Chapter 34 – Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin in Wales

With all our KTMs now sold, and perhaps a few expeditions on the horizon, we have been taking a serious look at the new Honda Africa Twin.

Honda Africa Twin

The new Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin.

 

Honda Africa Twin

The old Honda XRV 750 Africa Twin

 

 

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A Royal Hong Kong Police Honda CBX 750 leaving Happy Valley Police Station, similar to the one I rode everyday as Senior Inspector Operations Hong Kong Island in mid 1990s.  A truly awful posting as I had no interest handing out traffic tickets, or mopping up blood and guts at accidents… but I did get to play around on a bike all day.

 

 

I briefly had a Honda Africa Twin in the early 1990s when I was in the Royal Hong Kong police, but I have to say I didn’t care for it that much.  It was just too lethargic and dull.

Besides, I already rode a slow and heavy Honda for up to seven hours every day as a traffic cop and didn’t need another one.

In those days I was a bit of a speed freak and so I quickly replaced the Africa Twin with a Yamaha 1200 Vmax upon which I cahooned about Hong Kong as fast as I could.

My attempts to go faster were helped with a Kawasaki ZXR 750,  the ridiculously quick Suzuki GSX 1300 R Hayabusa,  a Honda CBR 900 RR Fireblade, and of course my maddest bike ever, a tuned up “racing spec” Yamaha YZF-R1.

With all these fast racing bikes, leaping off cliffs with my paraglider, insane Mrs Utley, and Yip Kai Foon and his triads all trying to kill me, I am surprised I am still around.

Later when I got into long distance motorcycle expeditions I was fortunate to get hold of a superb KTM 990 Adventure, and stuck with KTM for over a decade, with a few Kawasaki KLRs here and there.

Now, the Honda Africa Twin is back and on paper it ticks all the boxes. It is certainly getting glowing reviews from the increasing band of owners.

http://www.motorcyclenews.com/bike-reviews/honda/crf1000l-africa-twin/2016/

But how good is it really?

The only way to know is a test ride, and the best I know of is the off road course offered by the Honda Adventure Centre in the Brecon Beacons in Wales.

http://hondaadventurecentre.com/the-courses/

I rather optimistically chose to go to the UK in June, hoping that the weather would be kind and that the two sunny days of a British summer would coincide with my visit back to the mother-ship. Also, I planned to go to Florence… but I’ll explain that later.

I flew from Hong Kong to Gatwick via Dubai, and then suffered the dreadfully unreliable and painfully slow Southern Railways train to Bexhill on the south coast where I picked up my KTM 990 SMT. After doing some work (yes, I do some occasionally) I then booked my place on the next available course in Wales, and then after finishing a work report I rode to Merthyr Tydfil.

I brought my tent and sleeping bag as I planned to camp, but as soon as I crossed the Severn River the skys turned grey and it just never stopped raining and so I threw in the towel and checked into the designated hotel where I met some of the other riders who were joining the Honda Adventure course.

 

 

 

There are three levels of off road course offered by the Honda Centre in Wales and each lasts two days and takes place in the forests and trails within the beautiful Brecon Beacons National park.

The new Africa Twin comes in two forms and we got a chance to try both. The most radical version being the DCT  (automatic gearbox with sequential gear changing paddle on the left hand-grip ) and also the more usual 6 speed manual gearbox version with a clutch that purists like myself feel more inclined to ride. All the UK bikes come with ABS and three levels of traction control.

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A flock of Africa Twins lined up outside the Honda Centre in Merthyr Tydfil.

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My bike, #17 for two days. As they say, the best off road vehicle is someone else’s.

 

 

 

 

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Briefings, bikes, rain, chocolate bars and lots of mud

 

 

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Our playground…. Nice.

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I call this “taking a picture of myself and my bike”.

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Yes… I like this bike.

 

 

So how did it handle?  How does it compare with the KTM 990 Adventure R and KTM 1190 Adventure R?

Very simply, I liked the Africa Twin so much I will get one.

In the UK the Africa Twin comes in black/grey; white/red/blue; and red/white/black. All look good and the black/grey actually looks better in the flesh than in the pictures. However, the gold wheels and classic rally look on the white/red/blue probably sway this particular colour scheme for me. 

With 232Kgs and only 94 BHP the Africa twin’s power to weight ratio is not that special, however I found the bike to be very nimble and more than fast enough. In fact, its weight is deceptive and it handled like a much smaller enduro bike off road, and like a good touring bike on the tarmac. Even with a big 21 inch front it corners round the bends extremely well. A lot of R&D has gone into its design, it has a very low center of gravity and is extremely well balanced.

Its also a very comfortable bike, the seat is just right for me and can be adjusted, the handle bars and riding position couldn’t be better. And the exhaust note ? yep…not bad at all given all the EU restrictions on modern motorcycles.

I threw it around in the mud and trails pretty competently after I got the hang of adjusting the traction control and ABS whilst on the hoof. The only time you are aware of the weight is when you are going down steep wet slippy slopes and even then I had no problems. In the mud, water and gravel it charges around like a smaller enduro bike giving the rider bags of confidence. And its a lot of fun.

Could I see myself riding one around the world on every surface Planet Earth has to offer?

Absolutely.

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The red one … with the DCT

 

So, what was the DCT bike like?

At first a bit strange, not least because there is no clutch. The rev and go “Honda 90″ feel quickly disappears when you open up the throttle and it charges off over the rocks and mud pools like a Dakar Rally bike.  Clucking Bell!

Allegedly, the automatic gearbox can change gear more efficiently than Guy Martin or Valentino Rossi and I strained my ears to hear the gears actually change, but all I noticed was the indicator on the display flicking up through the numbers. There are various settings to alter at what engine revs the gears actually change …”sports”  “road” etc.

On the manual version bike I rarely got out of 2nd gear,  occasionally 3rd,  on the Welsh trails, but I noticed that the DCT  bike quickly went through the gears up to 6th. A bit strange to be in 6th at a relatively slow speed off road, but seemed to work.

There is a sequential gear shift paddle like on high performance sports cars if you want to manually change gears. Suffice to say, I got used to it reasonably quickly, and against my initial reservations, I thought it was actually pretty good.  The DCT will certainly improve most people’s riding ability.

 

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Usual layout, although I kept pressing the horn instead of canceling the indicators. Even after two days I was still honking people when I completed a turn.

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Not dropped it yet…but I will later

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That’s what it looks like underneath

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Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud

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There is definitely something missing on that bike!

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Waiting in turn to roar up a hill … steeper than it looks.

 

Below are a few videos from Youtube of the very muddy course I was on in Wales.

BTW- I am on Bike #17 with number plate index RX16 KXV – black boots and DPM style Arai Helmet.

Great fun… and many thanks to Steve for taking, editing, narrating  and publishing the video.

 

 

 

 

 

Well all good things come to an end until you start more good things. I really enjoyed the course and made some good friends. Importantly, the Africa Twin was all I hoped it to be and more. I am sure Fanny will love riding it too and we have it penciled in for the next big one, unless the new KTM 800 Adventure steals a lead.

In fact, I will be riding one fairly soon along the BDR in Utah and Colorado with my friend, John Drury, although I am not sure if the US Africa Twins have traction control.  We will see.

http://www.backcountrydiscoveryroutes.com/COBDR

So, what to do now?

Well since I was in Wales and the rain had stopped briefly I decided to go on a ride…a  ride to Touratech in South Wales in fact to have a look at all their toys.

When I arrived at Touratech in a place beginning with a Y and no vowels I asked where the Africa Twin was with all the Touratech add-ons? I was told all their bikes had been taken to the Horizons Unlimited gathering near Hereford and so that’s where I went next.

A great ride as always across Wales and when I arrived at the HUBB meeting I could see the usual swarm of adventure and touring motorcycles, a few stalls and a noticeably middle aged crowd. I had not booked a place, but a very nice lady signed me in at 60 quid for one nights camping in a wet field! Britain, huh?

Oh well, I did manage to meet the Dakar legend, Nick Plumb in the flesh and so it was worth it.

 

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Nice

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Nick Plumb’s BMW Dakar bike…. Amazing

 

 

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Meeting the legendary Dakar rider Nick Plumb.

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A Touratech’ed up Africa Twin … I should coco.

 

I also saw Alex Jackson from Kaapstad tours, and some other commercial motorcycle tour operators who had their stalls set up and were doing their marketing thing.  I expect its a tough old life trying to sell motorcycle tours to independent minded motorcycle adventurers. A bit like selling ice to Eskimos I suppose.

I was bouncing around telling Alex and his “aw wight aw wight inch yaa” business partner I had met Nick Plumb and was waxing lyrical about how he had completed the Dakar ….twice, and featured on the Charlie Boorman “Race to Dakar” TV Series.

He didn’t seem impressed. How can you not be impressed?

To me completing the Dakar on a rally motorcycle is the all time achievement …second only to walking on the moon. I would love to do it myself and have the utmost respect for anyone who has and I was truly honoured to meet Nick Plumb.

Horizons Unlimited is a strange and wonderful gathering of rather odd people. There are a few “Round The World” motorcycling legends sharing their stories, some interesting presentations for budding adventurers, some very nice motorcycles to look at, and most importantly a bar.

For the large part though, its like a village hall lawn bowls committee meeting, except with leather tassels and smelling faintly of damp nylon and exhaust fumes.

 

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My sixty quid a night wet camping patch… really?

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Well.. lets call it “checking my kit” for my Colorado and Utah BDR expedition in September, although I don’t think I need any more practice putting up a tent.

 

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I only went in as I bought some raffles tickets. Did I win anything? An Austin Vince mug? A Sam Manicom book? A Charlie Boorman video? A years supply of teabags? Nope. Zip.

 

This was my last jolly on my KTM 990 SMT as I decided to sell it to my mate, Nick Dobson who has been looking after it in England for the last three years. It is always sad to say goodbye to a bike, and it has been a truly awesome bike.

One of the deciding factors to part company with a UK plated bike was that I lost my temper with Bennetts, the British firm I insure my bike with as I (Nick actually) missed the automatic renewal date by three days and so they said I have to go through the whole rigmarole of getting a new quote ….and pay a premium of a hundred quid (72%) a year more than the previous year despite no accidents or incidents.

The complete moron I spoke to on the telephone from Bennetts said he must ask me all the questions again. ALL OF THEM. And in his annoying regional accent and Millennial grammar.

Again?

Yes again.

I said he must be joking, but he insisted he must ask the questions without interruption,  despite the obvious “jobs worthy” ridiculousness of the whole thing.

He was half way through his, ‘I MUST finish the question….have you had any… blah blah blah?’ when I told him quite descriptively what he could do with his quote … and hung up.

That was annoying, I thought, I will have to sell my bike now.

In actual fact, I had pretty much decided to sell my bike as riding it for just two weeks out of fifty-two really isn’t a good reason to keep a motorcycle in the UK, and I was starting to go through one of my “England’s a real dump” episodes which was bolstered by a combination of the awful weather, the awful traffic jams, the truly awful food, having to look at fat orange people with tattoos and piercings, Nick’s mum scaring the crap out of me … AND …a particularly disturbing and unpleasant visit to Starbucks in Pevensy in East Sussex.

They were all signs from the Soul of the Universe to sell my KTM and move on .

 

ktm smt

Nick!  Can I borrow your bike?

 

One of the reasons I booked a ticket to England was that Ducati had informed me I was shortlisted to ride their new Ducati Multistrada 1200 Enduro on a leg of their Globetrotter round the world marketing trip and invited me to go to Florence for a final selection. Therefore, I headed to the UK to pick up my bike as I had planned an interesting ride through Europe to Italy.

Having purchased my air-ticket I was told by Ducati they thought I was too young and handsome to ride their motorcycle and so I was unceremoniously “cut” from the event. A bit harsh I thought, but on reflection the whole thing sounded like a bit of a faff.

I had Sri Lanka and USA biking expeditions coming up, and this Ducati marketing thing was more costly and inconvenient than I initially anticipated and so I wasn’t too disappointed.

