What it means to get picked up by a “tow truck” in China

Red Chinese Mianbao Che

A Chinese "Mianbao Che" or "Bread Car"

In Chinese, you call a tow truck a 拖车, or “Tuo1 Che1” which literally translates to “dragging vehicle”. However, as I recently discovered when I found myself in need of a “dragging vehicle” for my JinCheng 250, a tow truck isn’t quite the same in China as I’m used to back home. Looking back on it, that probably makes sense given that I can’t remember ever seeing an actual tow truck on the road in Beijing.

After being relegated to a bus commuter for nearly a week after my throttle some how disconnected in the middle of an intersection, I decided to call up my mechanic. Unfortunately, anyone who knows anything about motorcycles with anything more than an electric motor, has to maintain operations far out near the 5th ring road (about at least 10km from the center of the city) due to the foggy legal status of motorcycles in Beijing. So pushing my bike was not an option, and when I took off the grip and tried to fix the throttle cable on my own, I noticed upon pulling it that there seemed to be nothing connecting it to the motor on the other side anymore.

So I texted my mechanic (easier than calling in Chinese) and told him my situation: “不能加油!不能骑车!” or “I can’t add gas! I can’t ride the bike!” to which he immediately responded that he’d send a drag vehicle (it was already about 8:30 at night and I wasn’t expecting to get such immediate service). Not too long after, I got a call from someone that said he was coming over immediately, quoted me a price and told me to send him my address. By 9:00 I got a call to come downstairs, which is when I saw that the tow truck was not actually a tow truck at all but really just a “面包车” which translates to “Bread Car” because, as you can kind of see in the picture above, it kind of looks like a loaf of bread. (These vehicles by the way are notoriously unreliable.) So the driver took down the back seat and told me to ask a security guard to help us lift the bike into the back. After two security guards had come over, we had removed both mirrors and the rear luggage case, and we performed some fancy wiggling with my bike to get her in properly, the tow truck was ready to go! I made sure to take a picture of the guy’s license plate (just in case) and paid the man RMB 150 (roughly $23)  for the tow.

So, as with so many other things with life in China, though it may have been done by questionable means, the kind that makes you lift an eyebrow and ask yourself “Seriously?”, the job got done nonetheless and for cheap. 300 Renminbi (150 for the tow and another RMB 150 for the actual repairs) and less than 24 hours later I was back on the road!

If any of our readers happen to be living in Beijing and either looking for a bike, bike parts, or bike repairs, leave a comment or send me an e-mail at [email protected] and I’ll get you in touch with my motorcycle mechanic. He’s been incredibly reliable, affordable, and he’s very friendly!