This is a series of posts I made to the MyChinaMoto web site when Yuan and I made our most recent trip to China in May & June of 2009.
My wife Yuan and I were in Shanghai up until yesterday afternoon. Winston Sa graciously invited us to come by and visit his shop, so we swung by in the early afternoon.
What a great shop. The rebuilt and customized Changs he has on sale are beautiful. We spent some time talking bikes and discussing their upcoming ride to Tibet. If only I had the time, I'd love to make that trip.
We also met Peter (Sorry Peter, I didn't catch your last name) who's a transplant from Germany. He works with Winston at the shop. He'll also be going on the trip to Tibet. Winston told me of Peter's recent solo ride on his CJ from China all the way to Pakistan. There are some great photos of that trip framed and hanging on the shop wall. Peter's rig really looks the part too.
Nick Barton came by also and treated us with a short CJ ride to lunch. Seems Peter and Winston are not the only globe-trotting riders hanging out in Shanghai these days. Nick's also been in China for years and has lived in the U.S. and of course his native U.K. Like me, Nick has trouble with the local language, so we hit it off well. Thanks Nick for taking the time to ride out and meet us. I felt sorry for you as we battled (Well, the taxi driver battled) the horrendous traffic to get us over to the train station for our short ride to HangZhou. I'd hate to be clutching along a 3mph in traffic on the bike.
BTW, the train to HangZhou is a very modern high-speed one that reached up to 175kph on the way. A smooth and interesting ride.
Anyway, no riding photos to share yet, so here are a few shots of Winston's shop in ShangHai. Sorry Winston, when I was taking these parting shops you were too deep in dealing with customers for me to bother you for a pic.
CJ Sidecars - That's Peter's bike on the left, with the dual spare tires
That's Nick on the left (He owns a few Guzzi's also), and Peter on the right.
Well, I've been traipsing around China for the past nine days and have only been "looking" at motorbikes so far. We're resting up in the hotel room this evening in Nanjing after another exhausting day of walking around and soaking up culture. Today we visited the old Presidential Palace from the first Replublic's days and Sun Yat Sen's grand mausoleum/park.
The real fun starts soon however as we arrive in Beijing tomorrow late in the afternoon. Andy reports that the GS is sitting outside idling and waiting for me to arrive. His new job won't start for another week or so, so it looks like he and Sidecar Jimbo will we shepherding me around for a few days. Woo Hoo!
In the mean time, I hate to post my pathetic, un-cropped, non-color corrected, ham-fisted, tourist snapshots on this forum after I've seen so many excellent photographs. Regardless, here are a few non-ride related snaps from our trip so far. We've covered Shanghai, Hangzhou, Wuzhen, Suzhou, and now Nanjing.
We only spent one evening in Shanghai, so of course we visited the Xin Tian Di shopping/restaurant area that day. (Fairly disappointing IMHO, just another consumption opportunity). It was raining a bit that evening, but we went for a river boat ride anyway.
Anyone who's seen any photos of Shanghai have seen this:
Then it was on to Hangzhou where we visited the Lin Ying Temple and of course, West Lake:
Introducing my lovely wife, Yuan:
Afterwards, we moved on to Wuzhen. I really liked this place, but the interesting part was fairly small and it took a bit of stretch to spend two days there without seeing everything twice.
It started off badly when we made the mistake of joining a tour group to start this visit. The bus ride from Hangzhou to Wuzhen was pleasant enough except for the forced "rest" stop at what turned out to be a captive sales pitch for tea company's roadside factory outlet store.
We arrived in Wuzhen at about the same time as 72 or 73 other tour buses and proceeded to get herded like cattle through the labyrinthine, narrow passages of the eastern-side of the old town. It was stifling hot and impossible to hear one loudspeaker shouting tour guide's spiel over the others as they tried to speed their charges through everything as quickly as possible. My wife and I could stand this for only about 15 minutes and decided to ditch the group and gain some respite with a few beers and some food at a side-street restaurant.