I suspect Ducati have messed up a bit. Seven contented adventure riders, and at the same time 4993 really “pissed off” adventure riders who are probably evaluating buying a Honda Africa twin now. Must have learned their marketing skills from KTM!!

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Not a Ducati

 

As I had finished the Honda Africa Twin off road course and had no reason or desire to hang about in the UK I decided to go back home to Hong Kong, but I couldn’t change my ticket without a costly surcharge.

As none of my relatives like me very much and I had nowhere really to go, I had to find a place to stay for a few days.  I had my tent but it was still raining a lot and in England its really difficult to camp as everywhere is private or off limits.  Luckily, I found a  Lapland style wooden hut in the middle of Dorset … in fact in the garden of April Cottage near Harman’s Cross.

http://www.dorsetbedandbreakfasts.co.uk/april-cottage.htm

My sort of place. Run by a super chap called Peter from Switzerland and his lovely wife, Joanna, it was a great place to stay, write up some reports for work, and explore the Purbeck Way and Dorset coastline, even in the rain.

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Sleeping on reindeer skins in a Lapland wooden hut in Dorset.

 

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My sister’s house in Poole.

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My pretty niece Sophia in Poole…

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And my other pretty but slightly bonkers niece, Jessie

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On one of my runs near Swanage

 

I believe Botox works wonders although how can you improve on perfection.

 

And went for a run along Purbeck Way

 

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The best meal I had in the UK… thanks to Peter & Joanna Burri at April Cottage/Lapland Lodge in Harmans Cross, Dorset.  Highly recommended.

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My home at Lapland Lodge… along with the Africa Twin Course in Wales .. the best bits of my trip to UK.

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My sort of place.

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Joined by a hoss and its rider whilst doing one of my runs near Corfe Castle in Dorset.

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A ride on the steam train back from Swanage to Corfe Castle

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I am allergic to # 15 – “English food”

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I do respect enthusiasts who go to huge efforts to restore British heritage, like this steam train which runs between Swanage and Corfe Castle.

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Moo!

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A380 back to Hong Kong

 

Next Chapter (s) ……Riding Honda CRF250 Baja motorcycles in Sri Lanka and Riding a Honda Africa Twin across the BDR in Colorado and Utah, USA

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Chapter 26 – 中国 Part 8 – Hubei, Anhui and onwards to Shanghai

The point at which we actually crossed from Chongqing into Hubei province was high up in the beautiful misty mountains of Huangshui (Yellow Water) National Park. We had thought of staying there for the night, but it was late autumn, getting quite cold and the locals told us that all the bingguan and hotel owners had locked up and gone back to the city until the season starts again in the Spring. It was a shame because it was a very picturesque and peaceful place, probably because all the tourists had left. We therefore planned to push on towards Yichang where the Three Gorges Dam project is located on the Yangtze River.

But in order to make any form of progress we needed to get onto the G50 highway and head east. Whilst we were banned from using national highways in Sichuan and Chongqing provinces, motorcycles were allegedly tolerated on highways in Hubei and Anhui provinces. Why the difference? Who knows?

One of many bridges spanning the gorges in Hubei

One of many bridges spanning the gorges in Hubei

 

The officials at the highway toll in Hubei

The officials at the highway toll in Hubei

We were both quite tired after a long day of riding in the mountains and thought that when we reached the toll booth of the highway we could ride straight through, but no… the officials stopped us. I was not entirely sure what was going on, but after a good fifteen minutes of Fanny arguing the toss the entire shift of officials just walked away towards their administration building and I looked towards Fanny and she shouted, ‘GO’ and so we rode passed the barriers and onto the highway just as the sun was setting. I later asked Fanny what it was all about and she explained that the toll booth officials had not encountered bikes like ours before, and so to save themselves from making any decision or lose of face, they just turned a blind eye, knowing we would either ride onto the highway or turn around and go away.  .

All was going well, but we soon came alongside a highway patrol car and I faced the dilemma all vehicles have. Do we hang back or over take them and risk being stoppped for speeding or whatever. They did not seem to be taking any notice of us, but after five or ten minutes the officers in the car directed us to pull over. Here we go again I thought. For reasons I can only put down to fatigue, Fanny decided that she was going to pretend she could not speak any Chinese and so I was left to chat with the officers. ‘Is there any problem, Officer?’ I asked, ‘I thought it was OK for us to ride on the highway in Hubei’.

‘Oh, it is OK’, replied the officer,’ but we are closing the highway because of a big traffic accident up ahead and you must leave the highway at this exit’.

As I unnecessarily translated what was going on to Fanny she put her head in her hands and I thought she was going to weep. ‘We are not leaving this highway’, she insisted.

I asked the officer if we could either wait or ride carefully past the accident.  After a lot of discussions over their police radios they said we could wait, but told me it would be about 2-3 hours before the road would open again.

I did not think it was a good idea and tried to reason with Fanny, ‘I think we should get off the highway now, its late, let’s find a place to stay or even camp by side of road and get going in morning’, I suggested, ‘Riding on motorways in the dark AND in the rain is not a good idea… we’re tired and its been a long day’.

‘I WANT TO CARRY ON’, Fanny demanded.

So we waited.

Fanny sat by the side of the road, chain smoking and keeping out of the way of the officers, and I was left to chat with the police in Mandarin for several hours. A very daft situation and it got even more ridiculous when more and more police officers arrived in an assortment of police vehicles and insisted on taking pictures with us. I knew Fanny had been posting our motorcycle adventure on the very popular Chinese online forum called http://www.weibo.com and had recently posted the account of the traffic cone throwing incident (described in previous chapter) and it had gone viral resulting in hundreds of thousands of comments and responses. I knew Fanny was becoming somewhat of a celebrity in China, but did these police really know who she was? If they did, they were not letting on. None of it made sense to me.

We were asked for our documents and as usual when stopped by the police I showed them my UK passport, the motorcycle registration documents, our insurance policies and my Chinese driving licence.  Of course Fanny also had all the legal documents for China, but she just pulled out her Hong Kong driving licence and gave them a “that’s all you’re getting” look.  I was surprised that they seemed quite satisfied with the Hong Kong driving licence as it is not valid for China, being technically a foreign one. I was even more surprised that the police never asked for her passport or Chinese ID card which would have confirmed she is actually Shanghanese.

I continued chatting with various officers, and they continued taking pictures of us posing with their cars as we all waited in the dark and rain on an empty highway in western Hubei. Something was definitely going on, but to this day I have no idea.

The first officer taking some pictures of us.

The first officer taking some pictures of us.

Literally one of hundreds of pictures that were taken of us.

The police moved their cars and vans around so they could use the headlights to take more pictures. We were slightly bemused by it all, but it was all done with good humour  and in a friendly manner and so like much of the last 20 months we just went with the flow.

What is going on?

All a bit odd… standing in the middle of a closed highway. At least we were not being thrown off the highway for once.

Oh well.. go with the flow.

Oh well.. go with the flow.

At one stage an officer asked if he could have a picture of Fanny.  Fanny? How does he know she is called Fanny. All her documents say 方怡。Did he hear my call her  name? Odd.

At one stage an officer asked if he could have a picture of Fanny.  Fanny?  How does he know she is called Fanny. Her documents say 方怡。Did he hear me call her name?

The character "e" used as prefix on all Hubei licence plates.  'You guys are a lot nicer than your colleagues in Chongqing'  I told the officers.

The character “e” used as prefix on all Hubei licence plates.  We liked Hubei as the police were a lot nicer and more friendly than their colleagues in Chongqing.

After waiting on the highway for a few hours a very small and slightly built senior ranking police officer arrived in a command car, and after more posing for photographs gave me a serious briefing…… ‘Maximum speed 100 kph, keep right, keep lights on, and drive carefully.’

You can’t argue with that, and so I thanked and shook the hands of at least ten police officers and then we rode off in the pitch dark with cameras flashing behind us, seemingly the only vehicles on the highway.  At 8.30pm we passed under a sign indicating that we had 380 kilometers to ride to Yichang and that meant a good four hours of riding in the dark and rain. We had already ridden over 500 kilometers that day and I braced myself for some iron butt riding.

Pulling up at one of the highway petrol stations and getting petrol pumped straight into the tank from a friendly attendant. We like Hubei.

Pulling up at one of the highway petrol stations and getting fuel pumped straight into our petrol tanks for once from a friendly attendant. We like Hubei.

We rode through about fifty tunnels and probably across an equal number of bridges. Some I knew were spectacular and civil engineering wonders, but because of the rain and darkness I could see nothing. It was slightly stressful because I was worried about Fanny, but she was doing perfectly well and when we stopped off for petrol she said she was actually enjoying herself. I really couldn’t think why.

I did, and still do to this day, regret not waiting until the morning to ride to Yichang. Apart from giving Fanny the experience of riding in the dark on a motorway, there was little to recommend taking the risk of riding in the dark and missing out on some of China’s most spectacular gorges and river systems. In this particular area hundreds of towns and villages have been submerged by rising waters due to the dam, and millions of people have been relocated. This is almost unimaginable in any country other than China where, rightly or wrongly, things get done and done quickly.

175 meter sign indicating rising waters upstream of Three Gorges Dam in Hubei

175 meter sign indicating rising waters upstream of Three Gorges Dam in Hubei

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We were not really in a rush and without being able to see much had ridden through the mountains and over the spectacular valleys of the Three Gorges.  I am lucky enough to have hiked in this area four years previously when I was studying Mandarin in Beijing and it was before the waters had started to significantly rise.  It is a very beautiful part of China.  At that time the Three Gorges Dam project had not been completed and so this time we made a plan to go on a day tour to visit one of the engineering wonders of the world and at least see what all the fuss is about.

The region from the air.

The Three Gorges … with the huge dam to the right.

Many of the gorges have been flooded due to the hydro-electric project, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and engulfing whole towns.

Many of the gorges have been flooded due to the hydro-electric project, displacing millions of people and engulfing whole towns and communities.  China needs the energy and having lived in Beijing I can definitely say this is a better way of generating power than the ubiquitous coal power stations that create pungent smog and choking pollution.

Not my picture, but a typical Chinese tourist industry one framed Chinese style with flowers in foreground ... just like a classical Chinese painting. However, on a good day it will look like this.

The three gorges …. looks just like a classical Chinese painting.

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We arrived in the heart of Yichang at about midnight. It had been one hell of a ride and we had ridden close to 900 kilometers since we set off fifteen hours earlier.  I can safely say I did not enjoy riding on the highway in the dark, but I was happy we had made progress and that Fanny had cheered up.  On arrival in yet another huge Chinese city we were gratefully met by a member of Yichang’s BMW motorcycle club who had been patiently waiting for us and he escorted us on his GS1200 Adventure to a tourist hotel. Given the choice I would prefer to camp and save money, but camping is not easy in large cities, it was late… and it was raining.

We made it... its a motel.... not that exciting .. but warm and dry

Our motel in Yichang near the Three Gorges Dam project

For those of you who have never been on a Chinese guided tour it is a definite “must do” on life’s bucket list. It is an experience if nothing else and gives one an idea of what the average Chinese person has to put up with if they want to do anything vaguely touristy or do any travelling.  Independent travel is growing very quickly in China, especially among the new generation of upwardly mobile, but for the average person the organised guided tour is the only affordable and practicable way to visit their own country or travel abroad.

So what’s it like?  Well the day starts by getting picked up at a designated location by one of the thousands of tourist buses and after finding a seat (or not) don’t be surprised if the person sitting next to you immediately settles down to sleep and closes the curtains obscuring the view you paid to see, nor if they repeatedly empty the contents of their lungs to the sound track of a demented cappuccino machine and deposit the green blob on the floor between your feet. It is imperative that you bring your MP3 to drown out the cacophony of deafening white noise and a high decibel monologue of memorized propaganda given by a small woman hiding behind a microphone. This is your tour guide and do not under any circumstances ask her any questions unless its involves asking where to buy extortionately priced plastic replicas of whatever you thought you were going to see, or some gelatinous food substance made out of animal hooves or innards on a stick.

