Over the Great Wall, under the Iron Curtain

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by 1NiteOwl, Aug 9, 2008.

  1. 1NiteOwl

    1NiteOwl Office Adventurer

    Joined:
    Jun 24, 2007
    Oddometer:
    88
    Location:
    Southern Africa
    Russia, Mongolia and China- 2008

    "A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma" was how Winston Churchill famously described Russia. To many people, myself included, the Far East was a closed book and touring Asia was probably the last thing on my Planned Rides list a few years ago.

    <?xml:namespace prefix = o /><o:p></o:p>
    That all changed around 2006, with the screening of &#8220;The Long Way Round&#8221;: it became apparent that it was actually possible to ride in the former <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 /><st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">USSR</st1:country-region></st1:place> and, with some thick skin, the PRC too. On most RTW tours, these countries were excluded for political reasons and few people have been able to travel in the one or the other, let alone both. As I investigated the possibilities in 2007, things gradually fell into place&#8230;

    <o:p>[​IMG]


    </o:p>The initial idea was to do it with local equipment, on a motorcycle, starting in <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:city w:st="on">Moscow</st1:city></st1:place>. And the most indigenous form of transport in <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">Russia</st1:country-region></st1:place> just had to be an Ural with a side-car. It presented many advantages: three seating positions to choose from, lots of storage space, a fair range (especially with jerry cans), two-wheel drive and mechanical simplicity.
    <o:p></o:p>
    Disadvantages were also apparent: lack of performance (100 km/h max), inherent instability of a side-car configuration, weight of the rig and lack of riding comfort. But it was worth considering, so the Ural factory was contacted to explore the possibilities. If you are curious about the lack of commercial success of the Ural brand, wonder no more. The factory and its agents have a totally dogmatic approach that simply excludes marketing flair and customer relations as we know it in the capitalist world. It was suggested we buy a rig in <st1:country-region w:st="on">South Africa</st1:country-region> and import it (!?) to <st1:country-region w:st="on">Russia</st1:country-region> as the export version is not sold in <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">Russia</st1:country-region></st1:place>, and is considered much more reliable and refined.
    <o:p></o:p>
    In order to get a feel for riding such a machine, it was necessary to hire or borrow one for a while. Fortunately one of my friend&#8217;s father owned an authentic Russian version (albeit one-wheel drive only) with the side-car on the right hand side (<st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">South Africa</st1:country-region></st1:place> &#8220;export&#8221; versions have the side-car on the left).

    [​IMG]

    After locating the ignition key we arranged to pick it up and I gingerly rode it home. The combination of imbalanced traction, poor brake force distribution and sheer inexperience combined to see me disappearing off road even before getting home. But after a week of practice and some adjustments, I got confident enough to open her up all the way to the maximum speed. 100 km/h.

    [​IMG]

    Although the Ural was not particularly comfortable, it could certainly be suitable, particularly on bad roads and in colder weather.

    Colder weather. <st1:place w:st="on">Siberia</st1:place>. Brrr! An urgent look at the climate of the <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">Russian Federation</st1:country-region></st1:place> was obviously required. For the time slot we had chosen between April and June, the picture looked thus, superimposed on the elevation:

    [​IMG]

    With half the trip at mean temperatures below 5ºC (and therefore night times well below freezing) this did not look particularly appealing to people used to sunny skies.
    <o:p></o:p>
    A quick calculation of the likely temperature at each location in the reverse direction (<st1:country-region w:st="on">China</st1:country-region> to <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">Russia</st1:country-region></st1:place>), with rainfall added for good measure, looked much better:

    [​IMG]

    Riding in the opposite direction had immediate implications on the choice of motorcycle: we would now have to obtain a vehicle in <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">China</st1:country-region></st1:place>, where the maximum capacity available for locals is 200cc. That meant two bikes, made in <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">China</st1:country-region></st1:place>. Less power, questionable reliability, but cheap.
    <o:p></o:p>
    There are various &#8220;200-GY&#8221; Chinese made bikes sold under various badges such as Zongshen (Dragon), Lifan, Qingqi and Shineray. Check out http://www.mychinamoto.com for some local enthusiast&#8217;s blogs. These are basically face-lifted Chinese derivatives of the Honda XL185 with 8 litre tanks, about 240 km range and a 100 km/h claimed top speed.

    [​IMG]

    After trying in vain to find Chinese motorcycle dealers on the internet, I gave up looking and decided that we would just locate one when we got there.
    #1
  2. GB

    GB . Administrator

    Joined:
    Aug 16, 2002
    Oddometer:
    63,577
    This is going to be great!! :clap

    Thanks for the intro and stay away from Georgia! :war


    btw, the person on mychinamoto, is an imate here and has posted two very good ride reports on his Chinese built adventure bike.
    :lurk
    #2
  3. Indochine

    Indochine 'Bikes are OK, but . . .

