TOURS: Our tour company, China Passage, organized more than two dozen bicycle tours in China last year, ranging from 16 to 24 days. Some of the itineraries will change for 1988, but there will be more trips available. Each of the company's tours features cycling between and within a variety of locations, but none is solely a bicycle excursion: To cover more territory, all involve some travel between cities by plane, train and/or bus.

Our tour was called the Cross China Explorer. A Beijing-based Chinese guide accompanied the group for the entire tour, and local guides joined us in each city.

The Cross China Explorer itinerary includes many of the same spots as China Passage's Yangtze Valley Grand Tour, which the company calls its flagship tour. Both feature a week-long cycle tour in the Yangtze River Valley and also cover the sights in and around Beijing and Guilin -- whose mountain scenery has been lauded for centuries by artists and countless tourists. But the Grand Tour also goes to Xi'an, where the main attraction is an army of terra cotta soldiers discovered in 1974.

The main difference between the tours is price. The 20-day Cross China Explorer costs $2,694 during the peak months of June through October, $2,644 during March, April, May and November, compared with $3,774 for the 24-day Grand Tour. (The Grand Tour price is the same, no matter what month you travel.) To save that money, the Explorers do some of their China travel by train rather than plane, and stay in hotels a notch or two below those that accommodate the Grand Tour passengers. They also use Chinese single-speed instead of imported multispeed bicycles, although the former are perfectly adequate for the terrain covered.

The tours' costs include air fare from New York, plus meals, accommodations and transportation in China. Bikes are included in the cost of the Explorer, but the Grand Tour's multispeed bikes cost an extra $100. Each tour has English-speaking Chinese guides, and most also have Western tour leaders. All the tours spend at least a day in Hong Kong or Tokyo, and sometimes both.

Other China Passage tours include the 16-day Great Wall/Guilin Explorer ($2,545 during the peak months, including air fare from New York), which uses Beijing as a base for exploring the wall and other nearby sights, and the 18-day South China Explorer ($2,244), a winter itinerary that focuses on Guangdong Province and the Pearl River Delta.

For more information, contact China Passage, 168 State St., Teaneck, N.J. 07666, (800) 247-6475.

There are a number of other tour operators who sponsor cycling trips in China, among them:

Open Road Bicycle Tours Ltd., 1601 Summit Dr., Dept. S, Haymarket, Va. 22069, (703) 754-4152.

Asian Pacific Adventures, 336 Westminster Ave., Los Angeles, Calif. 90020, (213) 935-3156.

Boojum Expeditions, Box 2236, Leucadia, Calif. 92024, (619) 942-2309.

Sobek Expeditions, P.O. Box 1089, Angels Camp, Calif. 95222, (209) 736-4524.

-- Lenore Magida