On the bus ... Off the bus

On the bus … Off the bus

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You will all be given a brightly coloured hat with Chinese characters on the front, an assortment of passes, tickets, receipts and coupons that you must place in a plastic envelope attached to a brightly coloured ribbon around your neck and must have prominently displayed at all times whilst queuing, which you’ll spend most of your time doing.  You only need to understand three Chinese phrases —-“On the bus”, “Off the bus”, and “quickly”.

Completely ignore any reference to the word “laowai” (old foreigner) as they are talking about you and not to you. Whilst off the bus the tour guide will tool herself up with a portable white noise machine and a radio aerial with a coloured flag on the top which she will wave above her head whilst shouting “On the bus, Off the bus” etc.  Another golden rule is never ever under any circumstances talk the driver… you will recognise the driver because he is attached to an old coffee jar with tea leaves and flower petals floating inside and honks the horn all the time.

And so Fanny and I voluntarily, and with full knowledge of what we were letting ourselves into, set off on our “glorious revolutionary number one tour”  to the Three Gorges Dam. We found our seats in the cheap section and had hardly been on the bus five minutes before a huge fight broke out between a middle aged women and our tour guide. I couldn’t catch what it was all about, but apparently the tour guide had seriously insulted the lady by suggesting she was a “tourist” when in fact she was a “local” from Hubei. Such a terrible and unforgivable mistake was cause enough for the lady from Hubei to shout and scream throughout the entire journey. The tour guide, however, was unfazed by all this commotion and simply turned up the volume on the white noise machine to maximum and carried on regurgitating her rote learned tourist guide babble without drawing breath.

Fanny's passes

Fanny’s passes

Its that our flag? Forgotten.

Waiting around for someone to do something.  Get off the bus, follow the flag, queue for something, get back on the bus, wait a few minutes, and then get off the bus again and join another queue.

Beyond! the magnificent Three Gorges Dam project..

BEHOLD! The magnificent Three Gorges Dam project..

No worries ... here's a plastic one. Behold! the plastic three gorges project

Can’t see it? No worries … BEHOLD! the plastic Three Gorges Dam project

C'mon Fanny ... I take you to all the best places.

Fanny having a great time … I take her to all the best places.

I have even got my anorak on... blah blah blah mega watts, blah blah blah litres a second

I have even got my anorak on… blah blah blah mega watts, blah blah blah litres of water a second, blah blah blah we designed it all ourselves and the lao wai did nothing

I am loving this...

I am loving this…

I am

I am, really

So is Fanny

So is Fanny

Look at her happy face

Look at her happy face

I know, I know.... its a dam

“???!!!”

Yes its a dam

I have to go on the internet to see what we were supposed to see. Ahh yes, its a big dam

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I actually quite enjoyed the dam visit. Joking aside its an amazing engineering feat and although our actual tour guide was a bit lacking in technical knowledge and didn’t really have anything interesting to say, I managed to sidle up to an English speaking guide with another tour group who had probably paid a lot more for their tour than us, and the guide really knew his electric turbines from his kilowatt hours. Not only have I become an avid bird spotter in my later life, but a civil engineering nerd of note.

After visiting the dam, the construction museum and of course several tourist shops belonging to the driver’s uncle, we headed back to Yichang where we went for a stroll along the Yangtze River and watched the locals swimming next to the “No Swimming” sign. Some of them had attached themselves to buoys and were floating off down the immense river. Not sure why as we never saw them again.

Wandering around the dam construction museum

Wandering around the dam construction museum

Local guys attaching themselves to buoys and floating across river

Local guys attaching themselves to buoys and floating down the river

 

BEHOLD! the new KTM 1190 Adventure ... with tubeless tyres.  An ugly exhaust because of the  EU emission regulations, but nothing Akropovik can't sort out.

BEHOLD! the new KTM 1190 Adventure R … with tubeless tyres. An ugly exhaust because of the EU emission regulations, but nothing Akropovik or Leo Vince can’t sort out.

The next day we were escorted out of the city by the BMW riders’ club members, and just as we were leaving the city I got a puncture in my back tyre. The first and only on the trip in China. Unlike the KTM 990 Adventure, repairing a tubeless tyre on the CF Moto is extremely easy and just requires pulling out the nail, or whatever, and pushing through and plugging the hole with a strip of gooey rubber. It took me less than 5 minutes and off we went again. The new KTM 1190 Adventure is being launched in 2013 and among many new updates on our 990 Adventures, including being 50% more powerful, is fitted with tubeless tyres. Its definitely the way to go as anyone who has had to repair a puncture on a tubed motorcycle tyre will agree (see Austria, Egypt and Tanzania chapters).

We rode all through the day, covered more than 700 kilometers and just as the sun was setting decided to pull off the highway at a lake in Anhui province called Huating. A really beautiful place where we managed to find a very cheap and pleasant room above a restaurant with a view over the lake.  Again, we were not in a big rush and so we decided to stay there for a couple of days and explore the area, before carrying on towards Shanghai.

Repairing the puncture and the guys who helped us.

Repairing the puncture and the BMW guys who helped us.

saying goodbye to the Yichang BMW club guys who guided us onto the highway to continue our journey eastwards.

Saying goodbye to the Yichang BMW motorcycle club guys who guided us onto the highway to continue our journey eastwards.

No problems getting through toll onto the highway in Hubei on a beautiful sunny day

No problems getting through toll onto the highway in Hubei on a beautiful sunny day

Crossing one of many bridges. Roads were relatively quiet and we made good progress passed Wuhan to Anhui

Crossing one of many new bridges in China that now link the biggest road infrastructure in the world.  On this occasion the roads were relatively quiet and we made good progress through cities like Wuhan into Anhui province.

Fanny cruising along the highway in Hubei. Bikes going well and no worries about being thrown off highway until we get closer to Shanghai

Fanny cruising along a highway bridge in Hubei province. Our Chinese made motorcycles were going well and in Hubei we had no worries about being thrown off  highway until we got much closer to the mega-city of Shanghai. Chinese cities don’t just have one or two bridges spanning their rivers, they have dozens. The scale in China is immense.

Where ever we stop, large crowds come up to see the bikes. A rare sight  I guess to many people in China.

Where ever we stopped large crowds came up to see the bikes and ask questions. The big Chinese made motorbikes were a rare sight to many people.

After riding 700 kilometers on the highway we decided to pull off highway and stay at Huating lake in Anhui Province.

After riding 700 kilometers on the highway we decided to pull off and stay at Huating Lake in Anhui Province.

Enjoying the last few days of autumn in Anhui

Enjoying the last few warm days of autumn in Anhui

Swimming in Huating lake as the sun sets

Swimming in Huating lake as the sun set.

We found a small restaurant in a village next to the lake and managed to book a room upstairs for about five pounds. But first, fresh fish hotpot for dinner. Absolutely delicious.

We found a small restaurant in a village next to the lake and managed to book a room upstairs for about five pounds. But first, fresh fish hotpot for dinner. Absolutely delicious. This is what touring in China is all about. My view that Chinese food is best in the world was vindicated where ever we went.

View from our room. We were delighted to find this idyllic spot in Anhui. A perfect place to relax for a few days near the end of our big bike trip

View from our room. We were delighted to find this idyllic spot in Anhui. A perfect place to relax for a few days as we come to the  end of our big bike trip.

I have been all over the world and stayed is some of the best hotels, but few compare to this little paradise.

I have been all over the world and stayed is some of the best hotels, but few compare to this charming little place on the shores of the Huating.  Clean, simple and cheap… just how we like it.

Drying a kind of fungi in the sun for cooking

Drying a kind of fungi in the sun for cooking. The ingredients used in Chinese cooking always reflect the local area and tastes and flavours changed as we moved from one province (or even county) to another, but one thing always remained the same where ever we went… a passion for freshness and quality.

And lake fish

We ate some delicious fish, prepared Anhui style.  These are dried lake fish which are often used in soups and stews.

Fanny eating "mantou" (a kind a bread bun) from a hawker in the main town

Fanny eating “mantou” (a kind a plain bread bun, normally from northern China)

Local fruit stall... selling You Zi (Pomelo) which we eat often

Local fruit stall… including the large grapefruit looking You Zi (Pomelo) which we ate often at this time of year. Chinese people do not really eat puddings and sweets, but fresh fruit is always an important staple. No wonder the average Chinese person looks lean and healthy.

Having our dinner next to the lake and watching the local fishermen in their small boats

Sitting by the shores on Huating lake having our dinner and watching the local fishermen in their small boats

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Peaceful

A local girl picking cotton

A local girl picking cotton in the autumn sun

Cotton fields by the lake

Cotton fields by the lake in Huating, Anhui.

View from dinner

View from the small restaurant where we had our dinner

Last night at Huating before we set off towards Shanghai

Last night at Huating in Anhui Province before we set off towards Shanghai.

Our last evening on the Big Bike Trip. Couldn't ask for a nicer place.

Our last evening on the Big Bike Trip. Couldn’t ask for a nicer place.

Back on the road and the last stretch before we get to the outskirts of Shanghai

Back on the road and taking a petrol stop before we get to the outskirts of Shanghai

Our last petrol stop ... as always in China draws a crowd.

Our last petrol stop … as always in China the bikes draw a crowd and Fanny entertains them with stories from our trip. For many of the people we met they are witnessing the new generation of  modern China. The pace of change in China is phenomenal.

Arriving at CF Moto in Shanghai. We rode over 12,000 kilometers in China and our total mileage was 53,800 kilometers from South Africa and taking 18  months... with a few stops here and there.

A very proud Fanny arriving in her home town of  Shanghai and being met by the owner of the local CF Moto shop. We rode over 12,000 kilometers in China and our total mileage was 53,800 kilometers altogether from South Africa. It took  18 months… with a few stops here and there.  More adventure?  Of course.  Alaska to Chile? …. yes…. one day

We did it.

We did it.  53,800 Kilometers from Cape Town to Shanghai

The bikes did well.

Our CF Moto TR 650 bikes did well too.

We got into Shanghai after dark and left our bikes with the local CF Moto dealership as riding motorcycles without “沪” licence plates in Shanghai is illegal and could incur a big fine or even confiscation of our bikes.  We had ridden 12,300 kilometers in China on the CF Motos and 53,800 kilometers altogether since leaving Cape Town in June 2011.

Quite an adventure I would say.

Big Bike Trip Presentationin Shanghai

We were invited by Harley Davidson, Shanghai to use their facilities where Fanny and I gave a presentation about our Big Bike Trip to our guests and the local press.

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Presenting in Shanghai

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Fanny had a banner made up for the presentation in Shanghai

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Getting back into Shanghai life …. I had to have my “Chobe Safari Lodge” beanie and red fleece surgically removed.

a contrast to what we have been wearing for last 18 months

A contrast to what we have been wearing for the last 18 months

Fanny at charity boxing dinner in Shanghai.

Fanny at a charity boxing dinner in Shanghai.

Fanny looking lovely at Shanghai boxing charity event

Fanny…….my tough and beautiful round the world motorcycling partner

Looking very different to how she looked in north Kenya on the road to Moyale. A lady of many achievements

Looking very different to how she looked in north Kenya on the road to Moyale

Fanny looking very different to how she looked in Shanghai

Fanny in the deserts of north Kenya looking very different to how she looked at the charity boxing event in Shanghai

The end...

Life isn’t a dress rehearsal…

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Fanny and I stayed in Shanghai for two months where both of us were very busy catching up with the lives we had left behind. Fanny’s family live in Shanghai and they were very proud of her achievements and extremely pleased to see her back safe and well. Whilst Fanny had many things to attend to, including preparing for her bar exams and negotiating the new job she will start in the new year, I went back to language school to brush up my business Mandarin and get fit again in the gym and shed some of the kilograms I put on in Europe. In actual fact, I lost 7 kilograms, was back to my middle distant running form, fighting fit and looking forward to getting back to work myself, surprisingly.

We continued writing for our magazines, started on “the book” and  wrote some technical reviews of the motorcycles we had ridden. We attended presentations about our trip, gave interviews, and swapped our biking kit for dinner jackets and party dresses to attend some of Shanghai’s social events.

