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Old 10-17-2010, 10:08 PM   #1
firedragonbros OP
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Joined: Aug 2010
Location: San Diego, Guangzhou, Beijing
Oddometer: 2
4 days, 3 provinces, 950km, on two V-twins in the Chinese Countryside

With a few days off for China’s national day my riding buddy and I decided to try a different kind of ride for us - see as many new roads and mountains as possible. We have both been on most of the roads in and around Beijing that you can do over a weekend, a few extra days off was just what we needed to cross that provincial border and see something new.

The result was 4 days of solid riding spanning 3 provinces and stretching 950 kilometers of potholed roads. Some kind of dual sport bike would have been optimal for these roads but neither of us have a dual sport so we took out our Vtwins. We also haven’t ridden much outside of the Beijing area and didn't know how bad the roads were.

Day 1:

Met up at 9am, grabbed some food, double checked our luggage, and were lane splitting and riding the dirt shoulder in through areas under construction by 9:30. Finally got out to the countryside and were enjoying the G109 highway that follows a river. Unfortunately the pollution was a bit thick ‘til we got to Hebei Province and started climbing a mountain covered in multicolored trees with absolutely no traffic – very surreal, the picture does not do it justice.

Then on to a dusty, straight, boring road. Past a few gas stations, even stopped to try and buy a map with no luck. It amazes me how little you need to travel within this country to get somewhere where people no longer speak the national language (Mandarin). We were a little over 100km outside the city and I was already having trouble communicating with the country folk.

"Do you have a map"

"A what?"

"A map"

"Hmmm, maybe, I think my neighbor has a map, yes here you go"

"Yes, this is a map sure enough but it is not for this province, thanks but this doesnt help me much"

We wanted off this road as soon as possible and back into the mountains! Ended up going through a canyon and up over a mountain rage. The road on this stretch cut tunnels cut through huge rocks and we saw flocks of sheep and mountains with sporadic clusters of bright yellow trees breaking up the meadows.

Stopped in for gas at a small station, the door was open but no one was there so we hoped for better luck down the road. At the next gas station the pumps weren’t working at first and we were about to leave when the attendants told us to just wait. They went in back and fired up the generator to power the pumps as they didn't have normal electricity!

Another 50-60km, 3-4 rural villages, and one flock of sheep crossing the road we arrived in Laiyuan. It was a fairly decent sized town and we hoped to find semi comfortable accommodation there. First small hotel refused us a room:

“Do you have rooms?”

“Yes, do you have and ID card?”

“Yes, I have a passport.”

“No, a passport doesn't work, you need an ID card” (they are not used to having to deal with non Chinese customers, didn't realize that a passport is ID regardless what I said, and ended up refusing us the room)

Next place had an open door but didn't seem to be open as there was no one inside. Around the corner we found another:

“Do you have rooms?”

“Yes, do you have an ID card?”


Price discussion ensues

“Can I see your ID card?”

“Yes, here.”

“What is this, this is not an ID card.”

“This is ID, I am not Chinese, I do not have a Chinese ID card, this is my passport.”

They got a kick out of me having to translate my passport so they could fill out their register. I had now quickly learned that the answer to “do you have an ID card?” is always YES!

We had internet access in our room which was great for me to get some work done. I run an aftermarket parts business (Fire Dragon Bros) and it put my mind at ease for the rest of the trip to have at least got some work done.

Day 2:

We had no real destinations set route planned for this trip at all. Each morning we got out the phone with Google maps and decided where to go. Two thirds of the way to the crossroads and our planned lunch destination there was a sign that said “construction next 5km,” I verified that with a guard and we agreed 5km on the dirt wasn't a big deal. 15km of dirt, puddles, blasted rock, and potholes later we arrived and were ready for lunch.

Me coming through behind a local:

Blasted road:

We decided to continue southwest to Fuping and hope there was less smog there. We were no so lucky, the mountain views were obscured in the smog and we didn't see much, this was to be a recurring problem for the entire trip! Fuping didn't have much to offer besides lots of trucks and pollution so we continued northwest towards Shanxi where we hoped to have to have to share the road with fewer trucks. Wishful thinking. Not far out of town a truck had broken down on a corner in the road and created a massive traffic jam due to other trucks trying to creep around the outside to get past. Needless to say this just creates a gridlock. We weaseled our way through and were rolling again passing truck after truck and bottoming out constantly on the potholes (next long trip we will be considering riding a Chinese dual sport).