Luckily, the west side of Wuzhen, although still fairly crowded with tour-ons like us, was exponentially more interesting. This might be because one has to pay RMB120 to gain entry by traveling about 50 meters across what would otherwise be an easily circumvented pond, via boat.
After Wuzhen, we returned to Hangzhou to retreive out left-luggage and took a bus to Suzhou. I was looking forward to Suzhou, as I had seen a television program about it on CCTV9 a few months ago and it looked to be much bigger and nicer, but the same character as Wuzhen.
It was nice, but Yuan decided she'd seen enough canals and boats for a while, so we visited two other local landmarks while we were there. An exquisite formal garden known as the "Humble Administrator's Garden. It was huge, beautiful, but hardly humble. We also visited the park and tower at Tiger Hill.
That was our last stop before heading to Nanjing, our present location. I think that of all the cities I've visited over my 5 trips to China, Nanjing is the nicest so far. Unbelievably, the traffic is actually bearable here! We actually saw streets, both avenues and residential, with little traffic on them. Sure, there are some congested areas, and we didn't really travel at rush hour, but it was actually nice to see some space between moving vehicles for a change. This could be attributable to the fact that Nanjing "only" has about 5 million inhabitants. Also, the skies here, although still hazy, manage to allow a level of blueness that hitherto has escaped my gaze.
I did however have my first near-death experience here. It occurred when leaving our hotel this morning. I'm so fixated on looking all around when I am about to cross a road I was nearly creamed by a speeding bicycle that was riding on the sidewalk (That's "pavement" for my Brit friends :) ). I swear that I was only a centimeter away from him when he sped right past my face.
Anyway, here a a few pics from our first day in Nanjing yesterday. I haven't downloaded today's pics from the cameras yet, so you're spared any further boredom.
Lastly, just a little bit about how it's like to get a reminder that I live in a country with a history as short as a second-grader's attention span. I already knew that my wife can trace her family line back an amazing 74 generations, and I remember that she'd told me about her grandfather, who was a General in the Gou Min Dong Army.
Today, we visited the old Republic's Presidential Palace, which is built upon the ground that held the short-lived palace of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. It lasted from 1850 and the last remnants were finally cleared out about 1871 when the Qing imperials finally overcame them.
Well, it seems that my wife's great, great, great, great, great. . . grandfather is the general that led the Qing army that captured Nanjing (Then called Tianjing) and burned the palace to the ground:
That was a cool history lesson for me.
Well, that's all for now. Perhaps I'll have some actual ride photos the next time I update the thread.
Just arrived in BJ late this afternoon. Spoke with Andy on the phone and we're going to try to sort out the driver's license situation tomorrow morning and get organized for riding.
Unless there's an unforeseen issue, I expect to be heading out on two wheels on Saturday morning. I am psyched for this trip, and to have Andy and Jimbo to keep me pointed in the right direction takes a lot of apprehension out of my mind.
Well, yesterday was our first full day in BJ, and there was a lot to do in the morning to prepare for riding. Firstly, we met Andy face-to-face for the first time at a German Bakery on Lucky Street. Of course, when we arrived we first walked right past it as I didn't see the "Bakery" part of the name, only "Restaurant". After a walk down the street and back we returned and I saw the "Bakery" sign, so we settled down outside in the shade to wait for Andy. Unbeknownst to us, he was already enjoying his coffee sitting inside the shop. Luckily, we weren't sitting too long before I went inside to use the toilet and spotted him.
Our first paperwork task for the day was to get a copy of the Police registration from our hotel as we were not certain if it was needed when we went to the Traffic Police office to apply for the temporary driving license. We brought that with us from the hotel. Andy and I discussed biking plans and organizing, and were soon joined by Kin (I didn't record his family name). He is the General Manager of the BMW Motorrad shop in BJ and would be helping us with procuring the bike. Kin kindly provided us with instructions and directions to the Traffic Police office, and off we went.
The Traffic Police office is in Terminal 3 of BCIA, so we caught a taxi back out to the airport. Amazingly, the office was empty and the three clerks were helpful and smiling, thus dashing my hopes of providing yet more "Chinese bureaucrats!" stories to lore. The beginning of the process was simply to fill out a form in English and Chinese, take a few mug shots and pay 30RMB for the photos.