As the beautiful autumn sunshine in Shanghai turned to a decidedly chilly winter, we headed back to our starting point of Cape Town where we were reunited with our trusty KTMs. Bikers, and especially adventure bikers like us, become very attached to our seemingly inanimate two wheeled friends. We were both very excited and delighted to see them again. Fanny, me and our bikes had been through a lot together and seen the world as few will ever see it.  Adjusting back to so called normal life is quite difficult and for me a bit depressing, especially in winter, so we cheated the cold and gloom by simply changing hemispheres.

 

Arriving back where we started.... Cape Town

Arriving back in Cape Town with our biking kit

开普敦。

开普敦。

Back in South Africa with our KTMs

Back in South Africa with our KTMs… we have got this riding and camping lark down to perfection

KTMs arriving back in Cape Town --- where we started 18 months previously

My KTM 990 Adventure R being unpacked at the shippers in Cape Town and looking as good as the day we started off… which is more than I can say for myself.  We have cheated the northern hemisphere winter and back to the sun and beautiful of South Africa

Fanny's bike being unpacked

Fanny’s bike being unpacked and also looking like it could ride round the world again.

Both bikes back home at KTM Cape Town

A visit back to see Louis, Charl and the team at KTM Cape Town. Also, to have a quick look at their wonderful KTM 690 Adventure Onyx… very nice.

Back in Arniston ---southern tip of Africa

Having breakfast at “Willen’s” in Arniston …. the southern tip of Africa … and my home

Hout Bay

A ride out to Hout Bay for fish and chips … we love the northern hemisphere winter

Whilst relaxing in South Africa and watching television one day we made the mistake of switching over to the UK’s Sky News channel (which is to journalism what King Herod is to babysitting) and managed to catch up with what was going on in the rest of the world.  World economy? …still 乱七八糟.

Syria and middle east? …still fighting.

Terrorists? … still blowing people up.

Britain? ….still raining.

And America? …. nutters running amok and shooting up small children with “second amendment” assault rifles.

Same old same old.  Enough of that. Click. 

‘Let’s go out for a ride’

Cruising about Cape Town

Cruising about Cape Town

Borrowing a glider to fly off Signal Hill. Thanks www.paraglidesa.co.za

We rode up to Signal Hill in Cape Town and a tandem paragliding company lent me one of their gliders so I could have a fly.  I hadn’t flown for 18 months, but it’s like falling off a bike … just higher. Many thanks to http://www.paraglidesa.co.za

Riding around Cape Town with Fanny

Riding around Cape Town with Fanny

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At my home in Arniston

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Enjoying the amazing riding routes in the Cederberg and Karoo. Its going to be difficult for both of us to hang up the riding boots.

Chapter 25 – 中国 Part 7 – Chongqing

Having been unceremoniously thrown off the Chengdu-Chongqing highway by the local rozzers we were faced with at least a days ride to Chongqing along indirect and badly maintained triple digit “G” and “S” roads (i.e. the really really bad ones). Unfortunately, my  GPS had completely given up trying to calculate where we were, let alone set a route to where we wanted to go. It was confused, no doubt by the rapid pace of road construction and deconstruction in this part of the world, and so like all electronic devices when you really need them, had decided to go into “freeze” mode. No amount of shouting and cursing was going to change its mind.

There were many road signs showing the characters 重庆 (Chongqing), but apparently there was no consensus of opinion and they indicated going left, right, back, forward and even up. I couldn’t even tell which was east or west as the sun was hidden behind the smoggy haze that often envelops much of China.  So we stopped to ask for directions.

My carefully constructed questions were met with shrugs, blank stares, embarrassed grins, pointing in all directions, and occasionally dashes for freedom.  Annoyed that my years of Chinese study had come to nothing I asked Fanny to take over the local interrogation, but I soon realized when I heard her doing a Chris Rock like “DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE WORDS THAT ARE COMING OUT MY MOUTH” that she was getting nowhere either. So we did what all couple’s do when they are completely lost on a road trip. Blame each other.

Strolling along Chongqing Bund at night

The Bund in Chongqing with the mighty Yangtze River, colourful skyline, barges and impressive bridges.

Our brief, but noisy exchange in the middle of a concrete purgatory drew a bit of a crowd, but did little to help our situation other than blow off a bit of steam. I remembered I had my Casio watch, that up until now I had only used as an altimeter, and so I used the compass function to set a vaguely south east course.

I had studied and become quite good at navigation when I did my Royal Yacht Association Ocean Skippers sailing course some years back in South Africa, but navigation requires a compass AND an accurate map or chart.  We only had a map of the whole of China and a freebie tourist map, neither of which were good enough and so I pointed in a south east direction and declared in Maggie Thatcher style,

‘We go that way and we are not for turning’.

Chongqing

Chongqing province, with its capitol city being one of the largest and most crowded cities in the world.  It is a center for China’s “Go West” policy and famous for heavy manufacturing, especially the growing motor industry. The mighty Yangtze River cuts through the hilly capital city which is navigable all the way to Shanghai. Like Sichuan province, which Chongqing used to be part of until 1997, both of these south western provinces are extremely motorcycle unfriendly and their officials and local government are unruly, unaccountable and institutionally corrupt.  It is the wild west of China.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We followed a route that can best be described as “urban off roading”.  Ignoring signs, ignoring traffic signals and heading along whatever surfaces aimed in a generally south east direction. The route took us through scruffy towns and construction sites and occasionally along roads that were still being built. There were often concrete bollards or barriers placed at the entrances and exits to these stretches of virgin concrete and tarmac, but these were no obstacle to two wheels and clearly the local bicycles and scooters had already found some convenient short cuts and so we followed them too.

Surprisingly, nobody attempted to stop us and I was actually beginning to quite enjoying this little bit of adventure riding. Our CF Moto 650 TR motorcycles are technically touring bikes that are in their element cruising along smooth roads, but they seemed perfectly able to tackle the ramps, holes, mud and gravel that we encountered and so we weaved over and through whatever obstacles lay ahead of us.

A bit dangerous in places as the flyovers under construction would occasionally come to an abrupt stop, leaving a high precipice which would definitely be a bad idea to fly off.

Urban off roading

Urban off roading

Motorcycle clubs meet in Chongqing

Meeting the Motorcycle clubs and forum groups Chongqing

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As they first said in China, and still do in other parts of the world  “All roads lead to Rome” and in this case all the roads went through Chongqing first. Somehow or another by riding along unfinished roads we had managed to get onto a national highway without passing through any of the tolls.  Also, my GPS came back to life, showing that we had only 35 kilometers to ride into the center of the city. Phew! However, my euphoria was short lived as I saw a tunnel ahead of us and at the entrance were about twenty police and highways officials directing the heavy traffic into various lanes.

I knew they would attempt to stop us, but the traffic had come to a halt and that gave me a chance to covertly weave through the stationary cars and trucks and avoid most of them. One official in a hi-viz jacket caught sight of me and bravely lunged in front of me and so I slowed down, punched my arm in the air and shouted ‘Chelsea’. I couldn’t think of anything better to do, but it worked and as he reared backwards in surprise, I rode around him and entered the tunnel and escaped.

Ha ha! Oh! …..Fanny?. I was hoping she would follow my lead, but as I checked my mirrors there was no sign of her. Maybe she had shouted “Arsenal”. Nobody likes the “Gooners” in China and I had to agree that would be cause enough to lock her up.  There was no sign of her as I rode through the entire five kilometers of the busy highway tunnel and as I exited in the outskirts of Chongqing I was immediately faced with a dilemma.

The highway divided.  Four lanes going left and four going right and so I stopped, a bit precariously, right up against the central concrete divider with traffic hurtling both sides of me and waited, and waited and waited. Unlike throughout most of the expedition I actually had a charged up mobile phone, with a local SIM card inside, and there was a strong signal and so I called her, but there was no reply. Tamade! I had made a stupid mistake because I did not know where we were going to stay that evening as Fanny dealt with all those sort of thing in China.  I guessed it was probably near the Chongqing International Exhibition Center, but I didn’t really know where I was going and I couldn’t leave Fanny lost in one of the biggest cities in the world. What if she really had been detained or had had an accident?

I was starting to get anxious when I saw the headlights of Fanny’s bike emerge from the heavily congested tunnel and she pulled up behind me as traffic whizzed by either side of us.  I asked what happened and she said the police stopped her, but she explained that she was with the “lao wai” on the bike ahead and must follow otherwise we would get really lost.  ‘In the end they just let me go’, she explained, but continued, ‘What did you shout? They thought you were mad’.

East

Eastwards…..

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After programming the GPS with the location of the hotel that the Chunfeng Moto delegation had booked us into near the exhibition center we cruised along Chongqing’s  city highways down to the formidable Yangtze River and crossed one of the many outrageously enormous bridges than spans it into the commercial heart of the city where we eventually found our hotel. After settling in, there was only one thing to do. Have some hotpot (火锅), the quintessentially Chongqing dish.

Chongqing ... an classic image of modern China

Chongqing

Chongqing huoguo (hotpot)

Chongqing huoguo (hotpot)

Nanping District, Chongqing

Nanping District, Chongqing

Chongqing City centre looks pretty much like most other large city centres in the world. Absolutely heaving with people, very noisy,  busy public squares, bright advertising lights, sky scrapers, heavy traffic congestion and poor air quality.  However, everything is on a scale unprecedented anywhere else in the world and, stating the obvious, “Very Chinese”.

There are restaurants everywhere from small “da pai dang“, palatial “fan dian”  to fast food stall, including not only local Chinese snacks, but western fast food chains like the ubiquitous “mai dan lao” (McDonalds) and “ken de ji” (KFC).  Also, in the early mornings and evenings thousands of middle aged and elderly women fill the public spaces and practice synchronized  “line dancing” or “tai ji quan” to a cacophony of music ranging from traditional Chinese folk, Canto pop, Western classical, trance anthems, bass and drum and hip hop.  It is extremely popular throughout China. Sometimes hundreds of couples practice ball room dancing in the streets as well. At the risk of making sweeping generalizations, I think I can very safely say Chinese people love food and love noise.

I too love Chinese food, but increasingly as I get older I hate noise and if I can will avoid crowds like the plague. I had to admit I was hoping to get the next few days in Chongqing over and done with, but the reason we were in Chongqing was to meet our kind sponsors and participate in the China International Motorcycle Exhibition. I knew it was a showcase for the Chinese motorcycle industry and would be a far cry from the bike shows in London or Italy.

There would be no KTMs, nor the latest European or Japanese speed machines on display, but I like motorbikes of all shapes and sizes, even if they are all 125cc.   Fanny was very excited though, not least because she would meet her friends from CF Moto and many of her growing fan club.  Quite rightly many Chinese are proud of her motorcycling achievements and she was looking forward to the attention. She is a woman after all. So, I put on my happy face and got stuck in.

Fanny with her Tibetan white fox hat and the CF Moto 650 NK street bike that she will ride in Hong Kong.

Fanny with her Tibetan white fox hat and the CF Moto 650 NK street bike that she will probably use to ride in Hong Kong when she moves there in 2013.  The white fox hat might not be needed though.

Fanny and friends

Fanny and chief editor of Moto8 forum

At motorcycle show in Chongqing

At the motorcycle show in Chongqing

Earning my corn by taking the Chinese motorcycle press for rides around the exhibition demonstration ground.

Earning my corn by taking the Chinese motorcycle press for rides around the exhibition demonstration ground.

"And there we were heroically riding through a pride of lions in the Serengeti" blah blah blah ......

“And there we were riding through a pride of lions in the Serengeti” blah blah blah ……

The last time we faced our lunch like this was at Lake Charla in Tanzania.

The last time we faced our “alive and kicking” lunch like this was at Lake Charla in Tanzania.

Fanny facing the press

Fanny facing the press. There were big crowds and we had many press briefings to go to.

