Chapter 24 – 中国 Part 6 – Sichuan

As hard as one tries, it would be impossible to ride around the world on a motorcycle and completely avoid any bad weather. We had heavy rain in the Basque Country and its border with France, and later in England and Wales where it pretty much rained throughout the whole of the summer.  In China we had been lucky so far and enjoyed the best of the autumn weather, but now winter was well truly and on the way, at least high up on the Tibetan Plateau, and so we had to endure a few miserable days of grey skies, snow in the mountains, and blinding rain in the valleys.  Like Wales, the scenery in Sichuan (四川)does make up for the rain somewhat, and between Langmusi(郎木寺)and Chengdu (成都)near the town of Songpan(松潘)we rode through some very impressive high altitude grasslands that stretched as far as the eye could see.  This area is home to very hardy Tibetan herdsmen who tend to their livestock high up on the plateau on sturdy ponies, which also double up to take tourists on pony treks.

Tibetan herdsmen on the high grasslands near Songpan, Sichuan.

Further south towards Chengdu is Wenchuan County (汶川), the epicenter of the 2008 earthquake. Like everyone else, I suppose, we had a morbid fascination to look at the carnage that mother nature can unleash and explore the surrounding mountains and lakes. However, as the weather and the traffic conditions had become increasingly bad we both just wanted to get out of our damp and soggy clothes and get to Chengdu as soon as possible.

The CF Moto bikes were going very well, nothing seemed to faze them and they just purred along eating up the miles on whatever roads and surfaces they were presented them with. The sheepie that I had bought in Yunnan to cushion my bottom, however, was no longer fluffy white, but rather a bedraggled shade of increasingly darker grey. At the beginning it smelt like sheepskins generally do, but a little later on in the trip had the delicate whiff of wet Labrador lying in front of the fireplace. More recently, I have to admit,  the smell was more like wet Labrador that had died… quite some time ago. But it was still comfortable and a considerable improvement over the standard pile inducing seat fitted as standard and when traveling at speed did not attract too many flies. It was, however, pushing Fanny’s tolerance and general good humour a little too far and I noticed she was no longer referring to my beloved furry seat pad as “sheepie”, but as “IT”, as in, ‘You’re not bringing “IT” inside, are you?’. Women can be cruel.

Anyway, we were expected to show an appearance at the China International Motorcycle Exhibition in Chongqing in about a weeks time and so if we made good progress to Chengdu we would have plenty of time to relax and explore one of China’s more prosperous and attractive cities and try out the famous hot and spicy Sichuan food.

Lots of pandas and tigers adorning the walls and building in Sichuan, but  as much chance of seeing a real one in their natural environment as a dragon or phoenix

Takin …. a rare ox/goat muskox creature that is found in the Sichuan mountains… never saw any of these either.

Goodbye to Lang Mu Si .. we’ll be back when you’ve tidied it up. Looks nice from a distance though.

The river demarks the Gansu/Sichuan border

Still looking for that otter… disappeared with the pandas I guess

Riding through the northern Sichuan grassland. A bit bleak under the grey skies and decidedly chilly on the bikes

A Tibetan lady hurrying along against the winds

High altitude grassland and snow peaks in northern Sichuan

Heading toward Songpan, famous for pony trekking rides on the grassland

Our digs in Songpam… a sort of green house thing that was rather drafty  and cold

At least we could get the CF Motos out of the rain and keep an eye on them next to our room

Soggy Songpam

Road to Chengdu

Traffic and weather really foul.. as usual our 4 wheeled cousins were constantly trying to bully us off the road. Generally, I find Chinese people extremely friendly and hospitable, but as soon as they get behind the wheel of a car many turn into Hyde 先生 or Hyde 太太。

I was not particularly enjoying this bit of the journey, should have done, but the weather was not that great, it was a bit slippy on the roads and the traffic was atrocious.  Cars, buses, coaches and trucks  often squeezed into us forcing us to brake, skid or swerve. When these vehicles had to stop in traffic we overtook them easily enough, only to have them aggressively re-overtake us as soon as they had a chance as if we had made them lose face. Later our 4 wheeled cousins would all get stuck in a 15 kilometer monster traffic jam and together with all our other 2 wheeled brothers we left them for dust,  despite many of the cars deliberately trying to block us. It would be a massive overstretch of the imagination to describe Chinese road users as “courteous”.

