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Old 01-05-2014, 11:29 PM   #1
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Riding in China - Beijing to Shanghai on Big Bikes

Riding in Limbo – Beijing to Shanghai on Big Bikes

The Plan - 1740 km, 14 Days

In August 2010 Singapore bike club Team 27 organized a fly-ride big bike tour from Beijing to Shanghai with the support of a Chinese travel agency. It was the club's second motorcycle tour in China. The first, along the same route, was in 1994 with 43 bikes; that was said to be the first foreign-organized big bike rally in China. This time 28 bikes were shipped from Singapore, roughly 1/3 BMW, 1/3 Harley-Davidson, 1/3 Japanese, and one Ducati.

Because an overland ride all the way from Singapore via Laos would have been too time-consuming for most participants the bikes were shipped by ocean freight to Beijing then shipped back to Singapore from Shanghai. The bikes followed in convoy behind a minivan which carried the Chinese travel agents who dealt with toll booths, highway police, and other en-route logistics. Meanwhile a 40-seat intercity tourist coach and a truck for any disabled bikes followed behind the convoy; by the end of the tour, the Ducati and a Harley would break down and be rolled into the truck. The coach was used to carry luggage for some riders, to transport seven non-riding spouses and friends, and to take all of us on guided tours and to and from restaurants from the outer suburban hotels where the bikes had to be parked.

In China (as of 2010), big bikes are regulated like horses, bicycles, and electric scooters so they are forbidden from expressways, highways, and major avenues. Large cities forbid or restrict all motorcycles from entering the downtown core, unless electric. All riding had to be on pre-approved major arteries and all our hotels had to be outside of downtown; we could not ride to any tourist sites on the motorcycles. We could walk around or take public transport on our own but we could not ride our motorcycles around on our own.

This was because we could not be issued Chinese license plates, and so our bikes were illegal to ride. Singapore motorcycles are not allowed temporary importation under Carnet or under the Mekong Cross-border Transport Agreement; exceptions are granted only for projects sufficiently meaningful to the authorities. In Beijing only motorcycles registered within Beijing can be legally ridden, and it is not possible to register anything larger than 400cc; this is said to be because citizens cannot have motorbikes more powerful than the 400cc bikes ridden by the police.

We were told that all big bikes are illegal in many places in China but the Chinese police look the other way as long as the riders behave themselves. BMW, Harley-Davidson, and Ducati all have dealers in Beijing, but the machines are very rare on the road given their legal Limbo. Because of the restrictive regulations, the logistics of the ride were complex and expensive, requiring negotiation with and special permits from six government authorities who in turn required police escorts for several sections of the route. The permits and escorts all had to be paid for; these were a significant part of our tour cost.

The Itinerary:
Day 1-3: Fly to Beijing and collect bikes. Sightsee.
Day 4: Ride to Dezhou via Tianjin and Changzhou (390 km).
Day 5-6: Ride to Jinan (117 km). Sightsee.
Day 7: Ride to Tai'An (88 km). Tai'An cablecar.
Day 8: Ride to Xuzhou (300 km).
Day 9-10: Ride to Nanjing via Huaian (415 km). Sightsee.
Day 11: Ride to Wuxi (230 km).
Day 12-14: Ride to Shanghai (200 km) and leave bikes at container port. Sightsee. Fly home to Singapore.

The route was:

Heading Out

In Singapore the fuel tanks had to be drained and the batteries disconnected. All the panniers had to be left unlocked. The bikes were strapped onto custom-made pallets.

Our unusual trip attracted some local publicity:

Days 1 - 3: Fly to Beijing and Sightsee

The bikes were waiting for us at the Holiday Inn Lido Beijing when we flew up a month later:

An advance party had gone up with a professional mechanic to unload them from the containers, reconnect the batteries, and pour in enough fuel for us to get to the nearby Sinopec petrol station for fuel and air the night before riding off.

The paperwork for the whole group took hours to process:

Provisional Chinese driving licenses had to be obtained for every rider; International Driver's Licenses are not recognized by Beijing. Getting eye tests for our Chinese driving licenses:

The rules on the back of the driver's license were clear:

We were not allowed to photograph the front of our driving licenses and we had to return them before leaving the country.