Heaven forbid I am becoming politically correct... but what is this bimbo doing on a motorcycle. Pointy end forward, pet

Fanny arriving at the show on her CF Moto 650 TR

And free of charge our demonstration rider "Mad Max"  putting the 650 NK through its paces. A wheelie, perhaps?

Me riding around the show ground. A wheelie, perhaps?

Yes.. a wheelie.. but not from Rupert, but from Hu Hai who really knows what he's doing.

Yes.. a wheelie.. but not from me, but from Hu Hai (CF Moto’s stunt rider) who really knows what he’s doing.

Hu Hai on the ATV doing ... what do you call it? ... a sidey?

Hu Hai on the ATV doing … what do you call it? … a sidey?

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Would you like a bowl of noodle? Looks like you need something to eat.

And what's this idiot doing?

Messing about on the CF Moto monkey bike… good fun.

Checking out the CF Moto 650 NK. This is bike Fanny will ride in Hong Kong next year to get to and from work.

Checking out the CF Moto 650 NK in its new signature livery of black and blue … will match Fanny’s bruisies.

Fanny on a bike like ours... the touring CF Moto 650 TR. It has been a great bike. Technical review of bike to follow soon.

Fanny on a touring CF Moto 650 TR like the ones we rode 12,000 kilometers across China It has been a great bike. Technical review of bike to follow soon in this diary.

Fanny on CF Moto 650 TR

Fanny on the CF Moto 650 TR

CF Moto is famous for these ATVs. Would be nice to have one at our home in Arniston, South Africa for going down to beach.

CF Moto is famous for manufacturing these ATVs. Would be nice to have one at our home in Arniston, South Africa for going down to beach.

Chen Lei from CF Moto showing off their bikes

Chen Lei from CF Moto showing off their bikes

I used to have one of these ... if I ever get job again I will get another.

I used to have one of these … if I ever get job or money again I will get another.

Fanny still doing the press thing. She writes for several Chinese magazines and also publishes a very good blogg at www.weibo.com/bigbiketrip

Fanny still doing the press thing. She writes for several Chinese and Italian magazines and also publishes a very popular blog at http://www.weibo.com/bigbiketrip

Having dinner with imotor.com

Having dinner with http://www.imotor.com.cn

getting into the mood ..can't stay  grumpy with all these bikes to play with

Getting into the mood ….can’t stay grumpy with all these bikes to play with

I would really like one of these for Hong Kong

I would really like one of these too… or a new KTM 1290 Super Duke  … or a ????

Looks familiar

Looks familiar

Electric bike from Honda .. maybe the future of motorcycling?

Electric bike from Honda .. maybe the future of motorcycling?

Fanny and our kind sponsor, Louis from Beijing Motoway who supplied our superb Rev'It kit. www.527motor.com.cn

Fanny and our kind sponsor, Louis from Beijing Motoway who supplied our superb Rev’It motorcycling kit. http://www.527motor.com.cn

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Beijing Motoway Motorcycle
http://www.527motor.com.cn

Gary from Yingang motorcycles.  If you ever want to ride around the world on a shoestring and get 1000 kilometers on a tank and take one spanner with you then the Yingang 125 is the way to go.

The charismatic and entrepreneurial Gary from Yingang motorcycles. If you ever want to ride around the world on a shoestring and get 1000 kilometers out of a single tank of petrol and just take one spanner with you, then the Yingang 125 may be the way to go.

The Yingang 125 adventure bike... its go around the world and keep going on vapours. But will you?

The Yingang 125 adventure bike… it’ll go around the world, cost very little to buy, is cheap as chips to run and very easy to maintain.

Eating my third dinner of the evening and still going strong. Thanks to CF Moto and the press.

Eating my third dinner of the evening and still going strong. Thanks to CF Moto and the Chinese motorcycle press.

Harley Davidson is very popular in China and there are many people who can afford them and drink in their club, but not for the light of pocket. The bikes and a drink in their club (above). Unfortunately, far too expensive for Fanny and I.

Harley Davidson is very popular in China and there are many people who can afford their motorcycles, accessories, and shiny bits and bobs, and to drink and eat in their club (above) in Chongqing. Far too expensive for Fanny and I …which I guess is a good thing as I look really daft in leather and tassels.

Custom Harleys... very bling.

Custom Harleys… very bling.

Not sure how long those wheels would last intact in Nan Jing Xi Road.

Not sure how long those wheels would last intact in Nan Jing Xi Road.

CF Moto's stunt rider -- Hu Hai  ( or as I call him Hu Li  Gan) ... I have seen many stunt riders and none as passionate, fun and skillful as Hu. Great guy.

CF Moto’s stunt rider — Hu Hai ( or as I call him Hu Li Gan) … Riding his 650 NK. I have seen many stunt riders and none are as passionate, fun or skillful as Hu. Great guy.

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We had three days at the Chongqing China International Motorcycle Show and we both enjoyed ourselves in the end. But, clearly starting to show the signs of becoming a rather fat and prosperous looking, it was time for me to stop wining and dining and for us to get going again.  As motorcycles are banned, not only in Chongqing, but on all the highways in Chongqing and Sichuan, Fanny had been in discussions with many experienced bikers about the best possible route out of Chongqing towards Yichang in Hubei province. It was decided we would leave very early in the morning to escape the traffic and get onto the G50 highway, as many large bike riders from the east of China were planning to do, and had done in the past with success. If we could get out of Chongqing and into Hubei we would be OK as motorcycles are allowed on highways in Hubei province, and indeed later in Anhui.

We got out of Chongqing City quite quickly as it was early and rode through the toll of the G 50 highway without too much hassle from the officials, but after 20 minutes of riding along the highway I saw some officials in hi-viz jackets run into the carriageway and wave their arms about. I slowed down, but easily rode passed them. I then looked at my mirror expecting Fanny to do the same and was absolutely astonished and shocked to see one of the officials pick up a two foot high traffic cone and throw it with force at Fanny’s bike,  causing her to come off and skid on her side with bike on top of her for several meters.

I screeched to a halt in the middle of the three lane highway,  U-turned and rode back to her. I couldn’t really hear what the officials were saying as I ran up to Fanny, but I saw she was crying and had clearly hurt herself. Her bike looked damaged, but not too seriously. I picked Fanny up and checked her out and she seemed more shocked than injured ( a few bad bruises as it turned out) and then I saw the official who threw the cone.  He immediately put on a show of bravado, but he was clearly nervous as he suddenly realized I was a foreigner and extremely angry. I charged up to him like a raging bull, and really considered thumping him, but controlled myself. I was desperately thinking of what to say in Chinese and all that came out of my mouth was a rather lame and pathetic admonishment. In the heat of the moment my Mandarin let me down and all I could think of calling him was a “bad egg“.

One of officials who throw a traffic cone at Fanny while she was cruising on highway at 80kph... causing her to come off.

One of officials who was involved in throwing a traffic cone at Fanny while she was cruising on highway at 80kph… causing her to come off.  It says “Traffic” on his hi-viz jacket. Irresponsible beyond words.

Huai dan ... the bad egg who threw the traffic cone at Fanny. Instead of thumping him which he deserved... I took this picture.

The 坏蛋 … the actual “bad egg” who threw the traffic cone at Fanny. Instead of thumping him which he thoroughly deserved… I took this picture.

A fussy unfocused picture of one of the officials. My hands were shaking with rage.

A fuzzy unfocused picture of one of the officials. My hands were shaking with rage.

When I joined the Royal Hong Kong Police in the mid eighties all the expatriate Inspectors had to learn Cantonese, and of course the first thing we learnt were all the swear words (of which there are many good ones that are frequently used). This was followed by chat up phrases so we could attempt (and always fail) to impress the local talent. My Mandarin, however, was learnt at Tsinghua University  in Beijing, one of China’s top academic institutions, and although I can chat almost fluently about magical phoenix(s) in mysterious forests and use impressive “cheng yu” (idioms) that nobody really needs, my “ma ren de hua” (cursing ability) is extremely poor.  My “How do you say?” requests to become more acquainted with China’s more colourful and fruity expressions have always been met with embarrassed chuckles from my teachers and Chinese friends. Fanny is no help either as  I rarely hear her say anything impolite. In fact, mainland Chinese are much more polite and cultured than the southerners or Hongkongers and so there is a big void in my Putonghua street credibility. Perhaps its a good thing. Of course it is.

So, having used up all the “egg” terms I could think of I reverted to tried, trusted and universally understood Anglo Saxon, took some pictures of the offending officials and got Fanny back on her bike as quickly as possible before anyone else turned up. I know all too well in China that things can escalate quickly as indignation rises and face is lost. Fanny’s bike was damaged on one side, as bikes with plastic fairing tend to be after a crash, but it seemed 100% roadworthy and so we made our escape as the officials got onto their mobile phones to plan their alibis and excuses.

I remember years ago in Hong Kong getting stopped on my motorcycle at a police  roadblock. I had done nothing wrong but I guess they needed to make up their numbers and in Hong Kong a police officer in uniform needs no justification to stop anyone. Strangely, and very unfairly they had waved on a Mercedes Benz luxury car that had dangerously cut me up and stopped me instead. I remember it vividly because it was on the very same day my son had been officially diagnosed with autism and so I had “gone off” on my bike to collect my thoughts and reflect on the lack of prospects that lay ahead for us all. Of course I was not in a particularly happy mood and unwisely remonstrated against the police officers’ surly behaviour and unfair actions towards me. This was a very bad idea as at the time I was also a police officer, more senior in rank, and a 鬼佬 (‘foreign devil’) to boot.  So, in order to protect themselves from a potential complaint from me they embellished a damaging story against me instead, and to cut a sad and long story short I ended up getting disciplined for conduct unbecoming an officer and was thrown to the dogs. Life is unfair sometimes, but the lesson learnt was that the police, not just in China or Hong Kong, are not shy in making something up to protect their necks, and as a foreigner or outsider one is always in a much weaker and vulnerable position.  As hard as it is, the best course of action is to avoid confrontation, swallow your pride and turn on your tail, regardless of the provocation.

As we rode away along the rather deserted highway I suspected that this was not going to be the end of matters and I was right. At the next toll we rode through the gap in the barrier, as all motorbikes do, and a group of about twenty uniformed traffic police ran frantically up to me and surrounded my bike, much like pit crews do when a Formula One racing car pulls into the pits. Clearly they were waiting for us, but Fanny was not in a good mood and she explained in no uncertain terms what happened earlier, but the traffic police seemed uninterested and completely unconcerned. To them, riding a motorcycle on a highway was a much more heinous offence than deliberately causing a road traffic accident and injury. Initially I though Fanny would be able to explain the seriousness of the incident and we would be allowed to carry on, but that was not to be. We both got a first hand lesson about the lawlessness of officials in Chongqing.

Bike fairing, mirrors, handlebars and crash bars damaged... but could have been worse.

Bike fairing, mirrors, handlebars and crash bars damaged… but could have been worse.

Despite being on the road for nearly 18 months, we had both heard the recent stories about organised crime in Chongqing and about the scandal of Bo Xilai and his wife who had murdered a British businessman. Clearly this unethical tone at the top had permeated throughout all of the public sector in Chongqing and government officials and the police alike were unaccountable for whatever their actions might be.  I was resigned to just getting off the highway and escaping these fools, but Fanny was very very angry and quite rightly so. Someone had tried to seriously injure her and it could have been very serious indeed. After an hour of arguing the toss, our fate was clear. No action would be taken against the officials whose reckless behaviour could have killed Fanny, and we were being kicked off yet another Chinese highway in the middle of no where.

A forlorn looking Fanny on the infamous G50 highway in Chongqing province

A forlorn looking Fanny on the infamous G50 highway in Chongqing province

I had regained my composure and while Fanny was alternating between crying and arguing I had structured a little speech that I gave to the most senior officer in as calm and articulate manner as I could. I told him about the accomplishments of Fanny–a fellow Chinese citizen, a woman and a proud ambassador for China throughout the world, and that a Chinese law enforcement officer had deliberately tried to injure her. Not only had she been injured, but her motorcycle had been damaged, she had lost serious face and the actions of the officer were reprehensible. It was quite a speech, grammar a bit dodgy in places, but it hit the spot and the officer literally rocked and recoiled on his feet. He made an attempt by telephone to persuade more senior officers to allow us to continue, but alas it was not to be and so we were escorted off the highway literally onto a sand track in the middle of very rural Chongqing.

