The planning for the China leg of our expedition was solely in the hands of Fanny （方怡. I had agreed that if she managed to arrange motorcycles and sponsorship to support us then I would fly out and be her wing-man and basically do as I’m told. A tall order granted. I still had a few air-miles from the days when I actually had a job and used them up flying from London to Hangzhou (杭州) which is in Zhe Jiang province（浙江省), just 35 minutes by the 400 Kph train (高铁) from Shanghai (上海). Why Hangzhou? That’s where our new motorcycles come from.
I had done the London to Hong Kong flight many times and Cathay Pacific is an excellent airline. As usual, I spent most of the flight asleep. Before I boarded I did get stopped at Heathrow airport by security who were concerned about the fact I was getting on the flight in full motorcycle Enduro/Adventure kit. My bag was full of electronic gizmos and the security officer probably regretted asking me to take everything off as the rancid odour from my Alpinestar Tech 3 boots wafted around the x-ray machines. I apologised with embarrassment as people clearly started to notice and give them a wide berth.
Twelves hours later I transferred onto a Dragonair flight in Hong Kong that took a further two hours to get to Hangzhou where Fanny was waiting for me. I was very happy to see her and we immediately switched to the Chinese channel. Despite the fact that I had tried to keep up my Mandarin throughout the expedition there really is no substitute for actually being in China, seeing all the Chinese character signs and adverts and being forced to speak and understand it.
Fanny had arrived earlier by high speed train from Shanghai and booked us into a very nice studio apartment. Early the next day we were picked up by a limousine and taken to the Chun Feng Moto HQ in Yu Hang (余杭）where the bosses very warmly welcomed us, gave us a VIP tour and handed over two brand new motorcycles.
I was vaguely familiar with CF Moto because recently in the British motorcycle newspaper, Motorcycle News, there was an article about the new CF Moto 650NK which was being imported into the UK for the first time. There was a lot of discussion (positive and negative) about the first Chinese big engined motorcycles and the impact the Chinese are going to have on the motorcycle industry. Up to this point the Chinese were only making, and making in huge numbers, scooters, quad biikes and small engined bikes below 125 cc and so a lot of parallels were being made with the Japanese motorcycle industry forty years ago and their subsequent dominance of the market.
The bikes we were being loaned were not the 650NKs, which are sort of naked street fighter types, but the touring 650TRs. Why Fanny had chosen CF Moto rather than a manufacturer that made enduro or adventure bikes was not understood by me at that time, but I was subsequently to find out that CF Moto had joint ventured with KTM to make 390 Dukes for the Chinese market.
I am not really a touring bike fan, had never owned one and the closest thing I had really ridden for any distance was a Suzuki GSXR 1300 Hayabusa which is more of a sports tourer and at the time I owned one in 1999 was the fastest production motorcycle in the world with a top speed above 200 Mph (310Kph).
Specifications for our CF Moto motorcycles at:
Our proposed route through China was discussed and I looked skeptically at the bikes and wondered if they would handle the challenging road conditions in places like Xizang (西藏) and Qinghai (青海) and indeed anything remotely “off road”. I would really liked to have ridden our KTMs in China and there would be many roads and places we would ride through where the KTMs would have been perfect, but for now that was just not possible and so I embraced my new bike with cheerful optimism.
I was very thankful and relieved that we were being supported by CF Moto with their extensive distributor and service network across China and so my worries about reliability and indeed suitability were somewhat allayed. Also, we knew of another expedition who were riding a mixture of bikes, including the 650 NK and 650 TR and they reported very favourably on their handling and reliability and gave us some recommendation about minor modifications and spares we should bring.
The bikes would need to be licensed, number plated and insured, which is a tricky process in China and involved Fanny, among other things, having to be registered as a Hangzhou citizen under China’s Hukou system. For me? I would need a Chinese driving licence that required going to the police station to register a residential address in Hangzhou, going for a medical, eyesight and hearing test, translating my UK driving licence into Chinese at an official Public Security Bureau centre, and since I wanted a permanent 6 year licence rather than a temporary licence, passing the driving licence theory test at an approved transport bureau center. The first things we rushed about and got done pretty quickly, but the last I had to swot up and cram throughout the night to achieve the 90% pass mark.