Next stop was to the health clinic located on the floor above for a "health check". I didn't really understand what the health check would be about, but it was here where the mortal bounds of gravity pulled me crashing back to Earth. Again, the folks here were pleasant and professional. However, as I walked over to the nurses desk I saw her pull out a book from the drawer which I hadn't seen since 1983 when I was first inducted into the U.S. Army. My heart suddenly sank.
It seems our very first test was for color acuity, a personal attribute that is lacking in my bundles of rods and cones. Most people have seen these before, they are circular photos of a mass of different colored dots that use certain colors to spell out words or numbers or draw simple images, like cows or rabbits. If your eyes can see those colors, you see the numbers, if not, all you see is an amorphous blob of dots.
Well, no amount of bluffing would help me here, I simply can't see the numbers everyone else sees. I tried to get my wife, Yuan, to tell me the numbers, but alas, the staff knew enough English to realize this and asked her to step away.
Of course, we tried a little cajoling and arguing (Afterall, I can see colors just fine in normal driving, and can certainly tell which lights are green and which are red), but it was no help. We asked for a Doctor's opinion, hoping he might be able to exercise discretion, or perhaps a little more in-depth test to supercede the Rohrschock I failed so miserably. However, those hopes were also dashed as the Doc simply pulled the book out again.
So, that was the end of that. Without procuring the driving license, the folks providing the bike for rental could not take the risk of renting it to me. As you can guess, this morning was particularly depressing for me. I'd come up to BJ for the express intent of riding, and it looked like those plans were broken.
Little did I know however, that wheels were turning, and movers were shaking things in the background . . .
More as things develop.
Bikeless in Beijing
Picking up after my last post, things looked pretty grim. However, some folks were doing their best to help me get on two wheels while I am here, and in the end, I have some rides lined up for today, tomorrow, and an overnight trip on Wednesday. My depression is lifting, and life is good once again.
Yesterday, I met up with Andy at Frank's Place for an afternoon of beer drinking and bike talk. PennStLong, whose been in BJ for the past few years was able to contact me and he rode his F650CS out and joined us. After a while we had a table full of bikers telling stories and enjoying the pleasant afternoon. It turns out that Long and I are both native New Yorkers and both spent some years in the Army, so we interspersed out talk with mentions of shared military experiences.
A dark and stormy night. . .
Today's ride begins at 9am, so I jumped out of bed and into the shower at 7am in order to be prepared in time. After showering and dressing, I went about gathering my gear and unconsciously listening to the traffic noises outside the hotel windows. I hadn't pulled the curtains open as Yuan was still sleeping.
The usual beep-beep of the cars and muffled voices were there, but at one point something caught my attention. At first, it sounded just like the noise that the snow plows make when they clear the road outside my home back in Colorado. A low rumble sound trailing off at the end as the plow moves further down the road. Of course, there's not much chance of snow here in BJ today, so that wasn't it.
Then I heard it again. Only this time, the sound at the end made my blood curdle. That was definitely the sound of thunder! I pulled the curtains open to see a deluge coming down and I caught the last bit of a waning lightning flash.
So, it looks like plans are dashed for yet another day! I'm trying to figure out for what I am being punished, but haven't a clue.
Better luck tomorrow?
Well, I wasted a bunch of time trying to figure out why my photos would not display. In the end, I gave up the ship and loaded all my pics up to PhotoBucket.com and then re-edited my posts to point there instead. Now they all show again.
So, on with the tale. . .
If there is one thing that one learns in China it is that flexibility is key. Go ahead, make plans, but you'll always need a plan B (And more often than not, it seems). Well, I finally have some riding to report after 2 1/2 weeks of being in country.
Jim Bryant of Jimbos Classic Sidecars (www.mycj750.com or www.bmwsidecar.com) provided both the wheels (3, of course) and the local knowledge and great riding stories that allow me to write this report. Thanks again Jim!