Heavy smog and rough roads cutting through poor rural villages with rundown shacks and randomly scattered partially disassembled broken down vehicles started giving us a surreal feeling of riding though some kind of post-apocalyptic “Mad max meets China” world. Once into Shanxi Province and at the top of a mountain pass it was time for a break and a beer. Talked with a few of the locals there for a bit then were back on the road and are lane splitting and riding on the shoulder through the jumbled mess of trucks due to the major intersection of highways. I squeeze through but my buddy behind me couldnt quite make it. I found out later he tried but the gap closed and he “pinballed” off the tire of one truck into the tire of another on the other side. Luckily it was stopped and he just kind of kept going!

We didn't plan our stay too well this evening and ended up riding for an hour or so in the dark. Then we hit some road construction – one dirt lane just wide enough for a truck to pass. Two guys with a walkie talkie set and some STOP/SLOW signs would have solved the problem but that's just too easy. Instead we get trucks all trying to get through at the same time but guys directing traffic all yelling at one another and the drivers. So what do we do? We joined them and tried to push our way through too. We pass an oversize truck but it cant clear the rise in the road so none of the trucks in front of us can get through. We end up getting stuck for about an hour here waiting in the dark and dust, eventually we got through.

Truck that caused most of the problem, took him 30 min to get past that hump in the construction:

Ok, now we have been in the dark for some time and were hoping for some accommodation. Sure enough a small truck stop in the middle of nowhere emerges from the darkness and we procure rooms. It was dirty, there was no running water, and the beds were basically a few blankets on top on a wooden frame but there was food, beer and we were off the dark road.

Day 3:

We wake and are on the road for day three of our ride but its foggy… really foggy. As we descend the fog turns to smog and we’re back to riding at a good pace and passing trucks over the potholed road. We decided at Fuping the best way to go would be north where we thought both the pollution and trucks wouldn’t be as bad but we couldn't seem to avoid either. Just past the border and into Hebei Province we end up in another bad traffic jam due to some kind of accident involving one of the millions of trucks we were sharing the road with. Eventually it gets towed off the road and we are back underway to Laiyuan for lunch.

As we get off the bikes the waitresses are already holding the doors open for us and are excited about having foreigners in their restaurant. Like everyone I meet here they are surprised I speak Chinese so well and tell me so. Then come the questions:

“Where are you from?”

“The USA.”

“You rode your bikes all the way from the USA?”

“Yes, of course”

“How many hours did it take?”

“Are you familiar with a globe? You know there is a large ocean between the USA and China right?”


“Nevermind, we rode from Beijing.”

She was not exactly the sharpest of the tools in the shed!

While enjoying our lunch we spot the refrigerator filled with cow heads. I didn't ask but I believe they are meant to be put whole into a hotpot.

Once again we are on the road and decide to continue back north and east towards Beijing hoping to escape the pollution. No luck with the smog but we did manage to choose a road with none of the diesel trucks so we were pretty happy. We attempt to take the long way to our destination for the evening but there was a police check on the road for some reason. This check seemed like it was there just to try and stop foreigners who would never go there anyway from entering the road. They did not stop any of the other traffic from going through. They insisted on writing down our information then tell us we should go back the other way and up a different road where there are more touristy places. We comply and are once again rolling. Someone in high places probably decided the villages on that road were too poor for foreign eyes to see, not that they could have been any more poor and rundown than any of the 100’s of villages we had ridden through.

We make it to our destination for the evening: Jiulongzhen (Nine Dragon Town). Main street is a jumbled mess of pedestrians, tractors, 3 wheeled mini trucks, flatbed trikes, cars, and the large diesel trucks we had seen enough of. And everyone is honking.

After procuring lodging for the evening we roll around back and into the courtyard to park. The adjoining building has pictures of unclothed women on either side of the entrance and when I ask I am told by the hotel staff that it is a spa. After 3 days on pothole marked roads we decided after dinner we would try to go get a legit massage.

But its still early and we decide to go back into town for a few beers and a walk down main street. We get stared at, pointed at, and “helloed” at like anywhere in the countryside in China and eventually stopped in a small restaurant for dinner.

View from our room of the hotel sign being erected:

Mechanic shop across the street:

After we get back to the hotel for an overdue shower we decide to see if we can get a legit massage. After seeing the pictures on the outside wall I wasn't sure if they offered legit massages. Fortunately they had two different kinds of staff that work there: semi-trained masseuses and girls that offer “other massage-like services.” We manage to get our $9 hour long massage and ignore the working girls enough to discourage them from trying too hard to rustle up some business.