Tiananmen and the Forbidden City:

The Great Wall:

Beijing has some scenic areas around the Hutongs (ancient alleyways):

Our tour guide is not in purdah; she doesn't want to risk sun pigmentation - a common Chinese paranoia:

A popular Beijing souvenir T-shirt, for men:

These cars are not parked - this is a gridlocked intersection in downtown Beijing:

Cloisonné porcelain factory - an unavoidable tourist trap because the huge tourist restaurant (and our lunch) was strategically located above it:

The night before our departure, an temporary outdoor bar had materialized around our bikes before we returned from the Chaoyang Acrobatic Show- very convenient!

Day 4: Ride to Dezhau

Flag-off from the Beijing hotel:

These are screenshots from a cellphone video, hence not sharp.

Marshalling was done by six BMW riders. Their bikes were fitted with flashing blue strobe lights front and rear and looked more like police bikes than the real Chinese police bikes. Except when traffic was light, the group kept in a tight convoy, close together and two abreast when possible.

Within minutes of departure from the Beijing hotel, we had a near-death experience: in the center of the Beijing expressway on-ramp - right where a rider has to look over his shoulder to check the oncoming traffic - a manhole cover was missing! It had been stolen during the night. I swerved just in time to avoid falling into it at 70 km/h and losing the bike, my legs, and possibly my life.

At frequent intervals we stopped at toll plazas, where the minivan negotiated the toll for our prohibited motorcycles:

The ride the first day was cold and wet. Changzhou lunch stop:

Chinese Mr. Bean:

The 390 km to the Fengou International Hotel took 9 hours, including stops. The bunker-style business hotel was a welcome reprieve from the rain and traffic:

The hotel thoughtfully provided soap, shampoo, a condom, and a phone call in Chinese from a woman in the massage center. I thought it was a wrong number.

Days 5 - 6: Ride to Jinan and Sightsee

Buying petrol at Sinopec:

The big bikes always drew onlookers.

The 117km ride to the Jinan Huangtai Hotel took four hours. The hotel:

... and the neighborhood:

Daming Lake and Baotu Spring Park:

Around Jinan:

The aunties and uncles socialize separately:

Donkey meat, look at the sign:

I didn't eat ass. I ate here:

Beggars are not uncommon:

Imitations of popular western brands are also common:

Jinan youth nightlife:

Chinese customer service:

The Chinese are becoming People of Wal-Mart:

Some of the riders went for cupping therapy. Not me!

Day 7: Ride To Tai'An

View from the hotel in the morning - another wet day ahead:

The traffic was not heavy and it was the shortest ride of the tour:

Check in to the Taishan International Hotel after only a couple of hours of riding:

Then off to Mount Taishan, a UNESCO World Heritage site, by coach and cable car:

There was a lot of walking:

We had to line up for more than an hour to get back down the 1500m mountain on the cable car; that is the line-up:

... while these attentive officers had the difficult job of ensuring there was no queue-jumping:

Lager label. The Chinese must have a strange image of Germans:

And these signs give us an amusing image of them - call the suit hotline!

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Old 01-05-2014, 11:30 PM   #2
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Day 8: Ride to Xuzhou

Lunch was good fun, mingling with the onlookers on the other side of the red line after we ate:

We stopped at the Han Juang Secondary School for a rest and a toilet break:

Along the way:

Stopping for a bike wash:

The 300 km ride to the Xuzhou Best Western Hotel took about 9 hours.

Days 9 - 10: Ride to Nanjing and Sightsee

The 415 km took 12 hours due to a Harley breaking down three times. We arrived at the Zhenbao Holiday Hotel at night:

Note the KTV hostess bar on the left, where most of the Chinese members of the group ended up to destress after dinner in a cigarette-smoke haze and to spend a lot of money on whisky and cognac poured by pretty girls. Signs in our hotel lobby:

Sightseeing the next day, by coach. The Yangtze River Bridge (which we had motorcycled over the previous evening in the dark) is 1.6 km long. Impressive both above:

... and below:

The Qin Huai River:

Around Nanjing:

Note the many western chain restaurants:

Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall:

Unfortunately it was closed when we arrived, but the many statues and dedication plaques outside were thought-provoking enough.