Where are we?

Where are we?

One of many small and crowded towns we rode through in Chongqing

One of many small and crowded towns we rode through in Chongqing

I think at this stage both Fanny and I were hoping we could get the trip over and done with. I assumed the most interesting riding in China was behind us and all we had ahead was a slog of 2000 kilometers plus eastwards to Shanghai. Riding on the highways, unlike motorcycling in other parts of the world, is actually quite enjoyable as the route passes smoothly through valleys and mountains and you have time to take in the view as you cruise along. Riding off the highways was a battle of survival against appalling traffic and road conditions. In my mind Chongqing province was just another sprawling conurbation of concrete and chaos. How wrong I was.

Within half an hour of leaving the highway we were in rural Chongqing

Within half an hour of leaving the highway we were in rural Chongqing

The stress of the previous few hours was starting to fade, and although technically we were still lost I think both of us could not care less. We rode along a sand track for a while until it stopped and became farmer’s field and went no further. Like many roads in rural China it was no longer used as the highways now took the bulk of the traffic. I looked at the only maps we had of the area, one a freebie tourist one that Fanny used, but was pretty useless for navigation, and the other showed the whole of China that only reminded us we were right in the middle. I looked at the GPS and it showed a red line of the highway we had been turfed off and nothing else at all except the mighty Yangtze River and its tributaries meandering all over the place.  I surveyed the land around us we were surrounded by green fields, small thatched farm houses, small streams, rice terraces, and quite steep mountain slopes which were covered in mist. It looked like one of those Chinese paintings of idyllic rural landscapes and I think we both accepted that our China adventure was far from over.

Lots of different types of bamboo...  and other grasses

Lots of different types of bamboo… and other grasses

We rode around lost for several hours, but it was true magical mystery tour of middle earth.

We rode around lost for several hours, but it was true magical mystery tour of middle earth.

I am a true country boy and  life here moved at the pace I like

I am a true country boy and life here moved at the pace I like.

Chinese hamlets in Chongqing

Chinese hamlets in Chongqing

I cannot count how many little rice fields like this we passed by. Small communities a world away from the urban craziness in Chongqing city

I cannot count how many little rice fields like this we passed by. Small communities a world away from the urban craziness in Chongqing city

I think Fanny is smiling again. It had been a rotten day for her earlier on.

I think Fanny is smiling again. It had been a rotten day for her earlier on.

hundreds of kilometers of roads like this as we weaved through te villages, valleys and mountains.

hundreds of kilometers of roads like this as we weaved through te villages, valleys and mountains.

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Our meandering around the villages of rural Chongqing was very pleasant, but we seemed to be making no progress at all and so I made a concerted effort to try and work out where we were by asking the locals. For some bizarre reason I was having more success asking directions than Fanny. I think foreigners who speak Chinese as a second language can guess the meaning of people who speak with strong regional dialects better than say a native speaker from elsewhere in China. I knew Fanny was having trouble with the Sichuan and Chongqing dialects, as opposed to me who was having trouble with all of them.  Anyway, we decided to adopt a “get from village to village approach” and get to the border with Hubei even if it meant traveling in the opposite direction to get around the mountains ranges. It might take three days rather than three hours but we were OK with that.  We had accepted that against our original plan we were now exploring a part of China very few people will ever go to. It doesn’t really feature as a tourist attraction, despite being infinitely more interesting, beautiful and tranquil than the so called official tourist destinations.

Cruising

Cruising …

Still cruising ... where the streets have no name sort of thing

Still cruising … where the streets have no name sort of thing

Lots of lily ponds and ducks

Lots of lily ponds and ducks

Farms

Farms

Roads not always up to much and recent rains making conditions muddy

Roads not always up to much and recent rains making conditions muddy

Sometimes very muddy

Sometimes very muddy

Lets go round and detour?

Lets go round and detour?

That's better

That’s better

A reminder of modern China creeping in.

A reminder of modern China creeping in.

Typical scenery

Typical scenery

Its as if everyone has gone to Chongqing City and left the rural parts of the province

Its as if everyone has gone to Chongqing City and left the rural parts of the province

Valley after valley

Valley after valley

We stopped to have some noodles and it seemed the whole village came out to see us. It caused a lot of excitement

We stopped to have some noodles and it seemed the whole village came out to see us. It caused a lot of excitement

Onwards.... Fanny and her bike cruising along

Onwards…. Fanny and her bike cruising along

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We rode through many beautiful villages and some how or another were gradually making tracks in an easterly direction. We took each village as it came and asked for directions to the next passing over mountain and through valleys and paddy fields. We were aiming for Fengdu where we planned to spend the night. It is located on the banks of the Yangtze River and in China is known for its “Ghost Culture“, hence its called China’s Ghost City.  Fanny found a pretty good hotel and after a good spicy catfish hotpot we went for a walk along the banks of the river and saw many of the locals dancing the evening away in the public squares.

Arriving in Fengdu .. the Ghost Town of China.

Arriving in Fengdu .. the Ghost City of China.

Lots of ghosts dancing in the town square i the evening.

Lots of ghosts dancing in the town square during the evening.

More ghosts dancing in Fengdu.... they really like dancing

More ghosts in Fengdu…. its true.. they all come out at night and it seems they really like dancing.

Riding eastwards from Fengdu along a very misty Yangtze River

Riding eastwards from Fengdu along a very misty Yangtze River. When its grey , its really grey in China.

We could see the highway high up above us... passing through tunnels and over impressive bridges for many miles.

We could see the highway high up above us… passing through tunnels and over impressive bridges that spanned the many gorges for many miles.

800px-Fengdu

Fengu – Ghost City

Back into rural Chongqing heading to border with Hubei

Back into rural Chongqing heading towards the border with Hubei

Don't look down

Don’t look down

IMG_0536

Locals selling mushrooms and fungi such as ‘black wood ear’ (黑木耳)

Climbing back up into the mountains towards border with Hubei.

Climbing back up into the mountains.

This part of China near ShiZhuTuJia mountain ( 石柱土家)

Shi Zhu Tu Jia mountain ( 石柱土家)

We saw nobody except a few local villagers all day

We saw nobody except a few local villagers all day

Above the mountain mist

Above the mountain mist

Lunch

Lunch in a small town

Reminders of the pace of development in China.

Reminders of the pace of development in China.

IMG_0592

Bit muddy again

Waaahaaayyy ... mud.

Like chocolate pudding

Goes on a bit

Goes on a bit

Fanny trying to avoid another mudbath

Fanny trying to avoid another mud bath.

Waiting for Fanny .. who is enjoying herself in the mud

Waiting for Fanny .. who is enjoying herself in the mud. On the right is the G50 highway which we are banned from riding on..       Of course, who wouldn’t want to go this way?  Its the spirit of free adventure motorcycling, so we’re told.

Passing under the G50... its for wimps

Passing under the G50… its for wimps

If we had gone on the highway we would have missed this little chap's happy smiling face.

Look .. its a ... (but you'll never know because you were on the highway.)

Look .. its a … (but you’ll never know because you were on the highway)

get off my land....

“ge roff roff my land….”

or I'll eat your liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti

“….or I’ll eat your liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti”.

I hope you like corn on the cob.

corn on the cob.

or chili ..

or chili ..

Washing off the husks in the stream next to the farm house

Washing off the husks in the stream next to the farm house

Rising up into HuangShui (Yellow water) national park at border with Hubei

Rising up into Huang Shui (Yellow Water) National Park at border with Hubei

So China

So China

A portrait of my super Chinese motorcycle in the heart of rural China.

A portrait of my super Chinese motorcycle in the heart of rural China.

Agricultural Artwork

Agricultural Artwork

Deserves a second picture

Crossing beautiful valleys and rivers… very remote … very few people.

China... a place of stark contrasts

China… a place of stark contrasts.

IMG_0688

Crossing another valley and up into mountains .. surrounded by autumn colours.

Look back down at valley bridge we just crossed.

Looking back down at valley bridge we just crossed.

I kept seeing this bird flying in the tree tops in Huang Shui, but I could never catch it on film. However, I found it and its called a Shou Dai Niao. Very beautiful.

I kept seeing this bird flying in the tree tops in Huang Shui, but I could never catch it on film. However, I later researched it and its called a Shou Dai Niao. Very beautiful.

Forget at Fengdu, this is the real ghost town in Chongqing. We rode past it in the middle of the forest and it seemed completely deserted.

Forget about Fengdu , this is a real ghost town. We rode past it in the middle of the forest and it seemed completely deserted.

Very remote part of Shi Zhu Tu Jia

Very remote part of Shi Zhu Tu Jia

Remote farm houses

Local farm houses

Like in Tibet, there were quite a few rocks and boulders that had rolled down the mountains onto the road.

Like in Tibet, there were quite a few rocks and boulders that had rolled down the mountains onto the road.

One of the first humans we had seen for a while. Not often you can say that in China.

One of the few humans we had seen. Not often you can say that in China.

Our last mountain pass before we ride into Hubei. Misty up at about 2000 meters and we encountered very few people.

Our last mountain pass before we rode into Hubei.

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The ride through eastern Chongqing was awesome. Fate had forced us off the highway and into a part of China that it seems few people venture into…because of the efficient highway system I suppose. We thoroughly recommend anyone wanting to experience an unspoiled trip back into the rural China of old to visit.

Next…….

…. a bizarre and enjoyable encountered with the Hubei traffic police, a long long night of riding in the dark and rain, the Three Gorges Dam project, idyllic rural Anhui, my first puncture, and arriving back in Fanny’s hometown of Shanghai and the end of our big bike trip (for now).

Chapter 22 – 中国 Part 4 – Qinghai

I have often studied maps of the world and been fascinated by Earth’s equivalent of Jupiter’s Red Spot… The Chinese province of Qinghai (青海. It always looked like one of the most remote parts of the planet and was definitely on my “bucket list” of places to see and ride a motorcycle.

Qinghai, Xinjiang, Xizang, and parts of Gansu and Sichuan forming the Tibetan Plateau ..  Qinghai is a province bigger than many countries in the world and the source of the great rivers of China …Chang Jiang (Yangtze River) and Huang He (Yellow River ).. also source of the Mekong River that flows through SE Asia.

We had been riding high up on the Tibetan Plateau, averaging 4,500 meters for many days. The days were pleasantly warm and sunny with the occasional sudden rain storm that swept across the barren land, but the nights were extremely cold, especially in our tent.

We had acclimatized to the altitude but even so any exertion resulted in breathlessness accompanied by a thumping headache. In future, I will definitely have to follow the medical advice of not drinking any alcohol. It’s advised that one drinks a litre of water a day for every thousand meters of altitude. But beer is so nice….. Oh well.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=699-xbLMPAg

As we continued north on the G109 road towards the remote province of Qinghai we rode on a tarmac surface that undulated like a mini roller coaster on top of the unstable and jelly like permafrost.

The  snow capped mountains constantly reminded us of how high up we were as our road crisscrossed and weaved parallel to the Beijing to Lhasa railway. An amazing bit of engineering, but seemingly out of place in such remoteness.  There were small security stations posted every 5 or so kilometers along the side of the railway manned by guards with perhaps the most boring job in the world, although with arguably one of the best views.

The Beijing – Lhasa railway with vultures flying around looking for carrion.

With a fellow traveler at the Tibet /Qinghai border

A Beijing to Lhasa passenger train snaking across the permafrost high up on the Tibetan Plateau.

Longer than the trains, the Chinese military convoys going south from Geermu (Golmud) in central Qinghai to Tibet or north to Xinjiang reminding everyone who is in charge.

Was seriously thinking of a swim in the river… but full of yaks and just above zero degrees. Another time perhaps.

