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.
CF Moto 650TR and 650NX
Out and about in Hangzhou
Something for dinner… a centipede, scorpion or a tarantula?
Hangzhou 杭州, where Heaven meets Earth, allegedly.
I was vaguely familiar with CF Moto because recently in the British motorcycle newspaper, Motorcycle News, there was an article about the new CF Moto 650NK which was being imported into the UK for the first time. There was a lot of discussion (positive and negative) about the first Chinese big engined motorcycles and the impact the Chinese are going to have on the motorcycle industry. Up to this point the Chinese were only making, and making in huge numbers, scooters, quad biikes and small engined bikes below 125 cc and so a lot of parallels were being made with the Japanese motorcycle industry forty years ago and their subsequent dominance of the market.
Our bikes for China….CF Moto 650 TR
The bikes we were being loaned were not the 650NKs, which are sort of naked street fighter types, but the touring 650TRs. Why Fanny had chosen CF Moto rather than a manufacturer that made enduro or adventure bikes was not understood by me at that time, but I was subsequently to find out that CF Moto had joint ventured with KTM to make 390 Dukes for the Chinese market.
I am not really a touring bike fan, had never owned one and the closest thing I had really ridden for any distance was a Suzuki GSXR 1300 Hayabusa which is more of a sports tourer and at the time I owned one in 1999 was the fastest production motorcycle in the world with a top speed above 200 Mph (310Kph).
Specifications for our CF Moto motorcycles at:
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
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)