Motorcycle buying tips in China

I thought I’d share some tips from my experience of looking for a used motorcycle in China.

My friend Karl and I decided a bit over a month ago that we wanted to try and find some motorcycles second hand that we could take to travel around china once classes were over. As I mentioned in my previous post, almost all you see around China are bikes at the very most of 250cc, usually smaller. The reason we found for this is apparently because during the period of the Tianamen Square incident, students used motorcycles to send messages to each other, and as a result the bigger ones were banned. So any motorcycles you see above this are illegal and have fake plates. However, we found that the cops will rarely if ever stop you, and, as a foreigner, if they do, you just pretend not to know any Chinese and they won’t want to bother. We heard a story from one guy who’s bike we were interested in that he rode past some cops at 300km/h and then saw them not too far down the road at a gas station. All they told him was to make sure to be careful.

As for finding places with bikes, even those of 250cc, it’s not easy. One strategy we took is whenever we did happen upon bigger bikes, we wrote a note and left it with the bike saying we liked the bike and if he/she knew of anyone who was selling or places to buy. This yielded a couple results and one that we considered following up on. This guy was helping a friend sell his 400cc Kawasaki Ninja for 7000 RMB. Also the place where he was storing the bike, a mechanics near Liangmaqiao and the 4th Ring, happened to have a bit of a collection of bigger second hand bikes for sale that seemed promising.

There is also a very good street just north of the Wudaokou subway station that is filled with bike, scooter, and motorcycle shops. It’s definitely worth a walk around though to see what they have at the time. It’s also where karl and I found our helmets, jackets, and chain, all for 720RMB, just over $100 US.

Both the best and scariest part of buying a bike in China is that the only necessar paper work is handing over the money in cash in exchange for the keys. Also, of the bike doesn’t have plates, as was the case for me, some places can make them for you for 500RMB and even fake register it! Gotta love China.


The Great Chinese Motorcycle Adventure Pt. 3

Driving along 205国道 was an interesting experience. It was a two lane road with crazy drivers, huge buses making incredibly bold passes, bikes riding on the shoulders, potholes, and hidden intersections with cars popping out unexpectedly. We were driving along here for about 20 minutes or so when I saw in my mirror the same signal to stop from Karl.

When we pulled over he told me that the chain had started to loosen again so he could barely accelerate again or run above 5 thousand revs. I also admitted to being nervous about my hot engine and the shaking at the front. So we started to weigh our options.

Our odometers read about 270km for the day but that also included a lot of wandering. That left about 500km for the next day if we were on our original route. But now we were on a slower road that probably wasn’t direct. This meant that even if our bikes could get fixed that night (it was almost 7) and stay healthy the whole way, it would take at least all of the next day, going about 60km/h, to get to Qingdao. So we made the call to get to the closest village and weigh our options for getting back to Beijing.

Just about 5 minutes further, we found a place with restaurants, motorcycle repair place, and cab drivers. We decided that we would try and negotiate with the cabbies to find a van that would take us and our bikes back to Beijing.

Soon we found a guy who we at first was saying he had a train (the Chinese words for train and truck are very similar), but turns out he had a friend with a truck that could take us. So after a quick bite to eat the truck arrived and we managed to lift the bikes up into it. Afterwards, we were told that there was only room for one of us in the cab and the other would have to stay in the back with the bikes. We decided to just both stay in the back where we managed to get a nice nap in.

We were woken up and let out when we noticed that we were on the side of a highway. We started to get a little worried that they were going to leave us there when they broke the news to us that they couldn’t go within the 5th ring road into the inner-city area because of their plates. So we tried to communicate the best place from which to drive (very slowly) back to campus at midnight.

After being dropped off right off the highway, we started to find our way back. Soon though we noticed we were right near the mechanics from where we got our bikes. This led us to the decision to just lock up the bikes there and attempt to sell them back to them or at least have them fix it to sell them. So it was at the end of a very long, a little demoralizing but still adventure filled and fun day that we made it back to our dorms at 1am, 15 hours after leaving.

The Great Chinese Motorcycle Adventure Pt. 2

As we were making our way slowly on the shoulder of the highway, a police officer ended up pulling us over. This obviously made us pretty nervous given that nothing we were doing with the bikes was legal, so pretended not to know any Chinese. The cop however turned out to be very friendly as he apologized for his poor English, explained how we couldn’t drive on the highway like that, and escorted us to the next down.

Driving through this city was pretty interesting as we were winding through an army of gigantic trucks along a dirt road riddled with ditches. Soon we found a motorcycle repair place, 摩托车修, that was really just a hole in the wall with scooters out front next to what I’m pretty sure was a brothel. However, we still managed to move the tire back and make the chain taught and all for free.

At this point, I started to notice that my temperature gauge had been running hot for a long time. I asked the guy at the shop about it and he said not to worry about it, it was a hot day. So I decided to keep going but just keep an eye on it. So we started to find our way out of the town.

This is when we started to have a very Chinese experience getting directions. Each time we asked someone, we would seem to get two contadictory answers, one guy even crossing out the directions someone had written down for us, saying they were completely wrong, and writing something different. We also got conflicting answers on whether or not we could drive on highways with our bikes.

So we started to make our way to this road we had been recommended (quick update on my bike, it had developed a slight shudder and was still running hot). The guy that told us about the road had assured us that everyone knew about it. However, it seemed everyone we asked had no idea… Soon though, a Chinese man on a Jingshen Chinese bike caught up to us and offered to lead us in the right direction.