Sichuan…a rare stretch of clear road after taking a road diversion. It is quite a coincidence that both Egyptian and Chinese drivers do not like to turn their lights on, would rather queue in traffic than take a longer more peaceful diversion and are generally inconsiderate and aggressive to other road users. Psychologists have a theory why this is.

Rebuilt town in Wenchuan that was destroyed by the 2008 Sichuan earthquake

Reminders of the devastation that the earthquake caused are seen everywhere

A few buildings seem to have been deliberately left in ruins to remind everyone of the disaster

The actual epicenter of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. I couldn’t help thinking what would happen if another earthquake struck as we passed by the many steep mountain sides or crossed the many bridges and through the tunnels … not good I guess. India is pushing into China causing the trust fault line at this exact location and so its just a matter of time before there is another earthquake.

We rode along the trust fault where the Indian plate is pushing into the China one. I was actually at the border of Yunnan and Sichuan in 2008 and experienced a strong aftershock of over 6 on Richter scale. The original quake was about 7.9-8.0 and killed hundreds of thousands of people.

We met the largest traffic jam of the entire expedition in Wenchuan, and managed to overtake about 15 kilometers of traffic into the city centre. We then got to a T junction where to the left was even more gridlocked traffic and to the right a much quieter but longer detour over the mountains and along the shores of various lakes to Chengdu. We asked the police what they thought, and they thumbed … go right …and we did. A good choice as we could take in some scenery that looked a bit like the Lochs of Scotland

Again the thought of the ground rumbling beneath us and rocks crashing down the steep mountain sides and destroying the bridges was rather sobering.  We rode through some tunnels as long as 5 kilometers and I kept wondering how the civil engineers protect them against seismic activity

It had been a long day riding in bad conditions and heavy traffic. Despite the interesting scenery Fanny and I were both looking forward to finding a dry place to stay in Chengdu for a few days

Superb scenery .. even on a rainy day.

Cockpit of my CF Moto TR 650

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………The cockpit of my bike had a Garmin Zumo 220 GPS, a Casio multi fuction watch strapped to the handle bars and the excellent CF Moto instrument panel that had everything a rider really needs to know, logically and clearly displayed.  However, navigating in China can be really confusing and I had to make sense of signs that not only used Chinese characters, but were ambiguous and confusing to even mother tongue Chinese speakers.  Our GPS maps were not that good either as Fanny had acquired all the maps in the world for “a few kuai” on one of her bargain basement Chinese websites, and so the world map programs for my Garmin were not very good … being neither up to date, accurate or complete.

Also, the road construction and development of the towns and cities in China was on a scale unprecedented anywhere else on the planet.  It was constantly changing and being re-built, upgraded or knocked down.  We found twelve lane super highways seemingly in the middle of nowhere that did not appear on any of our maps, and occasionally we would follow GPS directions to non-existent roads, non-existent places, and onto the “高速公路” (high speed highways) which we (bikers) were banned from riding on with no obvious alternative route to our target destination. We often arrived at seemingly simple T junctions, as indicated on my GPS,  to find enormous spaghetti junction type structures with numerous entrances, exists and slipways.  Because of the heavy traffic and appalling driving standards at some of these major intersections there was never enough time to make an accurate assessment of all the available options and we would occasionally get lost.  However, more often than not, we would actually end up going the right way. I think over the months we had developed a very acute sense of direction and fined tuned our navigational skills.

My 15 year old Casio watch that I used for paragliding in the day was brought out of retirement to let us (me really) know our exact altitude as the GPS could not be calibrated to altitude intervals of less than a kilometer. 3,090 meters is very different to 3,990 meters and I am nerdy enough to want to know exactly how high we actually were so I could bore Fanny with another, ‘Do you know we have been riding five times higher than the height of Mount Snowdon?’  To which Fanny would charitably reply something like, ‘wow!’

We arrived in Chengdu and settled very comfortably into Sim’s Cozy YHA where we saw our first large collection of foreigners for quite a while. A very well run and a nice place to stay.  Later I make up for lost drinking time by getting absolutely slaughtered watching footie in an Irish Pub with some of Chengdu’s Aussie, Kiwi, Brit and Irish expatriates

I think there is a Lan Kwai Fong in Hong Kong… not sure … I am usually rushing through the HK bar areas on my way to Mass

Wandering around Chengdu city centre at night

Christmas presents … who wouldn’t want one?