The plan was to leave Jim's shop on the north-east side of BJ at about 09:30. As my wife Yuan would not be joining us today, it was time for my first attempt at solo taxi travel in China. I've managed to avoid any responsibility for travel inside China for all my trips to China until this point. Now was the moment of truth.
I do have a few words of Chinese vocabulary crammed into my disorganized brain. With that and an actual printed map showing Jim's shop's location (In Chinese characters even) I set off.
Just to be extra careful, I asked a bilingual hotel staffer to talk to the cabbie. The driver responded in the positive, and we were off.
I knew fairly quickly that I was in trouble when the cabbie exited the hotel grounds and met the queue of taxis waiting to enter. He stopped and yelled out the window to the other drivers "Anyone know where Shun Huang Road is?" Even I understood this. He didn't even seem to slow down long enough to hear any of the shouted answers and we were off down the road.
Everything seemed to be OK for a while and I even recognized a few landmarks that I remembered from the previous trip to Jim's shop. Sadly however, this didn't last, and I found myself trying to call Jim's cell number so he could direct the driver to the shop. Jim however was himself on his way to the shop and apparently doesn't answer his cell phone while he is riding (God forbid!). The driver attempted to ask me, but of course I couldn't possible respond intelligently.
I had foolishly figured that a local taxi driver, provided with a map that clearly indicated some major roadways and had every necessary street labeled in Chinese would be able to follow the map. Well, I won't make that mistake again. Luckily, after trying Jim's number a few more times, he had finally arrived at the shop and heard his phone ring. Jim's 20 years of living in China have brought a good command of the lingua franca and he quickly set the cabbie straight and we were once again pointed in the right direction.
Five minutes later we swung around the last corner in typical Chinese fashion, cutting across three lanes of traffic to avoid a flat-bed tractor trailer driver's attempt at a U-turn at a major intersection (There's a sight you don't see in the U.S. very much).
It only took a few minutes of small talk and we were ready to go. Today, just Jim and I would be riding. Jim's wife, her cousin and his wife and their small son would be traveling with us, but they would be driving the Bryant family's small SUV. Oh, yes, and we can't forget Laser, Jim's young, rambunctious Labrador Retriever, who would be riding shotgun in Jim's tub.
At this point I made my next mistake. I didn't really take the time to fully check out the controls on the CJ I would be riding. Although I have about 6 years experience piloting a hack, the CJ's transmission has different controls for reverse and the neutral finder from my Ural, plus the turn signal control is mounted vertically instead of the usual horizontal orientation. I was already very nervous about my first foray out into the raucous BJ traffic, and I kept honking my horn when I meant to activate the turn signals. That, and keep up with Jim, as if I lost sight of him, I would surely never be seen or heard from again. :)
I managed to manage however, and we rode a few miles to make our first stop at a petrol station to top off the tanks.
Gassed and ready to go, we continued on and quickly left the traffic congestion behind and I began to relax a little bit. Soon the straight, wide suburban roads with their segregated bicycle lanes gave way to more rural roads with no shoulders to speak of.
The flat area around Beijing quickly turns into mountainous terrain. The road became curvy and narrower. The road surfaces were all in very good condition, but they were closely lined by stout trees that would act as crash barriers if any inattention to driving crept in.
I was also reminded to be extra vigilant in overtaking. This is not something I've worried too much about since my days living in Germany. Back then, I was one of the slower vehicle drivers and if I planned to overtake, I had to ensure there were no Michael Schumacher jrs. speeding up behind me to do the same thing at high speed to me.
Here in China, even though the speeds are much slower, there is no patience for any vehicle that is in front of you. It doesn't matter if it is already in the process of overtaking. If the rearmost driver thinks there is enough room to over take you at the same time, he or she will not hesitate. Since I was often overtaking slow lorries, bicycles, carts and what-not I had to remember to always make certain my rear was clear.
We were blessed with a very clear-sky day, I guess as a result of the day long, unusual-for-Beijing (I'm told) rain showers we had the day previous. Nothing but a few puffy cumulus clouds floating about. There was a forecast for afternoon thunder showers, but so far, the sky and the roads were nothing but inviting.
