Driving in China is difficult, especially for anyone not used to local conditions. For most visitors it is better to use other means of transport.
Many Chinese cities have good bus or subway systems, and nearly all have cheap, ubiquitous taxis. For travel between cities there are trains, planes and buses (see China#Get around), and the fast train network is generally excellent. If you do rent or buy a car, consider hiring a driver with it; this is relatively cheap and will enable you to enjoy your visit more.
Traffic in much of China is chaotic at best. One should not expect vehicles to stop at red lights, as motorcycles and bicycles regularly go through red lights without slowing down. Also, do not expect vehicles to go with traffic, as cars, motorcycles, and bicycles regularly go against the flow of traffic (e.g. going southbound in a northbound lane). Furthermore, do not expect only pedestrians on sidewalks, as motorcycles and bicycles (and the occasional four-wheel vehicle) regularly zip along the sidewalk as if it is just another lane on the road. Also, watch out for and safely take pictures of people on silent electric motorcycles who do not even slow down at red lights, with cigarette in mouth, one hand on the steering handle, and the other with a cell phone, talking, and beeping at the pedestrian walking with a green walk signal, for getting in the motorcyclist's way. However, with all this, and not to condone this type of road behavior, there are fewer accidents than one may expect given this chaos, mainly because people most often do slow down if they see you.
A related consequence of this chaos is the liberal use of horns. A new visitor may be taken aback by all the noises from the horns and traffic, especially considering that people will have no problem blaring their horns at the wee hours of the night, and the honking is 24/7. Motorcyclists will honk when pedestrians are crossing at green lights, the car driver will honk when the car in front of them suddenly stops in the middle of the road to walk their kid to school. All too often the motorcycle taxis will honk to get you to be their fare, and the car driver will honk when a pedestrian is walking on the sidewalk because the car wants to overtake the pedestrian on the narrow sidewalk. Road rage does not seem to be a problem.
Motorized vehicles typically travel on the right side of the road, with the exceptions noted in the above paragraph.
You must have a Chinese license to drive in China, a fast-tracked way is to obtain a Temporary Driver’s License.
You cannot drive with an International Driver's Permit in mainland China; China has not signed the convention which created IDPs. You must have a Chinese license to drive in China. (Hong Kong-, Macau- or Taiwan-issued licenses are not considered Chinese licenses.)
Chinese laws stated that foreign residents can have driver's licenses and that an IDP can be converted to a local license, possibly with an additional examination. It is now possible to get a provisional driver's license very easily in major cities like Beijing. You can get one directly from the counters at Beijing Capital Airport without any tests. Actually getting a regular license may be quite complicated. The particular complications seem to vary from place to place and over time.
- First, there is a computerized theory test of 100 out of over 1300 multiple choice questions with 90% as a pass mark; if you do not pass, you can do a second test without paying any further fee. In major cities, these tests are available in multiple languages. In smaller places, the officials may insist you do it in Chinese. Some allow you to bring a translator; others do not. It is common that besides just translating, the translator will dictate you correct answers and expect a small fee of not more than 100 yuan.
- Generally, but not always, you are excused from the actual driving test if you have a foreign license.
- Holders of a Belgian driving license can get a Chinese license, valid for six years, without a test. Belgium is the only country that enjoys this benefit. You need to provide a translation of the license from an official translation bureau, a physical examination certificate from a Chinese hospital and two photos.
The easiest way for a foreigner to get a Mainland license is to take the following action: in Hong Kong, convert your foreign license into a Hong Kong license for about USD120. Then, go to China (Guangzhou is probably the easiest place) and convert your Hong Kong license into a Chinese license.
It is doable to pass the test all by yourself. The paperwork (registration for the test, testing, fetching license) is all done in the driving test center (e.g. in Xili for Shenzhen area). You will have to go there several times and therefore it is quite time consuming. The better way is to ask one of the small driving schools, which can be found at every second corner in Shenzhen to do all the paperwork for you. The test can be done everywhere in at least English, and the English questions for preparation are not hard to find.
In most places, private tutoring is allowed given common sense and reasonable care: that means in practice that at least one person in the car must have a valid license but not necessarily the driver.
At least in some cities electric scooters are legally treated as bicycles. You do need to register the vehicle but only with a bicycle license which is cheaper and easier than a motorcycle license. You do not need a driver's license to ride it. Some cities completely ban the use of electric bicycles. There may be restrictions in where you can ride it, e.g. not in the main traffic lanes.
