Southern China and 125cc of Pure Power

This is a long overdue post, over a year. But I think it’s a great story and worth sharing. This is about my experience renting and riding motorcycles in southern China in May 2009:

Finally got my first ride in of the season. Last week I was on holiday from school and took a week with a few friends in Southern China around the area of Guilin. After being unable to resist the itch anymore, we started asking around at some of the bicycle rental places if they had any motorcycles they could rent us.

Sure enough, right near our hostel, we found a place that, after a little bit of arguing, agreed to rent to us for the day for 600RMB a day. Since there were four of us (two with significant motorcycle experience, and one other that had done some riding) we figured we could split two bikes between us. This would come out to just about $US50 each to rent a motorcycle for one day. Not bad!

The thing to keep in mind though, is that these were far from high quality bikes. They were small little 125cc China brand bikes. They red-lined in 5th gear at 90 kmh (about 55mph). The helmets they gave us were cheap, plastic, construction-site looking things. Even worse, the second day we rented, one of the brakes barely worked! I checked it by gripping down on it only to find i could still push it forward with my feet. When I pointed this out to the guy at the shop, he just told me “mei wenti” which means “it’s not a problem” in Chinese. I tried to explain to him that it absolutely was a problem, especially in Chinese traffic, so he eventually relented and tightened the brakes (turned out this didn’t last too long, but hey, mei wenti!).

An interesting note about Chinese bikes: In the West, the way we change gears in the west is press down for first gear and then up for all subsequent gears. Not the case in China. There, you go up for all of them to increase and Neutral is the last one down. It got even more confusing when we soon realized that rather than the gear shift locking after 5 (the last gear), it kept shifting past starting back at N after 5. We had to find this out the hard way, while on the road, running in 5th gear! As anyone who knows about driving in manual, it can be quite bad if you’re going in 5th gear at about 90 km/h and then to suddenly have your bike back in 5th gear, or, even worse, go from 1st to 5th when you meant to go to Neutral! Long story short, we managed to avoid any disasters, but still scary all the same.

All of this aside, I would recommend anyone traveling in the area to put aside the guide book for one day and give this a shot. I think that this was one of the coolest and most fun rides I had ever done. Aside from the fact that I hadn’t ridden in months, the scenery around Yangshuo was simply incredible and driving in Chinese traffic just added another level to the excitement to the experience. We got to see little towns in the country side that weren’t as touristy as well. Overall, though we were probably lucky to avoid any trouble with authorities or any serious mechanical or traffic related accidents, I would certainly do this ride again!

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