Motorcycles in China: Motorbikes Type, Restrictions and Regulations, Safety Practices and Risks

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 driver’s license, insurance, and permits to travel around China on their personal motorcycle. Despite that, quite a few foreign residents have bikes, and some tourists may want to try it. 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 license.

Restrictions and Regulations

Traffic 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.

Safety Concerns

One of the reasons motorcycles are banned in cities like Dongguan is because of the amount of motorcycle drive-by robberies common back in the 1990s and early 2000s. 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.China Motorbike Tour

Motorcycle Types and Prices

Common Motorcycles

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, and 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. At the lowest end are bicycles that have been fitted with engines to function like motorcycles, something probably seen only in China.

Imported Motorcycles

You can also find imported Japanese bikes in most cities. Look on the outskirts for motorcycle repair shops, and eventually, you will find one with some older model XRs or CBRs or the like. A 10-year-old CBR400 should be about ¥4000 in good shape. The Honda XR250 is also fairly common but a bit more expensive, around ¥10,000 for a 5 to 8-year-old bike. The laws are not very clear on these bikes; if you buy one, be careful of the police as they may confiscate the bike. In 2006, a few foreigners in Shanghai were detained and evicted for unlicensed riding.

High-End Options

Few imported motorcycles meet the homologation requirements, including some BMW and Honda. Even if they are considered “big bikes”, they can be registered in some Chinese cities. Ask the selling shops for help. Jialing and Zhongzhen started selling 600 cc motorcycles on the Chinese market; the price, including registration, should start at about ¥35,000.

Safety Practices and Risks

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 photoshopped 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.

Sidecar Rigs

Historical Background

The most interesting bikes in China are Chang Jiang. Back in the 1930s, BMW designed a 750 cc flat twin side-valve sidecar rig for the German army. They were built in the Soviet Union because the Treaty of Versailles forbade the Germans from building military equipment, including motorcycles, and at the time, Hitler and Stalin were on good terms. At the end of the war, the Russians took the entire factory in Germany as well, moved the whole operation to the Urals, and continued producing bikes to that design. The Russian brands are called Dnieper and Volga. They also gave or sold China the equipment, and Chang Jiang are the result. There’s also a modernized version with overhead valves and an electric starter. These are not your high-performance sport bikes; even the new OHV model is only 32 horsepower. However, they were designed for military use and are very solidly built. They are about ¥20,000. They are invariably sold and ridden with the sidecar; it might not be possible to license them without it.

Antique Considerations

There are lots of older Chang Jiangs around, and if you buy one that is old enough, it may be classed as an antique vehicle. This might mean it is exempt from your country’s import restrictions; most safety and pollution laws have some sort of exemption for antiques. This is risky: some people have lost bikes at customs. You need a thorough understanding of your country’s regulations before even considering it.

Vendors and Services

One vendor that does this type of export is Sidecar Solutions in Beijing. They also rent bikes, organize tours, and help with Chinese drivers’ licenses. Another Beijing Chang Jiang specialist with similar services is Gerald. Shanghai has a dealer called Wild Wolf Sidecar and a motorcycle club that includes many Chang Jiang riders. It is common for a rebuilt machine from one of these vendors to cost somewhat more than a new bike straight from the factory would; people say they are worth it because of the better quality control.

Long-Distance Riding

A real fanatic might consider riding a Chang Jiang from China to Europe using routes in the Europe to South Asia overland and Silk Road itineraries. You could get service on the bikes in Russia from people familiar with Dneiper and Volga; some parts are even interchangeable.

Motorcycle Tours

Organized Tours

There are motorcycle-based tours of various areas, often with rental of a Chang Jiang included:

  • The “Genghis Khan Run” an Epic Classic Premium ride, 12 days Inner Mongolia to the Great Wall. Toys for big boys, rough enough with just the right luxury trimmings, Cuban cigars, grain-fed beefsteak, etc.
  • HC Travel, based in the UK, offers Chang Jiang tours to the Great Wall, Tibet, and Mongolia.
  • Dragon Bike Tours, Chinese-based, offers a Silk Road tour.
  • Asia Bike Tours, based in India and using Enfields, run a tour into Tibet.
  • 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.

Electric Scooters

Advantages and Disadvantages

Electric scooters are common and cheaper than motorcycles (¥1,500 for a base model, ¥3,500 for the top-of-the-line). While they lack the horsepower and range of a motorcycle, they are quieter, cleaner, lighter, and easier to maintain. Beware, however, that while in terms of emission and noise pollution they are a welcome choice for China’s overcrowded and choked urban roads, they are very, very silent and often you will not hear them coming at all until it’s too late. This, of course, makes the danger of a serious collision with a pedestrian common. Scooters come with a battery (or batteries) that are usually removable as well as rechargeable from a household outlet. At least in some cities, these vehicles are licensed as a bicycle so one does not need a driver’s license to ride them and may take advantage of bike lanes and sidewalks (if present) to circumvent traffic. However, like motorcycles, some cities have banned them. The alleged reason is that many motorized bikes are being used in bag snatch crimes. Others suggest it is to make room for people with cars and people movers. Do not expect the majority of electric bike riders to ever use the headlights at night or dusk.


Scooters are a target for thieves, so always ensure that one of the wheels or, ideally, both are secured with a solid lock. Batteries as well are liable to be stolen and should be locked to the scooter with the built-in mechanism or stored indoors while not in use. Some residences allow for scooters to be brought indoors overnight, which is preferable.

Buying a Used Scooter

The bulk of used scooter sales are increasingly conducted over the Internet. Native Chinese who are knowledgeable in such matters should be able to direct you to a good website for your particular city. Be sure to understand what to look for when purchasing a used scooter. Most importantly, a scooter’s battery, like all forms of batteries, will lose its ability to hold a charge over time. It is often possible to purchase a new battery to go along with a used bike, however.