I guess this could be considered my first official ride of the season. With the weather warming up into the high-teens, low-twenties (Celsius) and a national holiday in China, Qingming Jie, giving me three days off, it seemed like the perfect time to really test out my new motorcycle for the first time, going 100km out of Beijing to Cuandixia Village, a Ming Dynasty era village tucked in a valley among the surrounding mountains of the city center.
The roads were perfect for motorcycle riding. Only 100km made it just long enough to enjoy the good weather, but not too long that your butt goes completely numb. There was some good open highway at the beginning driving out of the city with my girlfriend as passenger. Soon, after only about 50km, we joined up with highway G109 at the entrance to the mountains surrounding Beijing, when I pulled right up to another motorcycle which turned out to be an earlier model of my first bike, a Harley-Davidson Sportster, not something you frequently come across in China. We ended up stopping for a break at the same place not too much farther ahead, next to a brook, so I took the opportunity to jealously admire his bike, enjoying the sound of the pipes as he drove off ahead.
The rest of the ride was both very pleasant and also extremely stressful. We started to climb up into the mountains along some really fun, windy turns that reminded me of the cliff hugging Pacific Coast Highway in California, but unfortunately we were caught behind a truck for a lot of this, resulting in face-fuls of unpleasant smells, a mixture of burning brake and tire rubber as well as some black, smokey exhaust. The trip also gave me an opportunity to think about the quality of drivers in China. My overall impression is that many Chinese are not quite ready to be driving, particularly on precarious mountain highways, as I was continuously in awe of some very nice cars passing on a two-lane highway around blind turns. There is also a general lack of awareness of motorcycles on the road, as I was often treated as an annoying nuisance simply to be pushed aside as the other drivers saw fit. Several times, people would try to pass us on the motorcycle by coming up on the side and then moving over into my lane, facing me with the decision to either move back or be pushed off the road entirely. I ended up flipping off more than a couple cars, and even threw my leg out trying to kick one or two. This blatant lack of road manners can be best displayed through the massive traffic jam we encountered on our journey back. About half-way back to Beijing, there was a major stoppage of traffic, so much so that people had turned their cars off and were getting out to walk around. Soon, cars began to take advantage of the fact that there was no oncoming traffic and used the opposite lane to get ahead of the jam, only to find that that lane had stopped as well not too far ahead. I started to have visions of a multi-day long traffic jam as I recalled the 60-mile, 10 day traffic jam that Beijing experienced the previous summer, praying that that wasn’t what we were about to experience. Luckily, being on the motorcycle we were able to wind our way through, only to find absolutely no cause for the trouble other than drivers stubbornly not letting on-coming traffic through, probably the result of more cars passing on a blind turn.
I have to say though, I was very impressed with how my little Jincheng 250 handled the trip. I was able to cruise at 70km/hour no problem, even fully packed for two days and with a passenger, even at times being able to maintain 90km/h. We were also able to maneuver the very sharp turns without much problem, though I have to admit that I was craving a more powerful engine for the ascents not to mention as a way to help me avoid the obnoxious drivers. I did have some problems with my engine popping out of gear momentarily and losing some thrust at random intervals, but overall we made the trip without incident. I also found that “Mafan” has quite a respectable gas mileage at about 29 km/liter highway, with about a 15 liter gas tank (my own estimation), meaning the trip would have been doable on a single tank of gas.
The area we visited was really nice, even if crowded, with the ancient village a great visit and the surrounding scenery making for some nice weekend hiking. We met up with some friends from Beijing that took the bus up. When we couldn’t find an open inn (客栈, Kezhan), we moved on to another nearby village, where we found most of the lodging was actually closed until we came upon a couple that happened to have two free beds. As it turned out, this was their personal home and the rooms that we stayed in had formerly belonged to their children who had moved to the city for work and school. The couple was extremely friendly, cooking us up some food in their personal kitchen, giving us heating blankets, and a coal heating stove for our room. Best of all, they had a western-style toilet and hot water!
Below you can see some of our pictures from the trip, and, even though I wasn’t able to attach my camera mount to the bike, my girlfriend Amy was able to film bits of the drive there and back. I’ll be editing this footage and posting it here soon! If any of our readers have questions about road tripping in China or if you have some experiences of your own you’d like to share, please share in the comments. We’d love to hear it!