Before too long, we came across a place where the road we were traveling crossed Chang Cheng. Better known to us as The Great Wall, it seemed a good place to stop for a few photos, so we pulled over and marveled.
I was very happy to have this view of the Great Wall, as even though I'd been to Beijing in the past, I refused to go to Badaling, which is where millions of tourists go to crawl all over this great monument to China's history. (Of course, I'm just another of those tourists myself, I don't fail to see the irony) I've always shied away from tourist spots like that, and now I was able to experience the spectacle in a place where only a few "local" tourists were out and about.
While Jim's relations spent some time climbing up to the top of the wall that you see at the top of those photos, he and I sat down to enjoy some cold water.
[Note to all China newbies like me: An important adjective to memorize is "Bing de", which means "already cold", whether it is beer or water, the further you get away from tourist destinations, the more important it is to ask for Bing de Pijiu, or Bing de Shui. That's Pijiu (pee-gee-ooh) for beer and Shui (schway) for water. I won't bother to explain the inflections needed to pronounce them correctly, as any sweating traveler showing up at a stop asking for either is bound to be understood. Either that, or get yourself a Chinese spouse. I highly recommend it. :)
While we were resting, Jim regaled me with a few stories about his round the globe travels a few years ago on a BMW sidecar rig. If you haven't read his ride report over on AdvRider.com, I highly recommend it.
As we were talking, a few things reminded me of the dichotomy that is China these days. Firstly, I noted that this road we were gladly riding actually necessitated the destruction of a portion of the Great Wall. The road needed to breach it, so it looks like they just knocked it down at that spot.
Secondly, I then realized that the kiosk that we had just purchased our cool water from was actually inhabiting the base of one of the Great Wall's many watchtowers!
Even in my capitalist heart, I couldn't imagine these things happening in the U.S or Europe. That's progress. Better come visit while you can. . .
Here's a shot of Jim and his wife Jiao and Laser at our rest spot:
Jim and I were starting to get itchy feet, so we jumped on the bikes again and headed up the road toward a place that Jim knows well to stop for lunch. Our entourage would follow on after they got their fill of the Great Wall.
As we headed on, the road went into more steeply rising terrain. Now, I've always been a bit of a drama artist when riding my sidecar in the canyons of Colorado. I love to throw the old body around when negotiating those sharp curves, especially the right-handers that only a hacker can know and love.
Jim surprised me in that I never seemed to catch him shifting his weight around as we flew around those sharp curves. For my part, I was taken aback at the sheer numbers of reducing-radius turns that seem to be a forte of Chinese road engineers. So many of them seemed to be like that, and as I'd already witnessed a fellow hacker's failure to read a right-hand reducing radius curve properly a few years ago, I was extra cautious on the many we encountered this day.
This is the spot where Jim normally stops:
Today however, not being a weekend, the proprietors were in town doing their shopping and it seems the lone worker wasn't too keen to make us lunch. Jim did his best to persuade her, but we simply went into "Plan B" mode and headed further down the road.
As luck would have it, we encountered another possibility not much later. Although there were no signs of a working business, the layout looked like a roadside stop, so we took a chance. Of course, had I been traveling alone, this would be a place I would probably ride by, as I just don't have the language skill to uncover the possibility. Jim's not in that boat with me, and in a minute we knew we could eat and drink. Score!
This was quite a nice little roadside retreat. Not right on the side of the road, one has to ride a few meters down to a river bed where a concrete slab crossing leads over the water course and up the other side. There were a couple of buildings and a good bit of level ground.
One structure looked as if it could have been produced to be used a motel rooms, and another separate structure was built as the kitchen. It even had proper flush toilets, although they are of the older style squat variety.
It wasn't particularly hot at this spot. In fact, it was pleasantly shaded and a little breeze wafting by occasionally. However, the proprietress seemed determined to have us move to another spot that she deemed better for us to relax at. We went back and forth on this matter for a few minutes, but finally convinced her that we would stay put under the large awning after she seemed to want us to wrestle the table and chairs down to the "better" spot that was about 20 meters away.