    Joined:
    Jul 20, 2007
    Oddometer:
    356
    Location:
    Bangkok
    :eek1

    I'm sending waves of encouragement. :clap:clap:clap:clap:clap:clap:clap:clap:clap

    OK niteowl, let's get rollin' :deal
    #3
  4. 1NiteOwl

    1NiteOwl Office Adventurer

    Joined:
    Jun 24, 2007
    Oddometer:
    88
    Location:
    Southern Africa
    One out of every four people in the world is Chinese.
    [​IMG]
    With a civilisation stretching back some 5000 years and a landmass 7 ½ times that of <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:smarttags" /><st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">South Africa</st1:place></st1:country-region>, this is a big country with plenty of tourist attractions. It’s also rather inaccessible for foreigners- International driver’s licences are not recognised, there is a strong centralised government and the language barrier for a solo traveller is significant, particularly in the rural areas.
    <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" /><o:p></o:p>
    But foreigners do live in <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">China</st1:country-region></st1:place> (many as English teachers) and many do seem to manage to ride around on motorbikes, legally or illegally. The key is to have a Chinese vehicle with a Chinese registration.
    <o:p>

    [​IMG]


    </o:p>
    In order to stay away from the wet and populous coastal areas, we had to commence our trip somewhere in the central plateau. We decided to start in <st1:City w:st="on">Kunming</st1:City> (“the city of spring”), capital of <st1:State w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Yunnan</st1:place></st1:State> province. The city has a mild climate all year round and is at an elevation of 6000ft above sea level.

    <?xml:namespace prefix = v ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:vml" /><v:shapetype id=_x0000_t75 stroked="f" filled="f" path="m@4@5l@4@11@9@11@9@5xe" o:preferrelative="t" o:spt="75" coordsize="21600,21600"><v:stroke joinstyle="miter"></v:stroke><v:formulas><v:f eqn="if lineDrawn pixelLineWidth 0"></v:f><v:f eqn="sum @0 1 0"></v:f><v:f eqn="sum 0 0 @1"></v:f><v:f eqn="prod @2 1 2"></v:f><v:f eqn="prod @3 21600 pixelWidth"></v:f><v:f eqn="prod @3 21600 pixelHeight"></v:f><v:f eqn="sum @0 0 1"></v:f><v:f eqn="prod @6 1 2"></v:f><v:f eqn="prod @7 21600 pixelWidth"></v:f><v:f eqn="sum @8 21600 0"></v:f><v:f eqn="prod @7 21600 pixelHeight"></v:f><v:f eqn="sum @10 21600 0"></v:f></v:formulas><v:path o:connecttype="rect" gradientshapeok="t" o:extrusionok="f"></v:path><o:lock aspectratio="t" v:ext="edit"></o:lock></v:shapetype>We landed at <st1:City w:st="on">Kunming</st1:City> late on a Sunday morning, and promptly got ripped off by an insistent couple offering us a taxi ride to the <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:placeName w:st="on">Camilla</st1:placeName> <st1:placeName w:st="on">Hotel</st1:placeName></st1:place> near the city centre. This hotel includes a hostel for backpackers, and turned out to be a good choice. To make sure you can get back once you’ve ventured into the city, they have these little cards to show the taxi drivers:

    [​IMG]

    <v:shapetype id=_x0000_t75 stroked="f" filled="f" path="m@4@5l@4@11@9@11@9@5xe" o:preferrelative="t" o:spt="75" coordsize="21600,21600"><v:stroke joinstyle="miter"></v:stroke><v:formulas><v:f eqn="if lineDrawn pixelLineWidth 0"></v:f><v:f eqn="sum @0 1 0"></v:f><v:f eqn="sum 0 0 @1"></v:f><v:f eqn="prod @2 1 2"></v:f><v:f eqn="prod @3 21600 pixelWidth"></v:f><v:f eqn="prod @3 21600 pixelHeight"></v:f><v:f eqn="sum @0 0 1"></v:f><v:f eqn="prod @6 1 2"></v:f><v:f eqn="prod @7 21600 pixelWidth"></v:f><v:f eqn="sum @8 21600 0"></v:f><v:f eqn="prod @7 21600 pixelHeight"></v:f><v:f eqn="sum @10 21600 0"></v:f></v:formulas><v:path o:connecttype="rect" gradientshapeok="t" o:extrusionok="f"></v:path><o:lock aspectratio="t" v:ext="edit"></o:lock></v:shapetype>They’re rather useful in a country where English is rarely spoken. After unpacking and changing into something lighter, we had a look around the block, found some shops and had dinner in a local diner. The bowls are huge but there's a lot of water in there. It was our first attempt at trying to make ourselves understood in Mandarin, and it soon turned into a mime and sketch routine.
    <o:p></o:p>

