Motorbiking in China? Sure, I’ll take that.

As my long winded self introduction on the My China Moto forum, I thought to give new and old MCM visitors alike a look at what it is to “go from zero to hero” in China these days. Lots has changed with many of the steps my buddy and I went through since other users last shared their impressions. Lots remains the same. Sorry to drown everyone with data, but I hope this helps someone out who might be on the fence about getting a bike and getting legal in China. I’m sure there’ll be all sorts of scoffing at the shortcuts I took, but I feel like I took a reasonable “middle path” through the mountain of silliness that is modern Chinese bureaucracy. All of this has taken 5 weeks, total.

Five weeks ago I had never ridden a motorcycle. Chinese traffic is dense and driving habits are revolting, so I’m not sure what I was thinking when I accompanied a friend out to the depths of Baoshan to watch him pick out a cheap motorcycle. I tried one out myself and decided to buy it, basically on a whim. I ride my bicycle everywhere and have done for years, so I didn’t expect it to be a terribly difficult learning curve. My first bike was a XGJ150 from the illustrious Xgjao company. It cost 8000 RMB and I rode it 45km back home from Baoshan with no helmet, no riding gear, no drivers license and no experience. Either the gearbox or I had a serious problem with finding neutral, so I rode the clutch all the way, just to be sure. Miraculously, we made it unscathed, and I proudly applied the free Ducati stickers the dealer had given me as it cooled off in the garage and dubbed it the Zoocati.

I went and bought a hemet and jacket the next weekend which, combined, cost more than the bike. Not a bad investment, considering, but alarm bells started going off when the bike wouldn’t start after sitting overnight in my garage. A few research trips with a more moderate friend of mind who was also looking to get a bike cued me in to how motorcycles were supposed to feel, sound and ride. My Zoocati occupied a spot decidedly outside of those limits. I figured I would just use it to learn how to ride, then invest in a more expensive, better built machine later. Fairly flawed logic, I know…

  1. I had also kicked off the licensing process, which involves a few pretty basic steps:
  2. If you have a license in your home country, get it translated officially at the “Shanghai Interpreters’ Association”, room 1607 (16th floor) of 国旅大厦1607, 1277号 Beijing West Rd. It costs 50 RMB.
  3. If you do not have a license and do not speak Chinese, you are shit out of luck and have to ride black. You can buy a license from some corrupt provincial towns, then translate it to a Shanghai license I’ve heard, but good luck with that. There is currently no driving school in Shanghai, that I know of, that  will accept foreigners.
  4. Take your translated license, a certificate of temporary residence, your passport, a shit ton of passport images with both blue and white backgrounds and the original license and head to Hami road XXX.
  5. Get a medical exam. Go on Saturday or Sunday – when I went, there was not a person waiting.
  6. Take all those papers down to the records submission office and request a test date.
  7. Wait. (Current wait time is approximately a month to take the test)
  8. Go out to Hongqiao on your date and take the test. It is not difficult if you study, and the questions are not any more tricky than any other licensing exam I’ve taken. There is an app for iPhone and Android called “Drive In China” which has the actual 2013 updated questions. No other app is updated as of June 2013. I studied for 6 days after work and passed the first time with 96% – it’s not rocket science.
  9. Collect your license from the nice, English speaking officer behind the counter while all the other police laugh at you.
  10. Go outside and ignore every single rule you just learned about driving in China – otherwise you’ll be screwed.

As mentioned, I did not have a motorcycle endorsement on my original driver’s license, so I had to take a shortcut named Jane, who works at CJ Sidecars (02162428981). For a negotiable amount of money (I paid 4000 RMB), she will “magically” get you the C1D endorsement and bump your test date up to whatever day you want. Fair warning, Jane is completely disorganized and doesn’t give a single shit about you once you’ve paid your money. She gave me incorrect questions to study, did not tell me all the steps and generally was a bitchy pain through the entire process. Do yourself a favor and get all of the stuff above together BEFORE you go to her, otherwise it’ll end up being a very frustrating game of, “oh yeah, you also need this…” She got that endorsement and got me the test date, though, which was worth what I paid her to me, but many of you Chinese speakers will probably laugh at me for having paid it. Whatever – as with everything else involving money spent on hobbies and whims, you decide what it is worth to you and everyone else’s opinion is pretty much irrelevant.

License in hand, I faced awareness of what “Criticisms and Educations” I could potentially enjoy for riding around on a bike with no plates. There are people who will argue with this, but these are the facts:

In Shanghai, it is illegal to drive an unregistered vehicle (no plates) and the punishment ranges from a 200-2000RMB fine, vehicle impound, revocation of your driver’s license and up to 15 days in jail.
In Shanghai, it is illegal to drive an vehicle with false, purposefully concealed or switched up plates and the punishment ranges from a 200-2000RMB fine, vehicle impound, revocation of your driver’s license and up to 15 days in jail.

All of this depends on your face, the weather and the mood of the cop who stops you, but that is the law in black and white. Plenty of people take the risk, but I want to enjoy riding my bike and not worry about giving the local cops another reason to hate on scofflaw white people making the roads unsafe for law-abiding Chinese.