Would you believe it? Fanny eating again. Chengdu is famous for Xiao Chi (lit.. little eats)

Chengdu parks

Decorated trees in the park

Very pleasant gardens

A Xinjiang hawker selling preserved fruits. Profits were going well until Fanny arrived and tried them all before buying two plums..

Washing day in a Chengdu housing block

Strange goings on in People’s Park.  I haven’t laughed so much for years and still do whenever I watch the video we made. Old people dancing to rave music, accompanied by a trumpeter, and slightly odd people repeatedly walking up and down a catwalk carpet, and I must say, thoroughly enjoying themselves.  A must see in Chengdu

I still laugh… shouldn’t but can’t help it

Chengdu panda sanctuary

Very cuddly creatures .. but slow, fussy eaters, a bit lazy, black and white and live in China …. the perfect extinction candidate

We stayed in Chengdu for a few days, did some touristy sightseeing and  then continued on our way to Chongqing, the largest city in the world with an urban population of over 33 million and where we were to attend the China International Motorcycle Show and meet our sponsors, the media and Fanny’s followers of her magazine articles and blogs. Chongqing is not only a huge polluted concrete jungle, but also home to some of the most notorious and corrupt public and government officials on the planet. If they are not lining their pockets with backhanders they can be found entertaining their mistresses in the ubiquitous KTVs and VIP rooms around the city. If it wasn’t for the fact that these government triads seem to get away with murdering locals and foreigners with impunity, it would be a land of untold opportunity for a forensic investigator like me.

En route to Chongqing… filling petrol direct from the pump.  Joy.

Oops!

We were riding along highway from Chengdu to Chongqing and saw this “unlucky” truck on its side. Must have been motoring as it flew over the central reservation from the westbound carriageway and landed on its side spilling melons all over the eastbound carriageway. I know what Fanny is thinking. Not what a terrible accident, but could she snaffle away a melon.

We rode on the Chengdu-Chongqing highway for a while but the police stopped us and threw us off in the middle of nowhere. We did not want to spend a day riding the same distance covered on the highway in 2 hours… but that is what happened. Chongqing and Sichuan are very biker unfriendly places. A few other provinces (we were to find out later) were slightly more tolerant. Motorbikes are considered dangerous machines ridden by peasants, and cars are safe and sensible machines driven by civilized people, allegedly.

The police escorted us off the next “exit” and gave Fanny a dressing down. I pretended not to speak or understand Chinese so they left me alone.  The police in China are very motorcycle unfriendly. I know they are just doing their job, but its a daft and illogical policy.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..I studied the PRC traffic law and regulations to get my Chinese driving licence and it stipulates very clearly that any vehicle is allowed to drive on a highway and in a particular lane subject to minimum and maximum speed requirements.  That is it.  Therefore a fully taxed and licensed CF Moto 650 TR touring motorcycle capable of cruising comfortably and safely at 120-140kph should be allowed to ride on any road in China. The reality is that in Sichuan, Chongqing and many other provinces of China they are not.

The problem is that it is nearly impossible to get anywhere nowadays in China without going on a highway and so motorcycle touring in China is limited and fraught with risk, danger, restriction and uncertainty. It is a stupid and illogical policy because the rules that apply to the rest of the world could so easily be applied to China. A policy could be made overnight allowing motorcycles above a stipulated cubic capacity (say 250cc) to ride in cities and on highways, follow the Highway Code as all vehicles should, and be required to pay an appropriate toll to use the highway. Such a policy would promote the Chinese motorcycle industry and also alleviate the growing traffic congestion in China. Let’s not forget a large Harley Davidson, Ducati or BMW costs upwards of fifty thousand US dollars in China due to high import taxes and vehicles licences and many Chinese firms are now manufacturing good quality motorcycles like our CF Moto 650s and so there is an opportunity for the Chinese to promote an increasingly popular mode of transport and successfully compete against the Japanese and Europeans in this market.