    <o:p> [​IMG]</o:p>​

    It set the tone for the trip- even if you can look up a question in a Phrasebook, how do you interpret the response? To make things worse, the meaning of Mandarin speech is strongly related to the pronunciation. And while the alphabet is standardised, there are many local dialects which are very different from the <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Beijing</st1:City></st1:place> dialect which is given in most language guides.


    Kunming has a number of interesting sights, but the real must-see attraction there is the Stone Forest, about 120 km south-east of the city. These are actually eroded karst (limestone) rocks and caves which were formed when water receded from the area millions of years ago. It's an amazing sight.

    [​IMG]

    The local Sani ladies add some colour.
    [​IMG]

    As does the water that remains.

    [​IMG]








    #4
  5. 1NiteOwl

    1NiteOwl Office Adventurer

    Joined:
    Jun 24, 2007
    Oddometer:
    88
    Location:
    Southern Africa
    Kunming is one the “clean” cities in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:smarttags" /><st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">China</st1:place></st1:country-region>. In order to limit air pollution they do not allow trucks or normal motorcycles into the city, only cars and electric scooters, and bicycles.

    [​IMG]

    There are lots of them around, but this policy has had a devastating effect on motorcycle dealers trading in our kind of bikes, who have been driven out to the periphery of the city.

    [​IMG]

    After spending the morning asking around the scooter shops (a whole block of them) for the Zongshen dealer visited by Beemerboy a few years earlier, we eventually got to a printing shop and made a print of the web page (http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=222736&page=3). After showing it to a few dealers we eventually hit paydirt when one of them recognised the area and marked it on our map.

    <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" /><o:p>[​IMG]</o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>We found the dealership south of the railway line- a shadow of its former glory. We were met by Cheng, who had one black LZXM200GY-2 on the floor which was promptly put through its paces for us. The price was RMB9600 (9600 Yuan, about $1370), including taxes. We asked them to get two brightly coloured ones for the next day, when we would bring the money.

    We had arranged some help with a local business contact, who could speak English. She picked us up at the hotel the next morning and, after some phone calls, a truck dropped off two crates with our new bikes!
    <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG]</o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>They were quickly assembled on the pavement outside…</o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG]</o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>…and fitted with our GPS mounts, power points and luggage boards (brought in our duffel bags).</o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>[​IMG]</o:p>
    <o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>Our translator helped with the ownership and insurance papers, but without a permanent local address we could not get number plates. Not a serious problem, as you are allowed 30 days grace before you must register- by which time we had to be out of China anyway. After some local sight-seeing we hit the traffic and set off for <st1:City w:st="on">Chengdu</st1:City>, along the “classic” route through southwest <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">China</st1:place></st1:country-region>.

    [​IMG]
    </o:p><o:p></o:p>
    <o:p>Our trip had begun!</o:p>
    </o:p>
    #5
  6. laughatmyvanagon111

    laughatmyvanagon111 Wet Side of the Mountains

    Joined:
    Jul 8, 2006
    Oddometer:
    225
    Location:
    Tacoma, WA and Williamsburg
    :lurk :lurk

    Curious to see how these bikes work out for you. Great report.
    #6
  7. Clarkman

    Clarkman Don't taze me bro.

    Joined:
    Mar 23, 2007
    Oddometer:
    518
    Location:
    In a VAN.., down by the river -- ABQ, NM
    Awesome. Subscribed.
    :super
    #7
  8. AZ-Twin

    AZ-Twin Dusty and Thirsty

    Joined:
    Oct 20, 2007
    Oddometer:
    1,332
    Location:
    Sierra Vista, AZ
    Looking forward to this.

    :lurk:lurk:lurk
    #8
  9. toothy

    toothy Grin

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2005
    Oddometer:
    14,197
    Location:
    Freelard
    Fascinaing, thanks for the peek into this part of our planet.


    :thumb
    #9
  10. mountaineer

    mountaineer Explorer.

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2008
    Oddometer:
    69
    Location:
    Manila, Philippines
    Lots of luck on your trip!:clap
    #10
  11. Flood

    Flood F5lood.

    Joined:
    Oct 18, 2005
    Oddometer:
    10,246
    Location:
    Austria
    Wow. Everything needed for an epic ride, right there!