There are self-drive tours of various areas, often with service that includes getting a Chinese driver's license for the foreign driver and renting a car for the trip included.
In mainland China, traffic drives on the right-hand side of the road. Various neighbours such as Hong Kong, Macau, India, Nepal and Pakistan drive on the left.
The Road Traffic Safety Law of the People's Republic of China (中华人民共和国道路交通安全法) applies to all vehicles in China except military vehicles. Government, military, police and fire department vehicles have number plates that are white, and they are not as bound by traffic rules as 'normal' vehicles. They may run a red light or simply go in the wrong direction or weave in and out of traffic.
There is a supplementary regulation to the Road Traffic Safety Law (中华人民共和国道路交通安全法实施条例) which specifies how specific regulations in the main law are supposed to be carried out. Your licence is governed by a separate Public Security Ministry regulation.
The most serious offence is that of drunk driving, which will just about wipe all your demerit points if you've "had a bit" to drink — and will actually send you off to jail if you're drunk! The police are very visible in the late evening hours if they suspect people might be gathering to have a drink (such as during televised World Cup matches).
For minor scrapes between vehicles most people just ignore and drive on. Sometimes people do stop to 'discuss' the incident and it is common that the failing driver pay about ¥100 or so to the other driver, and that is then the end of the matter. If you and the other driver cannot agree on compensation then you must not move the cars until the police arrive, which can take time. This also results in many of the massive traffic jams you will encounter on Chinese roads. Police usually check registration and licenses and photograph the incident. In case of personal injury, you should stop and offer assistance. It is highly unlikely that a person not involved in the accident from the general public will offer any assistance outside of perhaps helping you phone the police. Police response time can be poor or very slow. Chinese are very hesitant to offer assistance because of a supposed fear of being sued and the supposed fact that person who phones for an ambulance must pay the bill. At least this is the conventional wisdom.
Beware of large imported luxury cars. Sometimes they belong to gangsters or young, immature relatives of a senior party member or other officials, who consider themselves to be above the law, which, unfortunately in a country like China where corruption and nepotism are still significant issues, is often the case.
If you suspect that the police have taken bribes from the other party, which often happens, make them aware that you know about the supervisory commision (which ruthlessly deals with corruption) or the Tourist Complaint Board. It can have a profound effect on procedures. Police in China are usually very helpful and understanding towards visitors but biases have been reported against foreigners regarding blame in traffic accidents.
Speed limits are as follows:
- 30 km/h (19 mph) on city roads where there is only one lane per direction, 40 km/h (25 mph) on China National Highways;
- up to 70 km/h (43 mph) on city roads where there is a major road with central reservation or two yellow lines or 80 km/h (50 mph) on China National Highways;
- 100 km/h (62 mph) on city express roads;
- 120 km/h (75 mph) on expressways.
Tolerance is generally around 10 km/h (6 mph). Some expressways may have tolerance set all the way up to 20 km/h (12 mph); however, anything around 15 km/h (9 mph) to 20 km/h (12 mph) over the stated speed limit is relatively high risk.
Speed traps are conveniently identified with the characters "雷达测速区" (radar speed check zone) or "超速摄像" (speeding detection camera).
Penalties for exceeding the speed limits are as follows:
- up to ¥200 for excess speeds over 10 km/h (6 mph) but under 50% of the speed limit. Example: if driving at 100 km/h (62 mph) in a 80 km/h (50 mph) zone.
- up to ¥2000 and possible loss of license for excess speeds over 50% of the speed limit. Example: if driving at 190 km/h (118 mph) on a 120 km/h (75 mph) expressway.
Speeding is common to normal in cities and in the countryside adding to the already dangerous driving environment. Some enforcement can be found on the expressway systems. Speeders are commonly known as biao che (飙车).
The physical condition of roads and road maintenance varies greatly from municipality to municipality with the Western provinces being poorer than the East coast. As the building and maintenance of roads are mostly funded by local government, you may notice a sharp change when crossing provincial borders. Places with decent economy have superb infrastructure.
When possible, drive near the middle-right of the road as drain covers are often stolen. The side of the road is usually a mixture of pedestrian, bicycles, tricycles, drain well without covers, and in rural areas, animals. The side of roads are also frequently occupied by premises, vendors and other non-road users.
Turning off of main roads may require technical off-road driving skills and equipment, and in some places it is illegal.
