The Chinese climate is generally conducive to motorcycle riding, and you see bikes everywhere. However, the traffic is definitely not easy to cope with. Nor is Chinese bureaucracy!

It can be quite difficult for a foreigner to get the drivers license, insurance and permits to travel around China on their personal motorcycle. Despite that, some tourists may want to try it.


Tips for the Motorcycles:


There are some restrictions. Motorcycles are forbidden on most freeways and some cities forbid them in the downtown core, in an effort to control traffic congestion. For example, motorcycles are banned from downtown Guangzhou and Hangzhou, and in certain areas of Beijing and Shanghai. Riding a motorcycle into these prohibited areas can lead to fines and possible confiscation of the bike. There can also be licensing complications; for example in some places a bike registered in a suburb cannot legally be ridden in the nearby city.

The majority (70% at a guess) of Chinese motorcycles are 125 cc, with 50, 90 and 150 also moderately common. There are also many scooters and three-wheel motorcycle-based cargo vehicles, most with 125 engines. At least in some cities you cannot register anything larger than 250 cc. A 125 cc plain-jane Suzuki sells for around 4000 RMB ($500 US). A fancier bike with road racer or off-road pretensions would be a bit more, a Chinese brand somewhat less. Some Chinese companies build their own chassis but buy engine/transmission assemblies from Suzuki or Honda; these are probably the best value. Of course, at the lowest end are simply bicycles that have been fitted with engines to function like motorcycles, something probably only seen in China.

You can also find imported Japanese bikes in most cities. Look on the outskirts for motorcycle repair shops and eventually you will find one with some older model XR's or CBR's or the like. A 10 year old CBR400 should be about 4000yuan in good shape. The Honda XR250 is also fairly common but are a bit more expensive around 10,000yuan for a 5-8 year old bike. The laws are not very clear on these bikes, if you buy one be careful of the police they may confiscate the bike. (Don't be afraid of ignoring the police as it is very very common in China.)

Chinese often ride without helmets, or with the helmet on but the chin strap undone. Three people on a motorcycle or two on a bicycle is completely normal, as is having passengers ride sidesaddle. Three on a bicycle or up to five on a motorcycle are sometimes seen. Loads of a cubic meter or so are common for both bicycles and motorcycles, and much larger loads are sometimes seen.


Sidecar rigs
The most interesting bikes in China are Chang Jiang. Back in 1938, BMW designed a 750 cc flat twin side-valve sidecar rig for the German army. At the end of the war, the Russians moved the entire factory to the Urals and began producing Dnieper and Volga bikes to that design. They also gave or sold China the equipment and the Chang Jiang was the result. There's also a modernised version with overhead valves and electric starter. These are not your high performance sport bike; even the new OHV model is only 32 horsepower. However, they were designed for military use and are very solidly built. They are 20-odd thousand yuan new. They are invariably sold and ridden with the sidecar; it might not be possible to license them without it.

There are lots of older Chang Jiangs around and if you buy one that is old enough, it may be classed as an antique vehicle. This might mean it is exempt from your country's import restrictions; most safety and pollution laws have some sort of exemption for antiques. This is risky; some people have lost bikes at customs. You need a thorough understanding of your country's regulations before even considering it.

One vendor that does this type of export is Sidecar Solutions in Beijing. They also rent bikes, organise tours, and help with Chinese drivers licenses. Another Beijing Chiang Jiang specialist with similar services is Gerald. Shanghai has a dealer called Wild Wolf Sidecar [8] and a motorcycle club [9] that includes many Chiang Jiang riders. It is common for a rebuilt machine from one of these vendors to cost somewhat more than a new bike straight from the factory would; people say they are worth it because of the better quality control.

A real fanatic might consider riding a Chang Jiang from China to Europe using routes in the Europe to South Asia over land and Silk Road itineraries. You could get service on the bikes in Russia from people familiar with Dneiper and Volga; some parts are even interchangeable.


Motorcycle tours
There are motorcycle-based tours of various areas, often with rental of a Chang Jiang included:

HC Travel [10], based in UK, offer Chang Jiang tours to Great Wall, Tibet and Mongolia
Dragon Bike Tours [11] Chinese based, offer a Silk Road tour
Asia Bike Tours [12], based in India and using Enfields, run a tour into Tibet
Yinchuan has an annual Motorcycle Tourist Festival [13] in late June.


Electric scooters
Electric scooters are common and cheaper than motorcycles (¥1,500 for a base model, ¥3,500 for the top-of-the-line). While they lack the horsepower and range of a motorcycle, they are quieter, cleaner, lighter, and easier to maintain. Scooters come with a battery (or batteries) that are usually removable as well as rechargeable from a household outlet. At least in some cities, these vehicles are licensed as a bicycle so one does not need a driver's license to ride them and may take advantage of bike lanes and sidewalks (if present) to circumvent traffic. However, like motorcycles, some cities have banned them. The alleged reason is that many motorised bikes are being used in bag snatch crimes. Others suggest it is to make room for people with cars and people movers.

Scooters are a target for thieves, so always ensure that one or, ideally, both wheels, are secured with a solid lock. Batteries as well are liable to be stolen and should be locked to the scooter with the built-in mechanism or stored indoors while not in use. Some residences allow for scooters to be brought indoors over night, which is preferable.

The bulk of used scooter sales is increasingly conducted over the Internet. Native Chinese who are knowledgeable in such matters should be able to direct you to a good website for your particular city. Be sure to understand what to look for when purchasing a used scooter. Most importantly, a scooter's battery, like all forms of batteries, will lose its ability to hold a charge over time. It is often possible to purchase a new battery to go along with a used bike.