    :lurk
    #11
  12. Jedi

    Jedi The bikeless wonder

    Joined:
    Jul 30, 2006
    Oddometer:
    231
    Location:
    Adelaide, Australia
    Should be good!

    :lurk
    #12
  13. RobBD

    RobBD Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 13, 2007
    Oddometer:
    399
    Location:
    Perth Australia
    This looks like its going to be a lot of fun - bring it on:clap :clap
    #13
  14. buster

    buster Adventurer

    Joined:
    Jul 15, 2001
    Oddometer:
    57
    Location:
    Augusta GA.
    :lurk
    #14
  15. HickOnACrick

    HickOnACrick Groovinator

    Joined:
    Dec 5, 2007
    Oddometer:
    2,517
    Location:
    Northwest Georgia
    Y'all don't have a sense of adventure...y'all have a deep understanding of adventure. :D
    #15
  16. CrazyCarl

    CrazyCarl The Eternal NooB

    Joined:
    Mar 5, 2007
    Oddometer:
    446
    Location:
    Northern VA
    Yes! This looks to be a very telling report! :D

    :lurk

    CC

    [​IMG]
    #16
  17. MK96xj

    MK96xj 100% Seat Time

    Joined:
    May 6, 2007
    Oddometer:
    403
    Location:
    Asheville NC
    I am paying attention.

    I was in China in April for business and was looking for a dealer in the ShenZhen area with no luck. I guess i need to go to Kunming:deal

    Mike
    #17
  18. Slice

    Slice words+pix+wood+bikes

    Joined:
    Jan 23, 2004
    Oddometer:
    685
    Location:
    western North Carolina, land of the sky
    Man, I gotta say I've loved everyone's reports on China so far. This one has all the hallmarks of another great tale.

    :ear :ear :ear :ear :ear :ear :ear :ear :ear :ear :ear :ear :ear :ear :ear :ear
    #18
  19. 1NiteOwl

    1NiteOwl Office Adventurer

    Joined:
    Jun 24, 2007
    Oddometer:
    88
    Location:
    Southern Africa
    Instead of heading due north for <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:smarttags" /><st1:City w:st="on">Chengdu</st1:City>, we had opted for the route through south-western <st1:country-region w:st="on">China</st1:country-region> via the ancient capital of Dali, which is also a node on the famous Burma Road (which ends in <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Kunming</st1:City></st1:place>). From Dali this route turns north, skirting the border with <st1:country-region w:st="on">Tibet</st1:country-region> until it intersects the <st1:Street w:st="on"><st1:address w:st="on">Trans-Tibetan Highway</st1:address></st1:Street> from <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Chengdu</st1:place></st1:City>.
    [​IMG]

    Many cyclists seem to go for this more remote area and it sounded very interesting, with great scenery, historic cities and many different ethnic populations. I could find virtually no information of a route through there to <st1:City w:st="on">Chengdu</st1:City> though- most trips seemed to loop back to <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Kunming</st1:place></st1:City> or ended in flights out of Shangri-La (Zhongdian). Needless to say, we found out why.
    <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:eek:ffice:eek:ffice" /><o:p></o:p>
    After five days in the area, we were apprehensive of the trucks we’d seen jammed up on the major access roads to <st1:City w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Kunming</st1:place></st1:City>. We threaded through the traffic on the Third Ring Road and soon it opened up- unfortunately we couldn’t, as the bikes still needed to be run in. We decided to refuel at 100 km to get an idea of our tiny tank’s range, and were pleasantly surprised: 35 km/l ! Soon, the landscape became more interesting as the highway ran out and we hit the secondary roads.
    [​IMG]

    Just about every arable piece of land in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">China</st1:place></st1:country-region> is cultivated, so you tend to see farming activities right up to the houses in villages and next to factories in towns.
    The farmers have a tough life, ploughing, hoeing and sowing from dawn to dusk on their neat, terraced fields.
    [​IMG]

    There is water everywhere, directed through canals, allowing the flooding of the different patches of crops. Everything is neatly demarcated and fastidiously cultivated.
    No sign of mechanisation- it’s an efficient method of job creation.
    [​IMG]

    Nothing goes to waste- human waste is recycled as fertiliser.
    [​IMG]

    We discovered a new road hazard: wheat packed across the road – so that the passing traffic can thresh it! It’s slippery stuff, and went on for miles.
    [​IMG]

    We managed 310 km over nine hours of concentrated riding through these seas of activity, and only reached Dali by the second day of our trip after climbing what seemed an interminable mountain of 8000ft. The bikes struggled up there, but surely they wouldn’t get any higher than that? We were below the Tibetan Plateau after all. Due to the steep slopes, there is some elaborate civil engineering above the highway (which we are not allowed on) to prevent erosion and rockfalls.
    [​IMG]

