework that somehow survived the tumult of last century intact. It’s something easy to miss but Ullman makes sure we take note of it.
Shanghai Insiders are proud of their guides. There are no new arrivals given charge. All Insider guides are expats who speak good Mandarin and have lived at least three years in the city and, with Ullman at least, their extensive local knowledge shows.
Riding pillion with Shanghai Insiders isn’t the cheapest way to see the city - the cost of the company’s recommended four hour tour is 975RMB per person for two people (with one person behind the driver and one in the sidecar), although they do offer shorter and cheaper options. However, if you’re feeling flush, it’s a unique way to see the city and to learn a thing or two.