Beijing Traffic Among the Worst in the World

And apparently it’s only going to keep getting worse. This is an article from thebeijinger.com, a very useful resource, forum, and blog platform for everything Beijing:

http://www.thebeijinger.com/blog/2010/12/20/Brace-Yourself-Traffic-May-Get-Worse-This-Week

The Chinese government has been taking steps to try and reduce traffic. One rule that has been in place since around the time of the Olympics has been restricting the days that people are allowed to drive. This is regulated according to license plate number. So, for example, if your plate number ends in 2 or 7 you can’t drive on Tuesdays. (You can read about these rules here). This hasn’t been enough apparently as now the government is planning to require new car buyers to submit themselves in a lottery to apply for the right. This was a situation I encountered in my search for a motorcycle as I found that it’s not possible to apply for a new license plate anymore, you have to just buy a used one. The lottery is a new rule the government is exploring after having one of the worst traffic jams ever this summer that lasted 10 days and over 60 miles! One thing that could also help with congestion is the opening of a brand new subway line, line 15, as Beijing has been rapidly opening new lines since the Olympics (at least 3 in the past 2 years).

All I can say is that I’m grateful for the scooter that I’ve been borrowing from my friend. It has been saving me about 10-20 minutes on my morning commute and up to an hour on my trip back home at night, because for some reason the PM rush hour is much worse despite taking the same bus route back home. There is a certain luxury to being able to zip around the traffic jams, despite having to brave the sub-freezing temperatures.

Merry Christmas from Rubber on the Road

This isn’t really a christmas card, at least not in the traditional sense, but I thought I’d share this as it still seems kind of appropriate. It’s from one of my coworkers here in China. I work for a sourcing company, which means we help foreign companies who would like to manufacture in China. For any of you who have seen the small metal motorcycle replicas, usually with a sort of brushed metal finish, we work with one of the factories that makes those. This coworker of mine happened to have been to the factory and snapped this picture of a much bigger model that they made. Turns out, they also make giant models of not only motorcycles but also Transformer robots. Pretty cool stuff.

Merry Christmas and make sure to watch out for black ice during the winter riding season!

How my first motorcycle died; or, how to walk your motorcycle across 5 lanes of highway traffic …

The other day I was driving down the 401 between Pickering and Scarborough and I started to tell the friend I was with the story of how my first motorcycle died. He thought it was a crazy story, and I guess it is, so I thought I’d share with you the ‘crazy’ story of how my first motorcycle died …

My girlfriend worked in Oshawa and I lived in Toronto. She had stayed over on the Saturday night but needed to get to work for 6 in the morning. And so that was how we found ourselves at 5 o’clock on a clear Sunday morning hopping on my 83 Kawasaki 440 LTD I had nicknamed ‘Six Shooter’ on account of its 6 gears. It was just over an hour ride to get her to work. 

Riding in to Oshawa there were no problems at all – except for her falling asleep on the back of the bike a couple times (honestly, she fell asleep not once, but twice)! After dropping her off and saying our farewells, I turned around and headed back in to the city. The riding was nice as there was little traffic and the weather was warm and clear.

As I started to cross the Rouge Valley on the 401, I started to notice a problem. The engine seemed to chug and lose power – a similar feeling as when the gas is running low. So I switched it over to ‘reserve’ but the engine continued to cut out. I was riding in the express lanes in the far left lane, so while coasting without power I did my best to get to the right side shoulder. I couldn’t quite make it but I ended up on the left shoulder of the lanes to switch to the collector lanes.

I inspected the bike as best I could but couldn’t figure out what was wrong – there was gas in the tank, the spark plugs were good, the electrical seemed fine. But in gear I couldn’t push it – my heart sank. I called my dad who rides and lived nearby, and he said he’d ride down and we’d try to figure something out. So there I was, stuck on a median between the express lanes and collectors lanes on one of the busiest highways in Canada. Luckily I had a ‘smoke’ in my jacket, so I layed down on the grass and relaxed while I waited for my help to arrive.

When he finally arrived (close to two hours later) he had accidentally come in the collectors lanes and was separated from me – but instead of exiting, backtracking, and returning in the express lanes, he decided to pull over on the shoulder of the collectors and run across the three lanes of traffic to reach me!

We quickly decided there wasn’t anything we could do and that we should get it off the highway and bring it to a shop. However, instead of calling a pickup truck, we decided to push the bike across the highway and up the closest exit. So, in the middle of the day on a Sunday, there I was with my dad pushing my first motorcycle across five lanes of the 401 highway and two lanes of an exit ramp, then up to the closest exit.

At the time I was concerned about my motorcycle more than myself, so crossing the highway didn’t seem like such a big deal. Afterwards, in recounting the story to family and friends, I received wide-eyed stares and accusations of lacking sanity. To me it was the first of many crazy motorcycle stories to come …

Poor Six Shooter though – not sure how it happened, but the engine was running near dry of oil! At this time I had all my oil changed at the shops so I’m not sure whether they drained it and forgot to fill it or if there was some sort of slow leak I was unaware of – I guess the cold at 5 am kept the piston from seizing until I dropped my girlfriend off at work! I still pause for a moment of silence when I drive past that spot on the 401 …

Buying a Motorcycle in China: Drivers License and License Plate

So I’ve been in China for almost 2 weeks now, and with most of the moving and settling in stuff out of the way, I’ve been able to start looking at how to go about (legally) getting and riding a motorcycle in China.

There are two important legal issues that I’ve found need to be taken care of: drivers license (驾照, jia4zhao4)and license plate(车牌, che1pai2). In China, they don’t actually accept the international drivers license, so even if you have one from your home country, you have to have it converted to a Chinese one. This involves getting a health check up (which apparently is really just a check of your eyes) and then completing a written exam (which you can have in English or Chinese). I’ve heard that the exam is actually kind of hard, only because they start asking some outrageous questions. The good news though is that apparently the questions are all available online, so you can prepare them ahead of time.

