We like to think that we are THE China experts! So if you want top tips about riding motorcycles in China, then just ask us. GlobeBusters has been travelling in China for almost thirteen years and our founder, Kevin Sanders has ridden across China ten times. On our London to Beijing Expedition, we spend five weeks riding across this massive country from west to east and that includes traversing the incredible Tibetan region. We have built up hundreds of thousands of miles of expertise of how to enter China and what to expect when riding there. And we’ve written articles in major motorcycle magazines about the experience too, check out Motorcycle Sport & Leisure.
The most important thing to recognise is that you cannot just rock up at the Chinese border with your motorcycle and expect to get in. You may find one or two riders who say they have done exactly that, but they have been lucky. That is not the norm. The rules do vary depending on which province and port of entry you use. You will need a Chinese agent to organise your itinerary, hotels and a guide and driver to accompany you. If you’re wanting to go it alone, this makes it pretty expensive. If you’re on the look out for a Chinese agent, the best thing to do is to google search “self drive china“. You can also check out Horizons Unlimited to see if you can team up with other riders.
Here are some of the more unusual must knows about riding in China!
- Foreign riders must have a Chinese Driving Licence and Chinese number plates for foreign registered motorcycles – depending on your province of entry, you may need to take your driving theory test and do an eyesight test to secure your licence! When on a GlobeBusters Expedition, we organise all this for you in advance. Don’t worry you don’t need fix the Chinese number plate over your own registration. Just carry it in your tank bag and be ready to show it if asked for.
2. Sometimes you need to sit the Theory Element of the Chinese Driving Test. This involves our guide reading an English translation of the important parts to you. For example, you that you must not spit in your car . . . . . alas spitting is a common sight in China, so much so that certain cities have introduced rules to not spit in public or you get a fine. Sometimes you also get to do an eyesight test! It is different every time we go what we need to do to receive the Chinese Driving Licence! When you’ve finished riding in China, you can keep your Licence as a souvenir. It doesn’t need to be given back.
3. Beijing has 6 ring roads! Most motorcycle dealerships are located on the 4th Ring Road, as motorcycles cannot go into the centre of Beijing. In fact, motorcycles are not allowed into the centres of many major cities. This rule means that you are not allowed to ride your bike into Tianamen Square. You can try, but there are police on every major junction leading to Tianamen Square. They will stop you. We’ve tried . . . but failed.
4. In Tibet and Xinjiang Province, many fuel stations refuse to fill motorcycles at the pump. You must move to the side and attendants fill up large kettles with fuel. You then carry the kettle across to your bike and fill up – supposedly, it’s safer . . .
5. You do not need a carnet de passage for your motorcycle to enter for China – it is not recognised. China has its own procedures for the temporary import of your motorcycle. You must provide all your documents in advance to the authorities to prepare for your entry into China. You will need a Chinese Agent to sort out all the formalities. Do not just turn up at the Chinese Border because your motorcycle will not be permitted to enter. Whilst you may hear some riders’ experiences stating they entered China with their motorcycle without planning in advance, this is rare and the exception. Most likely due to border officials not being sure what to do, rather than it being officially allowed.
6. In remote areas, road works will mean a DIY off road diversion. This means you can do anything to make your way around the obstruction. There are rarely diversion signs, designated diversion routes or anyone co-ordinating traffic flow. It’s a bit of a free for all.
7. Our Triumph Tigers work amazingly well at over 5,000m; but sometimes their riders do not! We have taken BMW GS, Africa Twin, Yamaha Tenere across the Tibetan plateau without problems. As for KTM, the less said! Worry about yourself coping with altitude and cold when you cross Tibet, rather than motorcycle problems!
8. There are so many hazards and road users are so unpredictable, you will use your horn more times in one day that you do in five years of riding in the West! And be prepared for ridiculous traffic jams. Rather than wait if there is an accident or delay, drivers in China tend to just try and drive into any gap they can find in an effort to get ahead. Consequently they create even more chaos and delays than if they had waited in turn.
9. Motorcycles are generally not allowed to use the Express Way (that is the equivalent of motorways, interstate, autopistas, autobahn etc). There are a few exceptions to this, but not many. You may think that it doesn’t matter to you because surely riding on the rural country roads is much better? It’s true, rural roads are much more of an adventure, but they can also be very slow, with many hazards and incredibly tiring. Sometimes to push a few miles on the Expressway would be great!
10. Don’t stick to the Western rules of the road – ride like a local; it’s the only way to survive! If the traffic lights are red and all the locals are ignoring it, you may risk being back-ended by stopping. So be alert with what the locals are doing and protect yourself.
To ride your own motorcycle in China is still quite a rare thing – and by booking with GlobeBusters, you benefit from massive amount of cumulative knowledge and expertise. We organise all the permits required, all authorisations, driving licence, vehicle registration, Chinese guides and support vehicle. You provide us the documents that we ask for and we do all the rest! With us, you also get up to date route notes, GPS co-ordinates and an expert Motorcycle Expedition Manager to accompany you.
See you on the Silk Road!