They were running an on-site river trout farm of sorts here, so the obvious choice for lunch was some fresh from the water fish. By this time the rest of the group had joined us and we got to scoop our intended meal right out of the water with nets.
Seems the only thing on hand to drink this day was either beer or tap water. The latter, I chose not to drink for obvious reasons, and the former I desperately wanted to quaff, but two wheels or three, I don't drink until the riding day is over. (OK, I almost, always, never drink while I'm riding. . .) Luckily, someone appeared who offered to run into the ville to pick up some bottled water (bing de, or course) for us and we were set for now.
After a good meal of fresh fish and vegetables, we were on our way again. The roads remained tortuous and climbing. There were myriad spots to stop along the way, but we were faced with the touring motorcyclists greatest dilemma: Stop to take photos of grand scenery, or keep eating up those glorious curves. My lack of photos should attest to the result of that inner argument.
At that last stop above, Laser made more of his attempts at getting out of the hack when his master roamed more than a few feet away. (As any good Labrador will do, of course). Here's Jim's Cousin-in-law (Is there such a thing?) trying to contain Laser:
A little while after this point our group split up with Jim and I riding at our own pace and everyone else enjoying the good weather with the top down on the little Suzuki as they sped off down the road ahead of us.
We had been experiencing a little running trouble with my bike, so we made a few stops to do maintenance on her:
Unfortunately, tinkering with the left-side spark plug wire many times took a toll on it and we were finally worried when brass plug that normally stays inside the plug cap became damaged beyond repair. Although both hacks were replete with some common spare parts, a plug wire was not among them.
Luckily, ingenuity prevailed and we found a little hex-head (Allen) key tool kit which had all the keys attached to a ring via little springs. Jim was able to fashion one of those springs around the top of the spark plug. Unfortunately, we just couldn't get it stay securely attached to the top of the plug. This was solved with a little more dumpster-diving into the trunk of the hack where we found a length of bailing wire which Jim used to wrap around the cylinder jug and pull the plug cap down on to the spark plug.
I couldn't help thinking about Jim's ride across Russia and Mongolia back to China few years ago. It seems he's blessed to always have on hand what's needed to get moving again. Bailing wire and springs, but we were moving once again.
At this point, we were on the downhill side of the mountains and headed back to B-town. This turned out to be the most spirited riding we'd done all day. Although we hadn't received any rain while we were riding, we rode down canyon roads that had apparently been under the rain cloud for a while. They were uniformly wet and still quite curvacious.
At this point, traffic stepped up also as we came upon many a curve where traffic was being held up by one of China's ubiquitous overloaded lorries using first gear to try and get down the mountain with some brakes left in case he has to stop at the bottom.
We had quite a few "fun" passes on the way down. Lucky for me, Jim had the presence of mind to wave me on when he could see beyond a curve that no traffic was coming. It still made the hair on my neck stand up to be passing on a blind curve in that manner. This is China Riding!
One thing I hadn't mentioned by this point was that Jim and I swapped rigs as he thought it better for him to ride the rig with the surgical scars. Jim's dog Laser of course wasn't happy when he saw his master take off down the road and a strange set of eyes staring at him through my visor as I took off after Jim.
In the first few kilometers of curving road, I spent half my time trying to keep laser from committing suicide--all the while I tried to negotiate the curves and handle braking and throttle duties. It's pretty had to manage the front brake and throttle while trying to keep the pup in the car! Thankfully, he realized the futility of his ways fairly soon and settled down to a steady barking of disapproval for the remainder of the ride.
Our last few miles back to town were on one of the beautifully maintained limited access divided highways (I'm going to try and identify the roads we took so I can post a map soon. We were sans-GPS as I'd already lost mine in Shanghai and Jim obviously didn't need one).
For myself, I've always liked the look of a good hound riding shotgun in a side car, and a few tourists seemed to agree with me as we had a passenger van full of folks match our speed in the left lane and take numerous photos. I obliged them with a huge grin and accompanying Victory sign. Laser barked in approval. We exchanged Thumps-up and they proceeded on their way.