This man was an insane driver. The driving was already chaotic as it was, cars taking up the two lanes of the opposite direction in an effort to bypass traffic. The guy we met though, after growing tired of weaving between cars and trucks and driving against traffic, lead us into a parking lot to get pass the gridlock, then onto the sidewalk, until he randomly decided he didn’t want to do that anymore an drove straight off of the 3 inch raised walkway at a decent speed (this certainly wasn’t good for Karl’s chain).

Eventually though, after asking four people who said they didnt know it only to find out from a cab driver that we were 20 feet away, we managed to get our way to the road, 205 国道, which seemed to start in a construction yard.

The Great Chinese Motorcycle Adventure Pt. 1

On Wednesday the 13th of May, my friend Karl and I were equipped to set off on our 700km trip down the coast of China to Qingdao, Karl with his 400cc Kawasaki Ninja with fake plates and me with my Honda CB400 with no plates at all, and neither of us with a valid Chinese driver’s lisence to speak of.

The trip started out well. Our first 150km went off without a hitch as we wound our way through Beijing traffic and navigated our way out of the city. The driving was very fun as we hit the open road, hitting speeds as high as 150km/h. We took a break for some snacks and to get some gas. The gas station was fun as we had Chinese crowding round our bikes asking us questions and chuckling at our directions we had taped to our gas tanks.

It was at about 50km after the break that things started to get interesting. Karl was leading when all of a sudden he started to slow down to about 100km/h. Then I got the signal to stop, the fist downwards. So we pulled over and he told me that he was hearing a bad grinding noise coming from his gear box and chain. So we started experimenting with it, running it in neutral then in first with the back wheel up and decided that somehow the axel had moved forward our the chain had lengthened so that there was not enough tention between the chain and gears. The sound had been the grinding of the gears trying to catch the chain. So we tried to first open up re gear box, but my harley tool kit tools either didn’t fit or grinded down the extremely soft metal of the bolts. After some fiddling we did manage to loosen the axel on one side, but the other seemed much more willing to have the metal stripped than be loosened.

So as we started to way our options stranded on the side of the road, we noticed what looked like a work camp down a dirt road off the highway. So karl walked down the road to get some tools. He came back with a shifted, which unfortunately still stripped the bolt. So karl went back and came back with a couple chinese guys who helped us to shift one side of the back wheel enough to get some tension in the chain to drive slowly to a town.

my new bike and my new insurance broker

finally i am back on the road. after 6 painful months without a ride, i purchased a 2003 Triumph America in excellent condition with only 9000 kms on it. and i couldn’t be happier with it.

the older triumphs were recognizable for their ‘indented at the knees’ gas tank. for some reason unknown to me the newer models do not have this indentation. so i was quite happy that the 2003 model i purchased had the classic triumph look and saved me several thousand dollars off a new model.

i also must put in a word for my wonderful new insurance broker. Avi Singh at Cornerstone Insurance Brokers was a great help over the past week getting me the best price for the coverage i required, and offering very fast over the phone service. he has by far been the best broker i’ve had over the past few years (and i’ve had a few). you can reach him at 905-822-9665 ext 224 or send him an email at .

now, without further ado, i present to you my new ride. if you see me on the streets of toronto be sure to stop and say hi!


Southern China and 125cc of Pure Power

This is a long overdue post, over a year. But I think it’s a great story and worth sharing. This is about my experience renting and riding motorcycles in southern China in May 2009:

Finally got my first ride in of the season. Last week I was on holiday from school and took a week with a few friends in Southern China around the area of Guilin. After being unable to resist the itch anymore, we started asking around at some of the bicycle rental places if they had any motorcycles they could rent us.

Sure enough, right near our hostel, we found a place that, after a little bit of arguing, agreed to rent to us for the day for 600RMB a day. Since there were four of us (two with significant motorcycle experience, and one other that had done some riding) we figured we could split two bikes between us. This would come out to just about $US50 each to rent a motorcycle for one day. Not bad!

The thing to keep in mind though, is that these were far from high quality bikes. They were small little 125cc China brand bikes. They red-lined in 5th gear at 90 kmh (about 55mph). The helmets they gave us were cheap, plastic, construction-site looking things. Even worse, the second day we rented, one of the brakes barely worked! I checked it by gripping down on it only to find i could still push it forward with my feet. When I pointed this out to the guy at the shop, he just told me “mei wenti” which means “it’s not a problem” in Chinese. I tried to explain to him that it absolutely was a problem, especially in Chinese traffic, so he eventually relented and tightened the brakes (turned out this didn’t last too long, but hey, mei wenti!).

An interesting note about Chinese bikes: In the West, the way we change gears in the west is press down for first gear and then up for all subsequent gears. Not the case in China. There, you go up for all of them to increase and Neutral is the last one down. It got even more confusing when we soon realized that rather than the gear shift locking after 5 (the last gear), it kept shifting past starting back at N after 5. We had to find this out the hard way, while on the road, running in 5th gear! As anyone who knows about driving in manual, it can be quite bad if you’re going in 5th gear at about 90 km/h and then to suddenly have your bike back in 5th gear, or, even worse, go from 1st to 5th when you meant to go to Neutral! Long story short, we managed to avoid any disasters, but still scary all the same.

All of this aside, I would recommend anyone traveling in the area to put aside the guide book for one day and give this a shot. I think that this was one of the coolest and most fun rides I had ever done. Aside from the fact that I hadn’t ridden in months, the scenery around Yangshuo was simply incredible and driving in Chinese traffic just added another level to the excitement to the experience. We got to see little towns in the country side that weren’t as touristy as well. Overall, though we were probably lucky to avoid any trouble with authorities or any serious mechanical or traffic related accidents, I would certainly do this ride again!