The test was trickier than I assumed as the questions in English were grammatically incorrect, ambiguous and very confusing and the only possible way to pass was to rote learn the answers from a bank of several thousand Q&As. The most difficult part was trying to remember the Chinese names of all the various government departments, the traffic officer hand signals and the bizarre 1st Aid questions and answers that bore little resemblance to any of the previous 1st Aid courses and exams I had done in the police in England or Hong Kong, or as a paragliding instructor. Do you really tie a tourniquet around someones neck if they are bleeding from a leg wound? You do in China, but I suspect probably to stop them claiming compensation for injury and damages in the future.
My first attempt at the mandatory 100 questions required me to guess the answers to at least 20 questions as neither the official text book, logic or common sense could help me and I failed with 87% and was majorly pissed off. Fortunately, I had time to resit the exam and despite completely different questions, I scraped through with exactly 90% and so with a huge grin I took my pass certificate to the Transport Department with Fanny and was issued with a shiny green PRC driving licence.
We were also being sponsored by “The North Face” who very kindly sent us a huge box full of top of the range clothes, shoes, sleeping bags, an expedition tent, high tech ruck sacks and new water proof duffle bags to put everything in. Yet again my big size 12 feet prevented me getting any shoes for myself, and I looked at the super quality ones Fanny had been given with envy. If only I had had such a pair when I did the Offa’s Dyke walk a month earlier. Oh well.
And so we were ready. We had lunch with the bosses and their support team who wished us well and sent us off to Nanjing （南京）so that we could run the bikes in with a 400 Km ride there and another 400 Km back to test the bikes and to get in two oil and filter changes before we set off. We were also having my GPS fitted and wired up… and just as well as navigating the first 400 Kms was extremely tricky as motorcycles are not allowed on the direct and easy to navigate expressways and so we had to stay on provincial and county roads which can, on occasion, be confusing and not very direct, especially as some of the Chinese characters of place names were not known to me.
It was on this initial ride I started to get used to the signage, the roads and became all to aware of the atrocious driving standard of local drivers. It takes a certain nerve, or perhaps lack of imagination to drive or ride on Chinese roads and for the first few thousand kilometers I had no nerve whatsoever and far too much imagination. I hate to think what my old traffic division police colleagues would have thought of Chinese driving. It really is awful. The worst driving standard in the world.
The bikes handled really nicely. Very pleasantly surprised at how balanced the bike was and how smooth the power delivery was. With 75 BHP engines the bikes were powerful enough for what we needed them for and the riding position was quite comfortable. The gear box took a little getting used to but gradually settled in and eventually I could successfully locate neutral. I would say the only shortcomings were the windscreen that directed the wind and dust straight into my face; the indicator switch that is just too cheap and vague; and by far my biggest complaint are the mirrors which are a cost cutting item too far. They are completely useless, made of cheap material and only give a vague and blurry “hall of mirrors” idea of what’s behind you, which may indeed be a good thing in China.
The clutch is cable operated rather than hydraulic and like motorcycles from an older generation needs some adjustment after initial run in to get just right. Other niggles are minor and really relate to the quality of materials and finish, like the seat which starts to get painful after 200-300 kilometers and the glove compartments, which although really useful and a good substitute for not having a tank bag, are not Honda or BMW quality, but then the bike is not Honda or BMW price and I would say overall is excellent value for money.
If CF Moto or another OEM manufacturer can produce some good after market parts and accessories to address these shortcomings they are going to be very successful. As for overall reliability? That assessment will have to wait for a few thousand kilometers more, but so far the bikes handle well on tar and on indeed on the many stretches of Chinese road that have no surface or are being rebuilt or repaired.
(Post note : many of the shortcomings were address in later models and the 2014 bikes are superb. AND .. the bikes WERE very reliable and handled everything we rode over in China and Tibet)
I do miss my KTM though, it is a super tough bike, has immense character, very comfortable, can be ridden all day and of course off road or on gravel, sand, mud, or potholed roads, nothing can touch it. That said, we were both excited to be riding a brand new motorcycle and relieved that we have a network of CF Moto garages throughout China to help us if something does go wrong.