We were traveling at a good clip when I noticed Jim begin to slow down. I figured that maybe our bodge was coming apart. We drove along the shoulder of the road for a few kilometers and then coasted to a stop on the overpass of the very exit we were to take.
We quickly discovered that Jim's bike had run out of gas! Of course, being Jim, there was a 2 gallon spare tank in the trunk of the other hack and we were on our way again in just a few minutes.
A few more kilometers and we were back on the final local roads back to Jim's shop. Jim noticed a bike/auto repair shop on the side of the road and quickly swung around in search of a replacement spark plug cap. We were rewarded at this stop by one of the better slap-stick moments I've witnessed in a while.
Earlier in the day, Jim's wife had commented that the sole of Jim's shoe was coming loose. Jim remarked that Laser had be using it for gnawing practice and no further note was taken.
While a group of curious locals milled about us and the bikes, Jim jumped up and started to jog toward the shop door. We were all surprised to see his shoe sole head off in a different direction, yet tethered to its erstwhile mate by the thinnest of glue strips. This of course garnered a good laugh, but nothing compared to the guffaws that ensued when Jim exited the shop with his newly repaired footwear--wrapped in gobs of clear cello tape. It may not be pretty, but again, Jim gets the job done.
A few too-short minutes later we were back at Jim's shop. I could already tell that I would be in for a sore back and shoulder the next day as I haven't piloted my own hack in six months as I have it off the road for repair. Most people don't realize the amount of effort it takes to steer a sidecar rig. And after spending a great day negotiating curve after curve, I was being reminded clearly.
Now for the best part. I've manged to get Jim to agree to go out for another foray tomorrow! This time it looks like we might have a few more riders with us, so I am hoping that I'll be able to organize some photos that will show some bikes in motion. Tomorrow evening is a scheduled get-together of the MCM folks in BJ, so I hope to meet a few more good folks and hear some more good good travel yarns.
I'm sitting in a lounge at Narita Airport in Tokyo right now. Yuan and I have a 4 hour layover here. Thought I'd use this time productively and update the thread.
Jim was nice enough to take another day away from business to show me around some more great mountain roads on Thursday (6/11). My taxi ride from the hotel to Jim's shop was much more direct this time. However, the last 1km of travel on JingMi Lu took about 20 minutes to negotiate the choking traffic. Rush hour really is rush hour in Beijing.
Here's a couple of shots of Jim's shop. Street side:
and in the courtyard of the old part of the shop
Jim's also got a brand new building out back that they're getting ready to use. Nice, big space (Probably 2,000 sq. ft. or so) with a good high ceiling. His crew was busy painting and sealing the floor this morning.
A few minutes after I arrived, I met Tim Lago. Tim's just gotten the go-ahead from his doctor to ride again after taking some time to mend a few bones. A slight miscalculation as he rode his Ducati around the Shanghai International Circuit some weeks before being the cause.
Tim wasn't certain if he'd use a bike with wide handlebars or not, so he took a quick spin around on the bike I had ridden on Tuesday. She's got great, wide bars for easy sidecar wrestling.
Here's Tim after checking out the arm leverage:
Jim arrived a few minutes later, and our group was ready to hit the road when Ed arrived (Ed, I never did get your last name. . .) Ed's a lawyer and entrepreneur who's also been living in China for some years. Yet another fluent Mandarin speaker in the group of riders.
We began our ride with a stop for gas (I'll spare you the gas station shots this time), and headed north out of the BJ suburbs. As I mentioned before, the traffic quickly abates and the roads open up for as carefree a ride as is possible in China (Always expect the unexpected). After a few miles, we pulled over to the shoulder near a canal to wait for Charles, who rides a real nice looking CJ with a super-retro Bavarian Creme paint color.
Charles' bike is a real nice looking bike. Charles, (whose last name again I never got) is, if I remember correctly in the finance and investments business. He's originally from Los Angeles.
