China Policy for Motorcycling
The Chinese climate is generally conducive to motorcycle riding, and you see bikes in many cities across China. However, the traffic is definitely not easy to cope with. The Chinese bureaucracy is no better. It can be quite difficult for a foreigner to get the drivers license, insurance and permits to travel around China on their personal motorcycle. Remember for a motorcycle to be legal, it needs to be legally registered with a license plate; you must have insurance and a Chinese motorcycle licence.
There are some restrictions. Motorcycles are forbidden on most freeways and some cities forbid them in the downtown core in an effort to control traffic congestion. For example, motorcycles are banned from downtown Guangzhou, Dongguan, Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Hangzhou, and there are restrictions in Beijing and Shanghai. Riding a motorcycle into these prohibited areas can lead to fines and possible confiscation of the bike. There can also be licensing complications; for example in some cities (such as Beijing,) only motorcycles registered within the metropolitan area can be legally ridden.
One of the reasons motorcycles are banned in cities like Dongguan is because of the amount of motorcyle drive-by robberies common back in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. In the past, it was not uncommon to see two males on a motorcycle drive-by and pull necklaces and snatch purses from female victims.
Most Chinese motorcycles are 125 cc, with 50, 90 and 150 also moderately common. There are also many scooters and three-wheel motorcycle-based cargo vehicles, most with 125 cc engines. At least in some cities you cannot register anything larger than 250 cc. A 125 cc plain-jane Suzuki sells for around ¥4000 ($600 US). A fancier bike with road racer or off-road pretensions would be a bit more, a Chinese brand somewhat less. Some Chinese companies build their own chassis but buy engine/transmission assemblies from Suzuki or Honda; these are probably the best value. Of course, at the lowest end are simply bicycles that have been fitted with engines to function like motorcycles, something probably seen only in China.
Many Chinese often ride without helmets, or only the male will wear one, or with the helmet on but the chin strap usually undone. Three people or more on a motorcycle or two on a bicycle is completely normal, as is having passengers ride sidesaddle. It is moderately common to see up to five on a motorcycle. There is a fairly well-known photo of nine people on a motorcycle, but Snopes says it is partly bogus — the original photo only had eight (two adult couples and four children) and an extra baby was photo-shopped in. Loads of a cubic meter or so are common for both bicycles and motorcycles, and much larger loads are sometimes seen.
All in all considering how dangerous driving in China can be, riding a motorbike there by choice is only for the adventurous and not for the faint hearted.
Insiders Experience, offers off the beaten track city tours and expeditions on vintage jeep and sidecar motorbikes throughout China.
Yinchuan has an annual Motorcycle Tourist Festival in late June.