It was later September and the ground had thawed a bit to form little lakes and puddles, however beneath the surface the ground remains  frozen, hence the name permafrost. Not being a civil engineer I have no idea how you build a road on such a surface, but it must be a challenge as the road undulates and rolls as if it had been built on jelly. After hundreds of kilometers of mini humpback bridges,dips and potholes it was just as well we hadn’t eaten any breakfast.

Bikes going well

Seemingly endless ridges of snow mountains and glaciers.

Tibetan Antelope

Up into the mountains again.

We rode for hundreds of kilometers, and rarely saw any other vehicles except for Chinese military convoys, a few local Tibetans on small motorcycles and the occasional Chinese tourists exploring the area in 4×4 SUVs.

As we continued to ride high up in the mountains the weather changed quickly and we found it increasingly difficult to avoid the rain and occasional snow storms that swept across the plateau.

As we had done previously on our expedition we would usually start looking for a place to camp or stay a hour or so before the sun started going down, but the very few settlements we passed looked really run down and uninviting, no hotels or hostels and nowhere dry or stable to pitch our tent and so we continued our ride towards the north.

We were told there was a small town we could stay at in the foothills of a snow capped mountain with an impressive glacier, and when we got there the scenery was indeed spectacular, but there was no town, just an ugly looking mining complex that looked out of place and rather sinister among  the beautiful surroundings and so as the sun was going down we decided to continue going north towards Ge’ermu (Golmud) another 150 kilometers away, thus breaking the golden rule of adventure motorcycling …not riding in the dark.

Ge’ermu is a military town that was built by a Chinese army general just after the establishment of the communist regime in 1949 and is now the third largest town on the Tibetan Plateau behind Lhasa and Xining. The general’s expeditionary force had crossed the wilds of Qinghai and Gansu by camel train looking for a strategic location to  build a garrison that could supply the Chinese military presence in  Xinjiang and Tibet.

Arriving in any new location in the middle of the night is always a bit disorientating and I was pleasantly surprised how warm the temperature was when we eventually descended into the valley and rode into the city center.

Sixty years ago the region would have been incredibly remote and Ge’ermu would just have been a small village that enjoyed the milder climate of the valley and had year round access to water. Now it was like many new towns in China…. architecturally dull, dusty, crowded, polluted, and in the case of Ge’ermu full of military personnel,  their vehicles, equipment and compounds.

Also as far as I could tell I was the only foreigner in town, although not surprisingly given that Ge’ermu is extremely remote and well off the tourist trail.  To the west of the city is “no man’s land”… and very few people ever venture into it. Perhaps the location for another adventure in the future.

P1130042

Golmund

We had ridden over 600 kilometers through the mountains and into the night to Ge’ermu (Golmud) which is essentially a military garrison that was built in the early 1950s in the middle of Qinghai to provide supplies to Xinjiang and Xizang (Tibet).  I am back in shorts as the altitude was down to about 2300 meters from the average of over 4,000 meters up on the plateau and so quite warm and pleasant as we explored the city.

The route between Tibet and Xinjiang, and also Tibet and Sichuan is particularly tough and challenging,  hence the off road capabilities of the military vehicles, such as this 8 wheeled monster truck

Is this Starbucks? Nope… better hide the camera

As the military conveys roared up and down the highway, these two little toddlers played in the central reservation.

The bikes always drew crowds. In China cars are for rich people and bikes are for poor people … so what are these huge things? Why are you riding them? Why don’t you buy a car instead? They are foreign, right?

As we left Ge’ermu the big yellow spot on the satellite picture started to make sense … its a huge desert.

Now we had hundreds of kilometers of quite boring desert to ride along. Lots of rubbish strewn along the side of the road. Not as beautiful as the deserts in Sudan or Egypt. Also, a police officer kept throwing water bottles at us from the window of an unmarked police car (ahead in the picture) .. no idea why …  dangerous and infuriating.

After about 400 kilometers the desert gave way to more interesting features and we started to see a lot of Muslim villages and small towns

Asian camels .. hairy with two humps…like my yaks milk tea

At first I thought they were clumps of grass … very different to the camels we saw in Africa

Are you looking at me?

Its not because you are an inconsiderate, selfish, crap driver … no …. you’re just unlucky.

Really…. just unlucky … could happen to anyone

Qinghai Lake … not that special…. its a lake full of tourist litter and rubbish. There are some interesting ducks … but mostly served with rice and plum sauce

Bikes hijacked again

“Yeah! – Go On… slap me on the arse and see what happens”

Local Qinghai girl

Riding east towards Gansu … becoming more Muslim.

Xining, capital city of Qinghai. Basically a huge construction site.

Lamb keebabs … excellent in north west China

And for the afternoon’s entertainment in Xining ?… a disabled baby wriggling up and down some steps for hours on end. Nice!

Market and food street in Xining…. I heard a Chinese guy say how terrible it was that Xining was now so full of smelly foreigners… As I was the only one I  saw in the whole city he must have meant me and met my boots.

Who in their right mind would use a public lavatory in China anyway?

Xining? I’m quite sure it will be lovely when its finished.

The more remote or rural a place became the better. Here we are helping with the harvest by riding over the crops

Motorcycles are not allowed on highways in China and so we had to ride around, up and over the mountains and through every village and town, which is great if you are not in a hurry and the weather and road surface are good.

A really enjoyable stretch of quiet rural road in south eastern Qinghai

Nice weather, quiet roads, autumn colours, rural tranquility… loved this section of China

Fanny helping with harvesting again

Stopping at a local restaurant for Lan Zhou La Mian … a local specialty and very delicious.

Back on the road… getting hillier as we got nearer to Gansu and the Yellow River (Huanghe)

Qinghai /Gansu border

Riding through the canyons leading to the Yellow River in Gansu.

Landscape changing again as we get near to the border

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 19 – 中国 Part 2

Sometimes I feel like a dog in China, and this was particularly so during our motorcycle expedition across the “middle kingdom”. I got fed once a day; complete strangers would come up to me and stroke the hairs on my arms; I had to pee against trees and lampposts; certain hotels and public places wouldn’t let me in; and a lot of the time I hadn’t a clue what was going on or what people were talking about.

But it wasn’t all bad… could have been worse.  I could be back in “Blighty” and forced to wear “health and safety” hi-viz clothing, live in constant rain, survive on a diet of lard, and have to watch mind-numbing Sky News and endless episodes of Jeremy Kyle tormenting the underclass on television. So, I guess its not so bad being a pet “laowai” in “zhongguo”..

For the large part I like China, its people, its food, its customs and traditions, and I especially like the entrepreneurial “can do” attitude and pragmatism that pervades life in general. There are of course a lot of things that I don’t care for too much.

From the seat of a motorcycle, exposed to all the elements, your senses are heightened and you are completely immersed and aware of all your surroundings. Riding each and everyday through the People’s Republic of China it was easy to see where further economic and social development could be made, and where attitudes to things like environmental conservation and human rights should be made.

Fanny cruising through the valleys in Guangxi province

Wjilst the countryside is lush and charming, the towns and cities which number into the tens of thousands and growing are ugly, noisy, dusty and boring concrete jungles.

The towns and cities, which number into the tens of thousands are invariably ugly, noisy, dusty, boring concrete jungles…devoid of any imagination, architecture or charm. The classic 21st century Chinese structure is a bodged concrete terraced row of garages with three or four floors above, finished with bad grouting, windows with jailhouse bars, god awful bogs and adorned on the outside in public lavatory tiles. The modern day Chinese builders’ mantra must be “Fook it .. that’ll do”.

At this stage of our trip I was going through a bit of a low point. I was getting really tired and fed up with the pollution, tired of the ugliness, tired of the trash and litter that was strewn everywhere, tired of the smashed up roads, tired of the selfish and inconsiderate driving, tired of the slovenly and revolting behaviour of some of the people, tired of the dust in my eyes, tired of the smell of sewage, tired of being constantly on edge and alert to the dangerous riding conditions, tired of riding through one dusty grey town after another, and especially tired of oncoming cars, buses and trucks overtaking into our lane and bullying us off the road.  Did I mention I was getting a bit tired..?

So as the sprawling mess and chaos of 21st century third tier urban China slowly turned into the green and unique relief of the karst limestone mountains that surround Yangshuo and Guilin my mood improved.. a bit.  This part of Guangxi province is truly spectacular and there are few places in the world as beautiful or quite so unusual and fascinating to look at. The farms and fields and network of canals and rivers are particularly special and for the first time in a few days I was beginning to enjoy myself.

Fanny had earlier decided we should go to Xingping which is how the touristy town of Yangshuo used to be a decade or so ago before the corrupt local authorities and developers started ruining it.  For now anyway, Xingping is relatively undeveloped and remains quite peaceful and charming.  The stunningly beautiful view from the banks of the Li Jiang River in Xingping is actually depicted on the back of the 20 Yuan bank note. It must be special as there are only six different bank notes in China, each with a picture of one of its most special landmarks on the reverse.

We stay in beautiful XingPing... thought I had seen that view before

We stay in beautiful XingPing… thought I had seen that view before

I climbed to top of one of the Karst hills (220 meters) in Xing Ping to take picture of surrounding hills along Li Jiang river towards Yang Shuo.

I climbed to the top of one of the karst limestone hills (220 meters) in Xing Ping to take pictures of the surrounding hills along Li Jiang river towards Yang Shuo. Quite spectacular and ever so slightly precarious at the top.

I was also enjoying riding along the twisty roads and between the karst mountains that rise out of the ground like huge mushrooms, but I had to admit I was missing the power, handling and excitement of my KTM 990 Adventure motorcycle. My KTM would have been ideal for the route we had taken so far and its physical presence and the roar of the Akropovik exhausts would have cleared a decent path through the hoards of the great unwashed and presented a formidable opponent to the bullying black Audi A6s that lord it over everyone on Chinese roads.

That said, our CF Moto 650 TRs were not bad at all and were handling pretty well. It was a very pleasant surprise to me as Chinese bikes up to now were nearly all small, cheap, cheerful and had a reputation for not being particularly reliable or well made.  Our CF Motos were very different. The 650 cc parallel twin cylinder engine is excellent and very smooth across the whole power band. I could hardly describe them as powerful, but the bikes were more than fast enough to my mind, reaching a respectable 180kph without any shake, rattle or roll. They are surprisingly quiet too, both from wind and engine noise and we purred along quite happily.

The KYB front and rear shocks are good quality, but neither the front nor rear are adjustable and so the setting is not always optimal to all the road surfaces we rode over. However, on the majority of normal tarmac roads they did the job well enough, although a bit bouncy when hitting the wavy corrugations and depressions caused by the seriously overloaded trucks. Cornering through the twisty mountain passes, always a litmus test for a good bike, was surprisingly good and whilst not as flickable as a true sports bike like a Yamaha R1 or Honda Fireblade, not bad at all.

In fact, I was enjoying myself and Fanny’s confidence on the corners had definitely improved as I saw her banking over nicely and moving swiftly through the many corners and mountain twists.  On the off road sections (i.e. no road surface at all) the bike is quite nicely balanced and we were able to navigate around the debris, cracks and potholes easily enough. Occasionally we would plummet off the edge of the tarmac or concrete into a pothole and crash out again, but with 17 inch wheels front and back that’s to be expected. Its a road bike and naturally likes being on roads but I would not be too concerned taking it onto gravel and mud, as we did quite a few times. The Chinese made CST 616 tubeless radial tyres that come standard with the bikes seemed to do the job, and when we eventually pulled into Shanghai, 13,600 kilometers and two months later, the tyres looked as good as new.

My only complaints I suppose concern the quality of the mirrors that distort the rear view far too much, and the seat which started to get rather uncomfortable after 200-250 kilometers of riding.  With bum weights of 88Kg for myself and 68Kg for Fanny the foam deformed down onto the plastic frame a little too much and the resulting angle forced both of us to lean too far forward causing my crown jewels to press against the petrol tank and our bent knees to squash against the petrol tank rests on the sides of the fairing.  That said, no different to many other similar styled bikes I had ridden and luckily the cushioning of the pads in our Rev’It enduro trousers softened the pressure on our knees. I suppose there is not much I can do about having a huge pair of 鸵鸟蛋 on any bike I ride!  Later I bought a sheep skin to put over the seat and this made a huge difference.

