Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Chang Jiang 750

BMW bought out the R71 motorcycle in 1938. Although originally a civilian motorcycle, it went on to become the standard motorcycle of the German army (at the beginning of the War the Nazi's commandeered all civilian motorcycles - and often their owners - for military use). The motorcycle was used as a dispatch rider, for scouting or transport for mobile infantry. In this guise the R71 was fitted with a sidecar and carried three men (rider, pillion and gunner in the sidecar). Although it had a 750cc twin cylinder engine that put out 18 horsepower, it proved to be a little underpowered in action as there was no drive to the sidecar wheel, so in 1941 the Wehrmacht began replacing the R71 with the new, heavier R75 and the R71 was slowly phased out of front-line service.

Sometime in 1940 while Germany and the Soviet Union were still at peace, the Soviets began producing their own version of the R71 as the Ural M-72. There are two stories to explain the Ural's origin. The first involved the Soviets surrepitiously purchasing 5 examples of the R71 through a Swedish front company and then reverse engineering them. The other story has the Germans handing over the designs and some of the tooling for the R71 to their Soviet allies after it was phased out by the Wermacht. The first story, coming after the German invasion of Russia, does smack a little of Soviet propaganda. At any rate, the Ural M-72 was manufactured in Russia for the Soviet Army until the 1950s when they began manufacturing their version of the BMW R75, whose designs and tooling they had seized from the Germans after the war.
In 1950s China, the Peoples Liberation Army were using a reverse engineered Zundapp KS500 as the template for their standard military motorcycle. The Soviets however now offered to sell the Chinese the designs and tooling for the now obsolete Ural M72 (BMW R71). As it was an advancement on the KS500, which was originally a 1934 design, the Chinese snapped up the deal. Renamed the Chang Jiang 750, it became the standard Chinese military motorcycle. The Chinese made various modifications and enhancements to the design over the decades but the CJ750 which is still manufactured today is, on the whole, little changed from the 1938 motorcycle it once was.

The CJ750 and the Ural M72 have both tapped into market for retro motorcycles, just like the Royal Enfield Bullet (manufactured in India). All these motorcycles have their problems and detractors. Ural has spent some effort tidying up its image, but the quality of the Chang Jiang product is often poor. The electrics are especially noted as being of poor quality. Buying a Chang Jiang is a little like buying a Asian restored Vespa. You need to spend some time and money to 'restore it.' Fortunately they are robust machines and their problems can be overcome.

We didn't see any domestic CJs actually on the road in China as the domestic market is dominated by 125cc Chinese-built Hondas and their derivatives. We did see a CJ showroom out near the Summer Palace in Beijing. In Shangai and Beijing, there are tour companies that drive you around the cities. It's a great way to get around and see the city.

Here are a few links to some CJ and Ural sites:

Monday, November 15, 2010

Chinese Three Wheeled Trucks and Commercials

We saw plenty of odd vehicles in rural China. There were of course tricycle motorcycles with elaborate cabs that made them almost little trucks. They certainly were a step up from the basic trikes in the last post. These we mostly encountered in the south.

In the north especially we encountered hundreds of these blue three wheeled commercials. They came in a variety of forms from a variety of manufacturers (unfortunately it was all Chinese to me so I have no idea what they are called). In the north they absolutely dominate the roads.
This is a very small utility a small step up from the cabbed tricycles above.

Cheaper versions came without cabs.

Blue seemed to be the standard colour everywhere except around Guilin where there was a sudden rush of green.

The trucks came in a variety of sizes. Some were fully fledged trucks with dual cabs and tipping trays. They had very noisy engines. They sounded like they were two strokes, but it may have been that they just had very poor exhaust systems.

I believe these trucks are the descendants of the German Tempo Drierad (three wheeler). Vidal and Sons of Bremen built three wheeled Tempo Hanseat trucks from the 1930s and the late 1950s. They were powered by either a single or twin cylinder two-stroke engine. In 1957, Vidal and Sons sold the production rights for the Tempo to the Indian Bajaj company (now Force Motors Limited Bajaj also built a licensed version of the Vespa). In India they became known as the Dukkar triporter or rickshaw. Force continued building the Hanseat, virtually unchanged from its original 1933 spec until 2000 - the longest production run of a motorised vehicle in the world - 67 years! The only real change they made was the replace the two stroke engine with a single cylinder diesel engine. Force replaced the old style Haseat with the newer styled three wheelers photographed above. These are still being built under license in China. Here is a link to an article about the Indian triporters.

A photo of a Dukkar triporter in India.

While the blue three wheelers dominated northern China, in the south the agricultural scene was dominated by these green machines. These machines are based on a design that is common across the old Communist world. Originating in Russia, they are absolutely basic in design and construction. In their most basic form they are little more than a trailer attached to an engine by a pivoting beam. The engine drives the front wheel by means of a belt transmission.

These Chinese versions offer a little more comfort and features than the basic models you sometimes see if eastern Europe. They came in four and three wheeled versions.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Return of the Microcar in China

I was really surprised by the number of electric vehicles on the roads in China. In the regional areas, little three wheeled electric 'town cars' were everywhere. There were plenty of different makes and models and they came in both petrol and electric versions. Almost every six months some company in the west announces a new-fangled, space-aged microcar prototype at some car show, which quickly disappears and is never heard of again. China meanwhile just gets on and builds the damn things. They sell because they are actually true to the raison de entre for microcars - they are cheap and simple. With a plastic / fibreglass body and officially classed a 'three wheel motorcycle', these cars are incredibly cheap (~ $6000USD).

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Bikes and Trikes in China

Shelly and I spent three weeks in October travelling around in China. I must admit China was nothing like what I expected. I was expecting scooter and motorcycle chaos like in Bali and Vietnam. Instead, there was only the silent whirring of electric scooters. In Beijing and Shanghai there were almost no petrol diven scooters or motorbikes at all. I assume this was part of China's environmental clean up push.

Brand spanking new scooters in a showroom outside Shanghai.

Roadside scooter park. Almost all the modern scooters - and there were dozens and dozens of makes - were electric.

This electric scooter is kind of styled like a Harley Topper. I only saw three of these on the whole trip.

Electric scoots charging up.

Some of the electric scooters were absolutely basic.

This was a very popular little electric scooter in Beijing. Behind it are typical Beijing taxi trikes.

People had all manner of aftermarket sunshades, windscreens and accessories fitted to their machines.

This lady was riding along with an umbrella fixed to the bike. The fact that it wasn't blown away highlights the fact that most bikes and scooters in China are driven at relatively slow speeds. These machines are not suited to Australian road conditions where a constant minimum speed of 60 kilometres per hour are required.

Wuyang Hondas dominated the market in the south. These are outside Kunming. All domestic motorcycles appeared to be limited to 125cc.

But they don't make the most comfortable bed!

A mixture of old and new in Yangshuo. A Wuyang Honda and a pedal trike. Most bikes had aftermarket legshields added.

A little commercial trike in Shanghai with aftermarket roof.

Shanghai taxi trikes.

A taxi trike motorcycle. The stainless steel bodywork was typically Beijing.

Tianjin manufacture a whole range of trike commercial motorcycles. Guilin in the south-west seemed to have a large number of vendors.

A very battered old commercial trike outside Beijing. Some machines were almost moving wrecks. In the north almost every commercial trike was painted blue. In the south, the market seemed dominated by the red Tianjin commercial.

More commercial trikes doing their thing.

One of the wildest rides of our lives - taxi trike in Xian.