The license plate situation can be a little tricky. There’s a pretty intricate system in place where I am in Beijing with the plates, where depending on what chinese character you have on your plate, you get different privileges specifically regarding how far out from or how close to the center of the city you can go (this applies to cars too). You have to pay for these different registrations of course. This is a wiki article on the system in China.

Despite all this, it’s pretty easy to get away with, from what I understand, having neither, but it may not be a risk you’re willing to take. Last year when I was in Beijing, I briefly had a motorcycle in Beijing and not only did I not have the proper driver’s license, I didn’t even have a license plate on my bike! (you can read the story here)

I’ll be updating as I myself go through the process with tips etc., as I myself find out how to do all this. One of the best things to do is to try and find a friend that knows about motorcycles to find out what they did, where they went, and where they got their bike. In fact, at 6:15 tonight, I’ll be heading out to meet someone to do just that!

Some helpful links:

Vehicle Registration Plates for the People’s Republic of China

How to: Get a Motorbike License in China

How China Works

China.org.cn

Update: TheBeijinger.com This is a really fantastic article that I found on Beijing’s major community site “The Beijinger.” It’s an article from a person who has been through this whole process. It is very in depth and helpful. I also recommend scrolling through the comments as some commentors have some good input on their own experiences.

The weirdest, most unique motorcycles I’ve come across …

I am a fan of unique and eccentric designs, especially when it comes to motorcycles. I couldn’t help but make a post containing some of the most interesting designs I’ve come across. They follow in no particular order:

 

1. Suzuki RE-5 Rotary Engine (1974-1976)

Rotary engines produce high power figures from relatively small displacements. All four major Japanese manufacturers had prototypes or plans. The RE5 was touted as the future of motorcycling. The rotary engine produced a lot of heat which required a number of sub systems such as water and oil cooling and modifications to more typical engine components such as the exhaust pipes. There were three separate oil tanks (sump, gearbox and total loss tank) and two oil pumps (one for normal engine lubrication and cooling and one to supply oil specifically for tip seal lubrication). The RE5 was quite advanced in its steering and overall handling and motorcycle magazines of the day remarked on this.

 

2. 2009 Bimota Tesi 3D

Who would have thought of adding a swingarm both at the rear and at the front of a motorcycle? The Bimota Tesi 3D is the ultimate hub-steered motorcycle for the technologically and mechanically minded people out there. Tesi is Italian for Thesis, which is fitting as it was Engineer Pierluigi Marconi’s thesis at university that directly led to the Bimota Tesi 1D motorcycle in 1990. Some lucky test driver at Motorcycle.com explains it:

“Initially it feels very weird to turn on the road with the Bimota Tesi 3D. Your brain needs a little recalibration as the handlebars feel sluggish and unresponsive at first, but it’s really not the case. What happens on that front end is that the arms on bearings interact with each other and the pull-rod Extremetech mono shock at the front. That’s right, a mono shock at the front specially designed by Extremetech to Bimota’s specifications. So when I push the handlebars to steer left or right there’s a hydraulic or really tight steering damper feel to the movements. … Bimota’s own experience when they have let racing riders out on the Tesi 3D for the first time is that it takes some adjustments, but as soon as a rider gets used to the new feel they generally prefer the Tesi 3D to a more conventional Bimota DB5. One of the main reasons for this is the consistency, as you soon start getting some incredible feedback from that front end not possible on a conventional front end.”

 

3. 1974 Hercules W2000

In 1974 Hercules became the first company to offer a Wankel-engined motorcycle for sale to the general public. The W-2000 had a single-rotor air-cooled engine of 294cc that produced 25 bhp, later increased to 27 bhp (20 kW). Engine lubrication was by manually adding oil to the fuel in the tank.

 

4. (My personal favorite) Killinger and Freund Motorcycle

The Killinger and Freund Motorcycle was an attempt in 1935 by a group of five German engineers from Munich to design a more streamlined and modified version of the GermanMegola front-wheel drive motorcycle. The work took three years to complete but the result was impressive. The motorcycle featured a three cylinder two-stroke engine built right into the front wheel!

 

I’d be very excited to hear of any other unique motorcycles out there! Let us know what you’ve seen!

Photos of Robert Pirsig’s 1968 trip that inspired ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’

Came across this great resource of photos from Robert Pirsigs 1968 motorcycle trip that inspired his spectacular book ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance‘. You can see Pirsig in the photos riding a Honda Superhawk. While motorcycles are incidental to the story, I highly recommend anyone who hasn’t read ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ to pick up a copy asap!

Moving to China and My New Tattoo

So I’m finally making the move over to China. After my two month trip around the US and then hanging around New York City for a month, my paperwork finally went through and on my to China where I’ll be living for the next couple years.

This or course doesn’t mean I’ll stop my side of the Rubber on Road contributions! I’m looking forward to starting the hunt for a new motorcycle in Beijing (though it will most likely be markably smaller than Eowyn, my HD Dyna Wide Glide which is sitting in storage while I’m away). So make sure to check in to read about buying and riding motorcycles in China while Brent keeps up with the North American side of things.

"I never get lost because I don't know where I'm going"

Also, to commemorate the amazing trip I had from August to October this year, I got a new tattoo. It’s my third and my biggest yet, on my shoulder. It was designed around the quote and motto of our site: “I never get lost because I don’t know where I’m going.” I worked with the artist to have it designed with a Lord of the Rings theme, using the elven script and the White Tree of Gondor as inspirations. It turned out to be particularly appropriate as I got it the day before leaving, 24 hours before I was on a plane to China ready to start the next stage of my life!