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I found, compared with riding the previous 40,000 kilometers on the KTMs in Africa and Europe, that my eyes were tired and sore at the end of each day. I think this was due largely to the terrible pollution and dust particles in the air in most parts of China, and not helped by the low streamlined windscreen design on the 650 TR that seems to accurately direct the wind straight into my visor. It would be better if the windshield was adjustable or had a pelican scoop at the top to deflect the wind up over my helmet. Later versions of the CF Moto 650 TR would address this with a much better designed touring windshield as standard, but for now this was a minor irritation that we had to put up with.

There are few bikes that allow such extended periods of riding standing up on the foot pegs with such confidence, comfort and control as a KTM 990 Adventure.   With The CF Moto 650 TR, the riding position is typically that of a sports tourer, although when I toured Europe some years back on a Suzuki GSXR 1300 Hayabusa the ride was perhaps a little more comfortable because the motorcycle is bigger and despite being a bit of an ugly beast perfectly streamlined for high speed touring and long distances.  Overall, however, I have been impressed with the CF Moto. Not bad at all and definitely superb value for money.

This xiangbalao vehicle veered into our path in Guangxi and knocked Fanny off her bike. The driver, having the IQ of a haddock and the social charms of a Chinese peasant couldn’t care less.

We stayed in Xingping for a few days, hired bicycles and toured through the countryside, orchards and vegetable fields along the river banks and I went swimming in the Li Jiang River. I also did some climbing which tested my acrophobia somewhat as some of the cliff faces had to be scaled using precariously attached metal ladders that swayed and wobbled under the strain of my European girth.  But it was worth it as the view from the top, especially at dawn and dusk was truly spectacular. Both Xingping and the climb are highly recommended places to visit and quite easy to get to from Hong Kong or Shanghai.

As we left Xingping towards Guizhou province on an unsurfaced road a peasant tractor towing a mini bus full of people that was on my right hand side suddenly veered left across my path and I narrowly missed it. However, it forced Fanny who was immediately behind me off the road and into a sandy ditch and she dropped the bike causing a bruise to her arm and slight damage to her bike. I was furious and confronted the driver who was unrepentant and particularly surly.

Other than smacking his blackened rotting teeth further into his ugly formed face there was little I could do. In fact, I could barely understand him, and was heartened that Fanny couldn’t understand him either, such was his dialect and distortion of “biaozhun” Mandarin. There was no question of compensation, no apology, in fact no recognition at all that he was driving badly and had caused an accident that injured a woman. I pondered the situation for a while and quickly realized it was like trying to communicate with an inanimate object. Pointless, and so we dusted ourselves down, and soldiered on. If you are a foreigner in China its best to avoid confrontation or losing your temper. No good will come of it.

From Audi A6 cars to smoke belching trucks, the driving standard is universally selfish and inconsiderate throughout China.  Note that in China one should drive on the right, not as this truck veering towards us is doing.

Some of the roads are great, many are smashed to bits and potholed by overloaded trucks and through neglect and poor maintenance.

Whilst the cities, traffic, pollution, architectural vandalism and never ending concrete and construction can get you down in China, the food is always fantastic and always cheered us up at the end of the day. We were eating one main meal a day, with perhaps a few sunflower seeds (guazi), fruit from the side of the road, and Red Bull drinks and coffees from petrol stations the rest of the day.  As is traditional in China we would prepare a flask of green tea and keep it filled up with hot water that is offered free along the way. Usually we would get up early, pack up our bikes, and get going, stopping only at petrol stations for fuel until we got to our final destination of the day. Sometimes we would camp, but more often than not we would stay in local hostels and “bingguan” that would cost no more than 100 RMB (US$15) for a room, take a  welcome shower and then pay about 50-80 RMB (US$8-12) for a full blown Chinese dinner for two with local beer and green tea.

I had put on weight in Europe, despite my efforts to train, run and hike as much as I could, but by the end of the second week in China I had lost 8 kilograms since I had arrived without really trying. I say without really trying… perhaps i should say without feeling hungry or making any effort.  I am an authentic Chinese food addict and firmly believe the food, tea and indeed traditional medicine found across China and South East Asia is more nutritious and healthy than anything found anywhere else in the world. I guess I am better traveled than most and have spent a good deal of my adult life in China and so I feel this is a view I am qualified to hold. Anyway, you just have to compare the body shapes of local Chinese with huaren(overseas ethnic Chinese from the UK or the USA)  to prove the healthiness and nutrition of respective diets. I’m just saying.

Cruising through a small town in Guangxi

The food is always excellent… even if the seats can be a bit small for a western bum

A common site on the roads. There are many smashes, cars and trucks on their sides or upside down in ditches. Hardly surprising to my mind as the driving standard is extremely poor and invariably selfish.

Youzi 柚子 (Pomelo) are very good in Guangxi provence… we love them. However the ones growing while we were there were not quite ripe or in season, sadly.

This is crystalline wild honey for sale at the road side in Xingping. I tried some and it is brittle with a very strong honey flavour. Supposedly good for all sorts of ailments as the English translation describes.

We passed through An Ji (Eastern China) where the movie ” Crouching weasel leaping bull frog” was filmed and its famous for endless valleys and forests of bamboo.

Having a swim in the Li Jiang river. Contrary to the rumours in the press I never saw or got bitten by a Shirenyu (Piranha).  Allegedly many had been released into the local ecosystem by flushing them down the lavatory after they had eaten their fellow aquarium dwellers or the pet dog.

The Chinese countryside and agricultural areas are usually very pretty and reasonably clean, provided the developers haven’t been meddling and trying to turn natural landscapes such as waterfalls into “No1 people’s glorious tourist site in the world”.

When we got to the remote parts of Guizhou .. a spectacularly remote part of the planet … there was no fuel in many of the gas stations and so we had to buy black market petrol. This entrepreneur who operated right next to the empty Sinopec gas station had filled up 7 UP bottles… which at double the pump price was still cheaper than any fuel found in Europe.

While we were in Guizhou, a particularly remote part of China, we found many of the petrol stations had run out of fuel and like in Africa the petrol pump attendants could give no idea when the petrol tanker would arrive to replenish their stock. Again, like in Africa, there were some entrepreneurial types who stock piled the fuel and sold it by the side of the road. Of course, where better to position your black market stockpile than right next to the garage that frequently runs dry and that is where Fanny found a chap selling petrol in clear 7 Up bottles at double the pump price. Nice business if you can get it. What was particularly amusing was that the marked up black market petrol was still cheaper than any petrol sold in Europe.

Whilst motorcycles are banned on Chinese expressways, and indeed in certain cities, like Hangzhou, we found we could easily get onto them by squeezing through the barriers which, unlike toll barriers in Europe, do not extend across the whole of the lane. There would inevitably be some frantic arm waving by the concerned looking toll booth staff, but the traffic police officers we passed just ignored us. In fact, in Guizhou motorcycles can use the newly constructed expressways even though we actually entered the expressway system illegally in Guangxi.

In Guizhou, despite being one of the poorest provinces in China, the expressways are excellent, virtually empty and they crossed over dozens of impressive suspension bridges and through hundreds of tunnels across the mountainous province. This allowed us to make good progress towards Yunnan and at the same time get a birds eye view of the remote valleys, villages and mountains of Guizhou, a province with the most ethnic minority (少数民族)people and villages in the whole of China. A fascinating and remote place, and where, we were later to find, a botanist friend of ours from Poland found a new species of plant just the previous month. I made a mental note that one day Fanny and I should come back and do some serious hiking and exploring along the valleys and rivers of this unspoiled region.

In Egypt its was God’s Will that one should crash, not poor driving ability or lack of attention. In China the drivers and riders think they are just “unlucky” when the inevitable traffic accident occurs.  We saw many “unlucky” incidents.

Whilst crossing one of the many bridges that span the gorges in remote Guizhou province we met the only other adventure biker so far riding a 350 cc Chinese bike called an “Eagle King”. Mr Wang from Jilin had ridden from north east China and like us was also riding to Tibet.

At many of the petrol stations we had to transfer the fuel from the pump into a tea pot or watering can thing and then pour into our tanks. We were told this was for safety reasons, but splashing fuel around unnecessarily didn’t seem very safe or logical to me.

Trying to smile and yet not to lean back too much on one of many bridges we crossed that span deep valleys and canyons in Guizhou province.

Whilst we were cruising along the three lane highway, which we had mostly to ourselves, we came across a fellow rider (Mr Wang from Jilin … a province of China that borders North Korea) on a fully laden up Chinese made adventure bike (“Eagle King”) who was riding from his home town in north east China to Tibet. He was the first real adventure biker we had met on the road so far and as with our fellow motorcyclists we had met in Africa and Europe we stopped by the side of the road to examine each others bikes, swap stories and share routes and plans.

We continued many hundreds of kilometers along this elevated highway and got into Kunming in Yunnan province quite quickly. Despite not being allowed to ride motorcycles in the city we rode straight through it and passed many police officers who smiled and waved at us. We rode to the “posh” end of town where Fanny had booked us into a superb hotel called Li Du Jiu Dian.  Much to Fanny’s relief we could park the bikes right next to a 24 hour guard and under the gaze of the hotel’s 24/7 security CCTV cameras.  Now she knows how I felt in Egypt when I left the KTMs outside our hotels in Alexandria and Cairo.

Whilst in Kunming we were looked after by Mr Qu, a former China motocross champion and veteran of the Xinjiang Rally. He also ran a rather elite motorcycle club called “Ku Mo” (酷摩)that was home to fifty or so BMWs, KTMs, Harley Davidsons and other exotic motorcycles. After some amazing Pu’er tea in the clubhouse I perked up considerably when I saw several KTM 450 motocross bikes, and was about to accept the offer to take one for a ride, when like a kid in a sweet shop, I saw an even nicer KTM RC8 racer and so  I took this 1200cc super bike for a spin around the block dressed only (local Chinese style) in flip-flops and shorts. Had I come off the smile would probably have been permanently affixed to my ashen face, but as it was the smile lasted for several hours after I returned and as I blathered on incessantly to Fanny about how good the bike was, and about tyres, suspension, scribble and nonsense.

In addition to Fanny writing articles for various travel magazines, keeping her popular Weibo blog up to date, organizing the whole of the China leg of the expedition, and applying for various jobs for when the expedition is over, she also had the difficult task of getting me, (“old foreigner”), into Tibet. At that time no foreigners at all were being allowed into Xizang (Tibet). Even Tibetan Travel Permits were suspended because the 18th Chinese National Congress was being held at the time and there continued to be some ethnic disturbances in the autonomous provinces of Xizang and Xinjiang.  China is very sensitive about foreign interference with what it calls its “internal affairs” and the government did not want any foreigners “causing trouble”. This was a major blow to our plans and I really wanted to ride through Tibet. However, we had a cunning plan and all will be revealed in the next chapter of this diary. Will I see zhumulandmafeng (珠穆朗玛峰 – Mount Everest) or will we have to detour north into Sichuan province and skirt around Tibet?

A few more pictures and video at:

http://youtu.be/699-xbLMPAg

A treasure trove of KTMs and Aprilias in Kunming

A big smile after Mr Qu lets me ride his KTM RC8 through the streets of Kunming. Flip flops and no helmet might not seem very safe, and it isn’t, but nothing about riding or driving in China is safe anyway…

Our host, Mr Qu from Kunming competing in the Xinjiang Rally … he came third.

Fanny and Mr Qu at his club house in Kunming with some of their huge collection of KTM, BMW, Harley Davidson, Aprilia, Honda and Royal Enfield bikes. This is not a cheap hobby in China where bike prices are three times more than the US or UK.

Fanny on a BMW K1600. I had a ride around on it and it is like a car on two wheels. Very comfortable and smooth, but not my cup of naicha

Our kind host, Mr Qu taking us to a local Yunnan restaurant in Kunming where we had a delicious local vegetarian feast.  Thank you.

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.

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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)