Wanda Plaza Nanjing:

Day 11: Ride to Wuxi

The hottest day of the tour, 42 degrees, leading to the overheating and breakdown of the Ducati in slow-moving traffic. It went into the truck next to the Harley. Wuxi is known as the "City of Lights":

When coming into the town from the north the roadside streetlight display starts, and continues through most of the town.

The hotel was impressive and modern:

But the food was mysterious to non-Chinese riders:

Days 12 - 14: Ride to Shanghai and Sightsee

Changjiang motorcycles at a petrol station:

There is an internal border control checkpoint coming into the city, as if entering another country. Partly due to enhanced security for the Shanghai Expo it took a couple of hours to process our papers before we could cross Shanghai:

We bypassed the city and rode on the Hulu expressway directly to the container port located in the bay on reclaimed land. This 40 kilometer strip was one of the most electrifying rides of the tour; if anyone had gone down or broken down, it would have been a disaster for him and for us. Narrow lanes, dense truck traffic, no shoulders, continuous high speed, occasional broken glass and road alligators (retreaded tire fragments) on the road. My front tire was impaled by broken glass and had to be replaced when I returned to Singapore, but it did not leak.

At around 3 pm we arrived at the port and helped each other to put our bikes back on their pallets for loading into the shipping containers.

Then back into the coach and into Shanghai for sightseeing around the Pearl Tower, Bund, Chenghuangmiao, and Nanjing Walking Street areas:

And the magnetic levitation train to the airport for our flight home, the fastest ride of the trip:

Looking Back

The logistics were flawlessly planned and executed, a credit to Team 27's event-management expertise. Although the route was the same as the ride 16 years previously, many of the old highways have become new expressways. The roads now have ten to twenty times as much traffic; the veterans who did the previous ride were stunned by the change. In Beijing, Nanjing, and Shanghai we experienced riding like this (Wikipedia photo):

How many motorcycles do you see in the photo?

Motorcycles seem not to be much loved by the Chinese authorities:

Here is part of the reason:

There were no hills and no twisties on our trip; there were no viewpoints; and the highway motorcycle riding conditions varied from humdrum to horrifying. Because of the legal status of our bikes the tour could not be approved on scenic mountain backroads while staying in small hotels near town centers. Although it was a short journey, a two or three day ride, it was demanding and dangerous due to unpredictable and often dense traffic. All our sightseeing had to be done from the coach.

We began to look forward to riding into construction zones, detours, and exits into the smaller cities, like these, where we might get a glimpse of a rice field or a village:

The last cellphone photo above was a firecracker welcome in Tengzhou.

At all the crossroads the marshals attempted to keep the side traffic from running the red lights while our convoy proceeded through a green light. They were not always successful because a red light in China is only a suggestion. There were several near-misses when drivers decided they need to be on the other side of the convoy (Convoy? What's a convoy?), and simply drove right into the middle of the line of motorcycles expecting us to jump out of the way - which of course we did!

Motorcycles are near the bottom of the right-of-way priority sequence of truck-bus-car-motorcycle-bicycle-pedestrian. Chinese drivers could compete for being the world's most inconsiderate, and I make that statement having lived in many countries, including India. Chinese drivers have an interesting, if not lethal, combination of ignorance and machismo, especially those driving black BMWs:

Sights like this were not uncommon:

We also experienced this several times: traffic coming at us on the wrong side of the divided expressway ... in the fast lane!

It is a tribute to the marshals on the BMWs that they kept two dozen bikes together in often very heavy traffic and there were no accidents.