Once again, the lack of photos of our riding attests to the quality of the riding we had. No time for pics, just curves for us. We finally did stop somewhere for lunch however. It seems that one is never too far from some good food when traveling in this area. There were lots of roadside/streamside restaurants with fish pens offering fresh trout for lunch.
Charles decided that the net was not a sporting proposition for the fish, so he gave a go at catching one the old fashioned way:
Even with Ed's (left) and Tim's (middle) encouragement, the fish were getting old, so Charles relented and one of the restaurant crew did things the efficient way:
A few minutes later we were enjoying the expat's life in China: Creekside and good food in quantity:
I can't describe anything that we ate, except for the barbequed fish, I rarely know what exactly it is that I am eating when I dine in China. I usually leave the food ordering up to Yuan. I'm never disappointed however.
Not long after lunch began to settle in our stomachs, we were off on the road again. Did I mention before that the roads here are in excellent shape and have hardly any traffic? :) It wasn't long till we were heading up steep , curved roads which made right-handers sometimes too exciting. (It's a sidecar thing, you wouldn't understand. . .)
After a while we came to a real nice overlook spot where we met a few local Chinese bikers:
The guy on the Yamaha R1 had flown by us some time earlier as we made our way up the road. After we left this spot, it didn't take him long to pass us all again.
I asked the guys to have some patience with me, the real tourist of this group, so that I could get at least a few photos of myself actually on a moving bike. The guys obliged, so I managed a few:
[Note: Closed course with professional rider. Do not attempt this helmet-less riding at home :) ]
We had a growing group of people stopping at this spot:
So we quickly wrapped things up with a group shot and saddled up:
Jim really knows these back roads and for todays ride I was treated to a real nice dirt/gravel forest road ride which climbed up out of the river valley, up and over a pass, through a few small farming villages and back dow the other side where it met back up with the canyon road.
This photo was made as we took a rest stop just short of the summit of the pass:
Here's the view down hill from there to the bottom:
Time for one more 'poser' shot. The bike I'm sitting on is Jim's. It is the same bike that he circumnavigated the U.S. in (As a "shakedown" ride) before shipping his bike to Germany to begin his cross-Europe & Asia ride a few years ago.
The ride back down the other side of the pass was a little rougher than the ride up. Just a few rain-made washouts and cracks, but nothing the rigs couldn't handle. This part of the ride was really interesting as we traveled through a few small villages with buildings that look ancient.
We didn't stop until we were back down to the river road, where we took another break and decided what to do.
Both Ed and Charles had engagements for later that day, and Tim, Jim, and I were planning to meet the MCM group at Frank's Place back in BJ that evening, so we decided to head back toward town and split up appropriately.
The ride back to town was uneventful. A mixture of back roads and highway. Jim had to run home to drop off Laser, so Tim agreed to make certain that I could find my way back to Jim's shop to drop off the bike (Meaning he lead me all the way there). Once again, JingMi Lu was stacked and packed with every mode of transport under the sun. Luckily, even though the sidecars are wider than your average bike, Tim managed to squeeze his rig past traffic on the right-hand shoulder of the road. Of course, for me, it was follow or get lost forever, so I kept right behind him as much as was possible.
At one point, there wasn't room for the whole bike on the road, so the hacks once again showed their versatility as we popped the hack wheel up and over the curb and rand the tire of the rubble and stubble at the side of the road. At one point, Jim de-barked a tree with his hack, but later inspection showed nothing more than some tree skin stuck to the hack frame. Those things are built tough!
We swung around the last corner, and I sadly realized my riding days in China are now over. We parked the bikes inside the courtyard of Jim's shop and a couple of minutes later Tim was giving me a ride back to my hotel which was only a convenient 300 meters from Franks' Place, where we would all be meeting later.
Well, My little "adventure" is over now. No matter how much riding I could have squeezed in while I was there, it would never have been enough, but thanks to the help of Andy and Jim, I was completely satisfied to get what I did. Thanks guys.
I showered over at the hotel and Yuan and I joined the group over at Frank's place. I've got some photos of that get-together also, and I'll post them in that thread.
Airport Prisoner, Tokyo, Narita