As it was the Sichuan traffic police caught up with us, pulled us over and then escorted us to the nearest exit. Apart from wasting time checking Fanny’s documents (not mine), they were particularly unhelpful and gave us no alternative routes or suggestions on how to get to Chongqing City. In the end it took us a long day to make the 200 kilometers because many roads in this part of China, other than the highways are left to rot, are badly maintained, are badly sign posted, dangerous and extremely indirect.  This is OK if you want to look around, but I for one had had enough of riding through one dusty ugly polluted concrete shithole after another. I was also tired of being on high alert, riding defensively and worrying about Fanny being wiped out by the atrocious and selfish drivers. China needs to sorts this nonsense out. It is double standards as there were overloaded trucks, appalling driving standards and badly maintained vehicles on the highway,  but alas the police did absolutely nothing about them.

Suffice to say we had a truly awful and stressful ride into Chongqing, and I can’t think of anything vaguely pleasant or memorable to write about on this section of our journey. I definitely didn’t see any pandas.

Next….. Chongqing Mega-city, The China International Motorcycle Exhibition, the motorcycle and adventure travel media, posing for photos, three dinners a night, muddy roads, an unexpectedly enjoyable and beautiful ride through the countryside Chongqing province, The mighty Yangtze River, a real ghost town, and high drama and tension after the Chongqing police throw a traffic cone at Fanny causing her to come off her bike and get injured.

Fanny motoring along in the mountain roads of east Chongqing province

Chapter 20 – 中国 Part 3

Praying for our safe travels at a monastery in Dali, Yunnan

Fanny at South gate of Dali

Er Hai lake with Bai ethnic minority people

Er Hai … they say its very dangerous to ride without a helmet. They are right… I got very burnt.

Er Hai Lake in Dali

Fanny and Dinesh (Dino) Nihalchand at Wu Wei Si (Monastery above Dali) This is where I studied Taijiquan in 2008 during a semester break from Mandarin studies at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

Fanny stretching on the Gongfu training square at Wu Wei Si or practicing to get on a Yamaha XT 660

Bikes parked up in Lijiang, Yunnan

Tiger Leaping Gorge … being careful not to lean back too much

Some roads good and some bad as we head north west towards Shangri-la

Our lodge just outside Shangri-la

Super clouds over Shangri-la

Ah… that’s why its called Shangri-la ….. a direct hit

Starting to ride further up into the Himalayas towards Deqin

The long road meanders, twists and turns up to 4,000 meters and then down to 3,000 meters many times. Quite superb biking conditions and TR650s going really well.

Roads have to be built sometime and it takes a bit of nerve to ride along pitted, muddy roads between trucks, diggers, excavators and 1000 meter sheer drops

The roads carved into the mountains zig zag upwards… good fun

Bai Ma Xue Shan at 5,460 meters behind us.

Another 4000 + meter pass

And at the end of a superb day’s riding we reach fei lai si (Flying Temple) where on the other side of the deep valley as the sun is setting is mei li xue shan (Beautiful Snow Mountain) at 6,740 meters.

The Himalayas… what can you say?

We took a lot of pics at fei lai si

Fanny with our bikes ….with mine taking on a more “sheepy” look to relieve the piles.

Its all too easy to look around in wonder at the magnificent scenery as you cruise along at 4,000 meters and forget that the weather and trucks take their toll on the roads. Sometimes the road just disappears which could be interesting if you didn’t stop in time.

The road is strewn with rocks and debris that fall down the mountain sides. We saw hard working people clearing it up all the time, but sometimes the whole road is covered or missing.

Next some yak horns on the front and a Tibetan multi coloured mudflap on the back…then we are sorted.

Some fellow bikers in Tibet. I have to say two wheels with an engine is the way to do it at 3-4,000 meters. I am out of breath doing up my boots.

I am not keen on getting wet, and I particularly dislike thunder and lightening and so we took refuge in a small Tibetan village as this storm crashed and banged passed us.

Taking cover from the rain and making friends with our first Tibetans

One of many Tibetan farm houses we passed.

Chapter 18 – 中国 Part 1

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.

A night time picture of China from space ….as we ride west the population decreases and the riding pleasure should increase

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.

http://www.cfmoto.cn/onroad/details.aspx?productId=32

CF Moto 650TR and 650NX

Out and about in Hangzhou

Something for dinner… a centipede, scorpion or a tarantula?