    A feature of navigating in <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">China</st1:country-region></st1:place> is that many places have modern and ancient names, and various ways of spelling and pronouncing each. So there’s a Dali (old city) and a new Dali city known as Xiaguan. It’s frustratingly confusing to a foreign traveller, particularly when asking directions to a place that nobody knows by the name on the GPS. We got there in the dark, struggling with the weak headlights to find our way to the East Gate Guesthouse. It cost 50 Yuan for the night in a spotless room, with the bikes locked up in the courtyard below. What a view, what a bargain!
    [​IMG]

    The next morning it was time for our first oil change (500 km, which we were well past), and we managed to find a bike hire shop close by that could do the job. Chinese style, on the pavement:
    [​IMG]

    There was plenty of gunge in the oil filters, they were earning their keep:
    [​IMG]

    The oil capacity is exactly one litre, so two bottles of Castrol GTX replace the factory oil.
    The chains got some oil and adjustment too, as did the cables. Annoyingly, each bike came with quite a good toolkit except the #19 spanner needed for the wheel nuts. Fortunately, there are motorcycle workshops in every little town which can usually help out with basic maintenance.

    <o:p></o:p>
    After cleaning up, we went for a walk through the town. While the old city walls are quite solidly built, the same can’t be said of the houses inside. Their walls are built from packed rocks covered with dung or mud.
    [​IMG]

    The western side of the old city runs adjacent to the main road, where the locals park and come to visit. It’s quite popular, with lots of shops selling snacks, clothes and other paraphernalia. We had breakfast and packed up for the famous three pagodas on the northern side of the town.
    [​IMG]

    Lots of promises, lots of languages, lots of money (you’re not actually allowed inside the pagodas). We decided to skip the 121 Yuan admission and just snapped a picture through the entrance gate. The mountains in the background are hidden in the fog.
    [​IMG]

    To the east of Dali is Erhai lake, and the road out of town hugs the 40 km coastline.
    With all the water available here, there are farmers everywhere working the flooded patchwork of farmlands. Near the top, some boats in the lake make a tranquil picture.
    [​IMG]

    As the road winds higher there are dams and hydro-electric plants everywhere, harnessing the power of the water winding its way downward through the gorges.
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    There are construction sites all over and quarries on every slope.
    [​IMG]

    We top 8500 ft as we approach Tiger Leaping Gorge and see the first big rivers. Near Shigu is the first bend of the Yangzi river at Cloud Hill, which diverts the river to the north, thus funnelling its water on a lengthy path through the heartland of <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">China</st1:place></st1:country-region>.
    [​IMG]

    En route to Qiaotou a beam of sunshine bursts through a break in the clouds, illuminating the power cables across the Jinsha Jiang.

    [​IMG]

    After paying the Y50 entrance fee (each) we were allowed down the mountain road into the gorge (known locally as Hutiao Xia). Here is the tiger!
    [​IMG][​IMG]

    The sides of the mountain are sheer, and it’s a tough hike down the footpaths. Quite a few people have lost their lives there. The road is easier, but no less spectacular.
    [​IMG]

    At the viewpoint we met Robert and Annet, two German cyclists on the same route we were planning, but coming from <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Thailand</st1:place></st1:country-region>. We swapped notes whilst being photographed by the local tourists. They were managing about 80 km per day; we had been doing about three times that, but progress was slowing down.
    [​IMG]

    View from the viewpoint:

    [​IMG]
    It was dusk by the time we were heading back, so we turned into a guesthouse near the entrance.
    After the initial hearty welcoming tea from our hosts, we turned in when it became obvious that no supper other than beer was on offer.
    #19
  20. beemer boy

    beemer boy Oh no, he's gone Asian

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2003
    Oddometer:
    883
    Location:
    Southern Oregon
    Cool !! Great to see another China trip report. In order to get a plate on your bike, what you need is a agent who works with vehicle registration. In Chengdu where I bought my bike, I paid the guy 50 $ . He did all the paperwork at the vehicle department, put the bike in his name, and then signed over a bill of sale to me in Chinese. Got a plate the same afternoon.
    Keep an eye on your spokes. I have a sense that these bike are not made for heavy foreigners, so the wheels are pretty lightly made. I had a bunch of spokes on my Chinese bike break. That is an amazing amount of swarf in your oil filter..........
    I think the oil on these bikes should be changed in the first 50 kilometers. Watch out for little blue three wheel trucks that suddenly pull out in front of you, and have a great time. If you have any questions please let me know. Where are you right now?
    #20