The tour agency in the black minivan paying off the police to escort us down an empty (rare!) highway with flashing lights:

Lunches and dinners were all like this, tasty but loaded with MSG and always served in a cloud of cigarette smoke:

Constipation was impossible. After a few days, the Caucasians and even some of the Chinese-Singaporeans were looking for the nearest Kentucky Fried Chicken. Sometimes a substitute had to do:

The toilet facilities along the way varied:

We enjoyed the attention from passers-by and hotel staff, most of whom had never seen so many big bikes - or perhaps any big bikes - before. This press coverage was received in Xuzhou:

The most unusual sight was to pass a man walking along the highway in the rain, stark naked. He was carrying his dry clothes in a plastic bag. As usual on such trips, the best photos were the ones that were impossible to take and will stay with us only as memories.

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Old 01-06-2014, 05:52 AM   #3
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Spectacular!! and scary road practices Thanks for sharing your awesome ride and all those pics with us.
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Old 01-06-2014, 06:16 AM   #4
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Great to see a ride report from China, thanks for posting.

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Old 01-06-2014, 05:27 PM   #5
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This was the promotional poster from 2009:

The club had hoped for participation from as many bikes as in 1994 (43 bikes) but despite promotion including a website the level of interest (28 bikes) was much lower from both riders and corporate sponsors fifteen years later. The high cost was a factor, but it seems eastern China is not seen as an exotic destination anymore.
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Old 01-06-2014, 06:11 PM   #6
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Amazing ride! Great report with good info.
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Old 01-06-2014, 08:47 PM   #7
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China Adventure - thanks for sharing, it's good to get some infos from China as it seems it is still really very restrictive.
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Old 01-06-2014, 09:08 PM   #8
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nice job posting trip .. looks like a very_expensive trip!
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Old 01-07-2014, 02:07 AM   #9
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Thanks for sharing
Fascinating to see how badly motorcycles treated still probably because of huge numbers of mopeds and scooters.
Great pictures.
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Old 01-07-2014, 03:51 AM   #10
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Hen hau, well down

We planned to go to China in June, it's really expensive and complicated.
Seeing your report, I now have a good idea of what awaits us.

We are five motorcycles (800 cc) and an agency asks us $ 4,500. - per person for the entire papasserie, let us cross the border (license and plate) and guide us for 32 days

I will take my precautions
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Old 01-07-2014, 03:55 PM   #11
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It was, at about US$470 nett per day for one person, the most expensive trip per day that I ever took anywhere, by any means of transport, even with my wife.
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Old 01-07-2014, 05:35 PM   #12
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Great photos, thanks for posting them.
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Old 01-12-2014, 07:46 PM   #13
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Four Chinese-Singaporeans struggled together to translate these Wuxi food items into English, and after much discussion came up with:

* Bamboo Shoots with Pork Shutters Results = Dry Bamboo with Roasted Pork
* Mouth Watering and Authentic Celery = Dry Celery Vegetable
These two make sense.

* Several Factors Gravy = Vegetarian Meat Sauce
* Soup Sunken Sub-Groups = Vegetable Soup
I would never have guessed!
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Old 01-13-2014, 02:42 PM   #14
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Thumb Thanks for posting

Hopefully some time in the future China will open up more and allow foreigners to ride freely and unescorted. We just experienced traffic in Lima, Peru, and I could only compare it to what I experienced in India, I can now add China to the mix.

Thanks again
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Old 07-28-2014, 03:25 PM   #15
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Let me give it a try

* Mouth Watering and Authentic Celery = Dry Celery Vegetable with beancurds
* Soup Sunken Sub-Groups = Vegetable soup with meat balls

Nice ride report. Hopefully china one day will open up its motorcycle riding laws and policy so that ppl can tour around much easier with motobikes. In most cities motorcycle riding is simply prohibited, even though china probably produces the most # of motorbikes compared to any other countries

Originally Posted by Falang View Post

Four Chinese-Singaporeans struggled together to translate these Wuxi food items into English, and after much discussion came up with:

* Bamboo Shoots with Pork Shutters Results = Dry Bamboo with Roasted Pork
* Mouth Watering and Authentic Celery = Dry Celery Vegetable
These two make sense.

* Several Factors Gravy = Vegetarian Meat Sauce
* Soup Sunken Sub-Groups = Vegetable Soup
I would never have guessed!
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