Hangzhou 杭州, where Heaven meets Earth, allegedly.

。。。。。。。。。。。。。。。。。。。。。。。。。。。。。。。。

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.

Our bikes for China….CF Moto 650 TR

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:

http://www.cfmoto.cn/onroad/details.aspx?productId=32

CF Moto 650 NK

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.

Last minute cramming for my China licence theory test

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.

PRC Driving License – very proud

我的新驾照

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.

Out and about in Nanchang in our North Face gear

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.

Fanny having her first ride at CF Moto in Hangzhou

Through ingenuity, a GPS bracket is made and wired up to electrics of the bike. Although the GPS can be quite inaccurate and misleading it is still very useful, even if used as a map or compass.  However, the maps are quickly out of date. On one occasion it showed us riding “off road” in a field when in fact we were on a super smooth twelve lane highway going into a Hunan city.

Fanny’s red bike and my grey one behind it.

My bike having stickers attached “Cao” (our mechanic, England, Hong Kong, South Africa flags (take your pick),  The North Face, Camel Toe, Kaapstad Adventure Tours and flags for all the counties we had been to so far. Thanks to Fanny.

Mr Cao (tone 3 I must add as tone 4 is a swear word) with his family and us at his garage in Nanjing where we had a service and fitted the GPS before riding back to Hangzhou

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.

Fanny cruising along in east China

On the way to Huangshan

Not always easy riding but bikes are very well balanced and have good engines.

Being told we cannot enter an expressway forcing us to take a big deviation to our destination. Usually in China two wheels can go anywhere and do anything…but they are banned on expressways (Chinese motorways). Why? Probably because bikes are usually the vehicle of peasants and my experience so far is that 乡巴佬 don’t drive very well. However, times are changing and big modern Chinese bikes can now go as fast and handle as well as any other vehicles. My recommendation is this. The Chinese Government should stipulate that motorcycles with an engine capacity of over, say 150cc, are now treated like cars and not only allowed on expressways and in certain cities, but  should also comply with traffic laws like every other road user.

Crossing the many bridges over the lakes between Jingdezhen and Nanchang

Chatting with locals selling 莲子(lotus seeds) next to huge fields of 莲花(lotus)

Its over 40 degrees and so stopping by side of road to eat refreshing water melons 西瓜

Fanny, Flanny (his real name) and me having delicious Hunan food in…. Hunan of course…. the hottest food on the planet and where Chairman Mao came from.

Our bikes getting another service thanks to the Re Rong Motorcycle Club in Zhizhou — all BMW riders but we’ll forgive them for that

English or Chinese… BMW or KTM ….. beer solves everything.

Our new friends guiding us out of the confusing city. The guys are real enthusiasts and must be wealthy because each of their BMWs cost around RMB 350,000 (US$50,000 each) to purchase, licence, tax and import into China.

We passed by many rice paddies, tea plantations, terraces, vegetable and other crops…. this one looks like art work

Whilst the countryside is lush and charming, the towns and cities, which number into the tens of thousands and growing. are ugly, noisy, dusty, polluted and boring concrete jungles. Does China have any architects with any imagination or creativity.  A few and they work overseas.

Many of the roads are smashed up because the trucks are all seriously overloaded and drive recklessly. We have lost count the number of times we have been forced off the road by overtaking oncoming cars and trucks. Very stressful and dangerous, but everyone does it all the time.

We have learnt to follow the local bikers who know how to navigate around the obstructions and keep away from the danger. We don’t have bike umbrellas though.

These xiangbalao 乡巴佬 tractor things are everywhere belching out diesel smoke, causing havoc and cutting across the road. Who would give them the vote? I wouldn’t.

After all the awful roads we get to cruise on the awesome S201 through Guangxi 广西。I rate this 150 Km stretch of road from Quanzhou 全州 to Yangshuo 阳朔 as oneof the best motorcycle rides in the world. A real gem hidden in the middle of China.

We stayed in beautiful Xingping 兴坪… thought I had seen that view before

Its true… Southern Chinese 南方人 will eat anything…. leave a message if you fancy the special of the day… 凉拌狗肉。

I wouldn’t look so smug, Fido….when the chickens run out you’re next

3,000 kilometers, end of day 7… not a bad view. (兴坪, 广西)