It became clear pretty quick that the Zoocati was not plate-able. This is because every vehicle registered in Shanghai must be inspected in Shanghai for structural integrity and roadworthiness. You can go ahead and kick that process off for an 8000 RMB bike (or wait for someone like Euphonius to do it for you) because once a vehicle has been inspected, others with the same vehicle can register theirs much more easily. My research trips, including a drop in “VIP” visit to the CFMoto factory in Hangzhou, were quickly teaching me that the handgrips of a well-assembled bike shouldn’t need to be tightened every time you push the thing out of the garage because the starter doesn’t work… I started looking into the CFMoto 650NK, which is currently exported for sale in Australia and Brazil. It costs significantly more than the Zoocati, but it is also easily plated in Shanghai and, presumably, doesn’t fall apart the first time it’s ridden. The factory was clean and orderly and everyone working there seemed genuinely pleased to be putting those bikes together. It was nice to see and definitely impacted my decision to buy.

The license plate thing in Shanghai hasn’t changed much from what has been reported elsewhere on the forums, but a little clarification for folks like me might help:

License plates for all vehicles in Shanghai are tightly controlled and sold at auction, which also makes them extremely expensive. “A” plates let you ride anywhere in the city, while “C” plates don’t let you inside the Inner Ring Road without a 20-200 RMB fine. Motorcycles are not permitted on the elevated highways or any “G” level highways in the country, although that rule isn’t always enforced. Motorcycle plates can be transferred to automobiles, but not vice versa, and they do will not increase the monthly issue of new motorcycle plates, which makes them pretty damned valuable. An “A” plate for a bike can cost about 130,000 RMB and a “C” plate around 20k. The trick is, you can’t legally obtain the “C” plates unless your residence is outside the inner ring road in certain neighborhoods. It’s complicated and irritating, but good dealers will help you through the process of getting the plate you think you need. The dealer who I eventually bought the 650NK from gave me temporary plates too, which allow you to drive anywhere in Shanghai for 20 days or so, more than enough time to get over cruising the bund in low gear, pissing off taxi drivers and getting your picture taken by a million tourists from farm country. Once legally plated and licensed, you’re pretty much like a shark: as long as you don’t stop moving, you ought to be ok 🙂

So to his credit, the guy who sold me the Zoocati took it back and charged me a penalty of 2500 RMB. Considering it could not be made legal ever, I swallowed the loss and returned the bike. I headed out to Mingfan Moto with my friend and taxed the hell out of my Union Pay card. Three days later, we went to pick up our shiny new 650NKs and rode them home all legal and everything.

So along comes Dragon Boat weekend and we decide to go for a little test run out to Moganshan. Despite my purchases, I had still never ridden a motorcycle further than Baoshan. Plowing off past the Hongqiao hub, I realized what a huge difference there was between the Zoocati and the CF. Of course there’s the power and the torque, which can’t really be compared, but the CF still feels like a small bike. It’s light and has a fairly short wheelbase, which is perfect for me. I’m not a big guy, and I was afraid of being unable to control a more serious motor going into tight turns and over ahem… “varied” terrain. The brakes have a nice bite and I only locked up the rear once over a patch of gravel near a toll booth out in the middle of wherever. Basically, the CF felt pretty much like riding my Cervelo very fast. I was loving it. No sooner had we cleared Shanghai and hit Huzhou than the rain set in. Between my skills, the Chinese drivers’ skills and the wet roads, my nerves were pretty much spent by the time we limped into a gas station somewhere on the outskirts of nowhere to have a rest. The bikes were performing beautifully (as far as I knew!), and after a Nescafe or two we hit the road again and pushed on south through intermittent drizzle and full on piss pouring down.

Five and a half hours later, we rolled the bikes down the steep cement driveway of Xiwuli 73 in Houwu village. Any riders looking for a comfortable place should give Brian Shim a call and book a room: 18621330672 There’s plenty of room to park bikes, English is spoken, whiskey is served, the rooms are clean and showers are hot. Best of all, Brian does an insanely good Korean BBQ on request, so we sat down to some cold Moganshan beers and plates of grilled meat. We sat and listened to the rain hit the bamboo and turned in early. Perfect. The next day we followed Motokai down south, cutting through some beautifully repaved country roads and hairpin tuns through the bamboo plantations. There are hundreds of kilometers of these provincial roads down near Anji, but one of my favorites was the “Difa road” just west of Zhimaoling. There’s a lot of work being done on the mountain roads, which were traditionally used by the bamboo harvesting vehicles, mainly. So many tourists have been showing up there lately, they are going nuts with road building, which is nice for the moment, but will encourage even more Hangzhou hillbillies to go full road cruising with their Audi death cabs as soon as the prerequisite guest houses are built. Coming back through Houwu and the creepy ass tunnel down to Moganshanzhen was a breeze, and then we hit the end of Dragon Boat festival traffic jam.

The ride home was rain-free and relatively speedy. The bikes performed flawlessly the whole time, although I lost the bulb on my low beam. We got them washed up and are ready to ride again this weekend after the initial service stop – if the deluge ever stops.

You can check out the GPX route of our trip back here:

Big thanks to Motokai from MCM, who put up with two complete noobs trailing him all over Zhejiang. It’s people like him who make forums like that a real community!

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About themicah

I'm Micah.

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