Upon hearing ‘Chinese’ and ‘motorcycle’ in one sentence, most people consider it sacrilege and throw their hands up in horror.
A small bike is considered a good choice for adventure riding, but a small Chinese bike..? Is that a joke?
Maybe. But what happens if you want to ride around the world, or set out on a long overland journey, yet can’t afford the shiniest, biggest ADV bike?
Buying a second hand KLR is one option. I chose a different one.
A Story of a Chinese Adventure Motorcycle
Back in 2013, I’d never ridden a motorcycle before. Backpacking and volunteering around Peru, I met a few overlanders on motorcycles and decided that two wheels were just too awesome to be left untried. So one beautiful day in Nazca, I learned to ride and bought a Zonghsen 150. That’s right:I got a small Chinese motorcycle, and the following day, I packed it as best as I could and set off.
The bike cost 4,000 Peruvian soles – just under $1,200. Because I sold it after the trip and got $170 back, the total cost of the bike turned out to be $1,030. Nowadays, you can probably get one for about $900.
On the Road
As a newly minted motorcyclist, I had no clue whether the bike’s performance was as outstanding as I thought: I had nothing to compare it against. And to me, that Chinese 150cc felt like a great – and serious – travel bike.
Its top speed was around 55 miles per hour (an outrageous 62mph if it was downhill). I struggled in the mountains, as the bike would only manage second gear going up. The brakes weren’t exactly excellent, so I just learned to adjust my braking distance accordingly. At altitudes of over 6,500 feet, it would start to hiccup and lose power – this meant that I would have to change the carburetor a little (the procedure included tightening one small screw, then loosening it once back at sea level). Other than that, though, I felt that my new bike was a perfectly capable steed, worthy of thousands of miles of adventure across South America.
The Good, the Bad, and the Inevitable
This type of motorcycle is one of the most popular in South American countries. Just about everybody rides these little bikes, and it’s easy to see why: the standard tires that came with it held for 7,000 miles, with local mechanics always able to find a spare second hand one in their garages. Total maintenance and spare parts cost came to $103 after a 28,000-mile journey across Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile and back to Bolivia. The fuel economy was amazing, I could pick the bike up easily, and when the time came to sell it, it broke my heart – but it was also extremely easy because again, this was a staple South American bike.
The Bottom Line
Zonghsen 150 was small, light, cheap, economical, and incredibly reliable. It was also slow and a little ridiculous – but did it do the job? Absolutely.
I’m not saying you should get a Chinese bike for your next adventure. But if you find yourself abroad, wanting to hit the road on two wheels, and BMW rentals are expensive, a small Chinese adventure motorcycle just might be the right one for you!