Day 4:

Before hitting the road back to Beijing we decide to have breakfast. We end up deciding on steamed dumplings. Usually they are good but it depends on the shop, these were pretty bad. Each one had around 2 tablespoons of grease in them! Cant win em all! We get back to the hotel, pack up, and are back on the road with our stomachs churning from the greasy dumplings towards Beijing. We take a few roads we haven't been on before up a mountain and then back down the same way. Then run into another truck traffic jam caused by an accident.

We decide to back track some and stop for lunch hoping the traffic would clear while we ate. Definitely one of the better meals of the trip.

Then it was back home to Beijing. All in all we had a successful trip, we had a few close calls with other traffic on the road, have a few more squeaks and rattles on the bikes than we had before, but we made it back in one piece.
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Old 10-18-2010, 03:51 AM   #2
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Interesting perspective you offer here! Thanks for the report and pics
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Old 10-18-2010, 04:33 AM   #3
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Location: Reno, Nevada & Guangdong China
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Thanks for sharing your adventure, those bikes must have been all kinds of fun in the construction zones.

Stop in for a beer if you're down south, I see you're sometimes located in Guangzhou.

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Old 10-18-2010, 04:39 PM   #4
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Location: San Diego CA
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Looks like A party! You boys find the awesome places with naked girls when Im not around.... Im offended. LOL

Sounds like the border crossings weren't too tough?

Glad you guys made a good trip out of it. Looks like fun with all those dirt roads.
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Old 10-18-2010, 04:41 PM   #5
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PS... Im thinking roadside camping would be better than some of them "fancy" hotels.
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Old 10-18-2010, 07:56 PM   #6
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Cool stuff, interesting countryside and nice choice of bike
Mmmm Sherbert

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Old 10-20-2010, 04:30 AM   #7
firedragonbros OP
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Joined: Aug 2010
Location: San Diego, Guangzhou, Beijing
Oddometer: 2
@ the three who replied above:

Gadget Boy,
I've been living in China for over 5 years now. I speak the language fluently and have a love/hate relationship with the country - its complex. So yeah, I do have a bit of a different perspective on the place.


I'll be in contact next time I am in Guangzhou. Dont know when that will be though (hopefully never hahaha... not so fond of Guangzhou, was stuck there for a year on business and was definitely not my most favorite place on the planet!).

We're used to riding in China and dirt roads and construction happen. It was nothing these bikes or us hadnt dealt with before. Hasnt happened yet but the contruction zones only scare us cuz we dont know what were getting into, dont know if we're going to end up going 15Km on a dirt road then have to turn back around cuz its impassible. Or even worse - do major damage to a bike and get stick! Whatever though, we bought the bikes to ride them, and ride them we do!

Come on holmes, you were only here for 10 days and you saw a lot in those 10 days. Cant do everything in one of the biggest countries in the world in 10 days!

We didnt have too many dirt roads/construction areas. Just one long 15km one and another couple of 200m ones. The potholes on the paved roads were much worse cuz they sneak up on you trying to pass a truck and you cant really slow down!

Border crossings werent an issue. And accomodation is so cheap that its almost worth it to be inside and on a bed than to bother with setting up and braking camp. We did bring sleeping bags just in case we coudlnt find accomodation or couldnt make it to acomodation. Didnt need to use them though.

Thanks for reading. Unfortunately the weather didnt comply, would have had some amazing pictures otherwise. As I said above, the bikes are just what we own here and have at our disposal... not the best bikes for the trip but obviously a better choice than the sportbikes we could have taken!
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Old 11-10-2010, 11:48 PM   #8
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Location: San Diego CA
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Just wanted to take a second and let everyone know that Josh (author of this thread) has been in a very serious motorcycle accident.

He was leaving a ride/ campout here in so cal. The best we can figure is that his sleeping bag came loose and tangled into his rear wheel at about 100mph..

He is in the hospital here in san diego and faces some rather large injuries including a fractured skull, broken vertebre, broken scapula, and some road rash. The accident occurred sunday and we are still waiting for him to wake up. He is currently under induced coma till his injuries are more stable. We are hoping to get more information bye friday...

Josh. we miss you buddy. Im sorry I wasn't there. We need you to come back to us now.
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