In major city roads traffic is often congested, even on the myriad of city ring roads (except those on the outer fringes of the city). Beijing comes in at the worst (comparatively), despite five ring roads and nine arterial expressways. Shanghai ranks relatively better, with elevated expressways and tunnels.
The congestion is far more complex than that in Western countries. Bicycles swarm everywhere even in the dark. In many areas, there are also lots of motorcycles. In the smaller cities, anything from tractors to bullock carts may turn up!
China National Highways
Beijing municipality is the only administrative unit where tolls are not charged for all national highways. Though most national highways are free, there are toll roads on the national, and sometimes on the provincial level as well.
G-level (national) China National Highways are a pleasure to drive on. The speed limit is 80 km/h (50 mph), but cars often zip at speeds over 100 km/h (62 mph), thanks to the relative absence of speed detection cameras.
S-level (provincial) highways may be less smooth to drive on. Unlike national highways, sometimes there is no central reservation or road separation, and you may be limited to one lane per direction.
X-level (county) highways are not necessarily the worst to drive on, but they can be challenging. More challenging are township-level highways. Some of these roads may be in areas officially cordoned off to the visiting foreigner.
Expressways and express routes in China are a godsend, with traffic signs in both English and Chinese, emergency facilities, service areas, sufficient filling stations, plenty of exits, high speed limits, and the relative lack of traffic jams. However, when one does occur expect to wait several hours or in rare cases even days for the traffic to clear as damaged cars or trucks or usually not taken off the roadway after the accident resulting in kilometer upon kilometer of jammed roadways. Furthermore, this will result in drivers jockeying for position and jamming the emergency shoulder adding further waiting time to the traffic jam and potentially more accidents. Traffic jams are also common during major holidays such as Chinese New Year.
Rest areas that include shops and petrol stations are built along expressways, but their services vary by provinces. While rest areas in Eastern provinces will have a range of shops and facilities, rest areas in Northeast China or Northwest China may only have shabby petrol stations and convenience shops, probably even lacking sufficient lighting.
Although in English express routes and expressways are referred to as "expressways", their Chinese counterparts are named differently. "Express routes" are written 快速公路, whereas expressways are written as 高速公路. The idea is that express routes link of cities and larger municipalities, but expressways do the national work, liaising from one centre to another.
Express routes have lower speed limits than expressways. In Beijing, a few expressways have speed limits below express routes: these are the Jingjintang Expressway (Beijing segment) and the Jingha Expressway (Beijing segment). They are clocked at 90 km/h (56 mph).
In cities, most level crossings in China are manned and supervised, and railway staff will intercept anyone who attempts to cross when a train is going to pass. So despite all the chaos on Chinese roads, level crossings are somewhat safer. Most vehicles tend to ignore the signal to stop when alternating red lights of a level crossing sign flash until the gate is closed. As a result, gates are usually closed a long while before the train actually arrives, which may delay your journey.
The purple light under the red lights means that the level crossing is functional. Maintenance however, may vary, and in extreme cases, both lights and bells may be too dim/weak. Stop at a level crossing either when alternating red lights are flashing or gates are closing.
Lastly, there are always plenty of unmanned level crossings in rural China. Pay extreme attention when driving through these crossings. If you hear a train horn, a train may be crossing such a level crossing.
Printed street maps for most major cities, as well as national and provincial roads atlases are commonly available. Major bookstores (e.g. the national Xinhua chain) usually stock maps and atlases at least for the local area; city maps are also often sold by vendors near train stationsen and in other locations commonly visited by travelers.
Among online maps, Google Maps, as of 2017, has been blocked in China for some years, although some can access it via a VPN. One peculiarity of Google Maps' coverage of China is that all the maps are shifted by a few hundred meters (in various directions) with respect to "satellite view"; this is particularly noticeable in the display of border cities, such as Heihe/Blagoveshchensk, Hekou/Lao Cai, of Khorgos. Some other online maps services, such as Baidu Maps and Bing Maps are normally accessible in China, but the quality of coverage is spotty, varying not only from one city to another, but even between districts in the same city. One may need to compare several services' coverage of the same area in order to decide which on is more adequate in a given area.
Any street or road map, printed or online, needs to be taken with a grain of salt, since even a recent map may combine current and obsolete information, as well as some wishful thinking. It's not unusual for what looks like a perfectly good road on the map to suddenly be blocked by a concrete fence, a construction site, or a vegetable garden.
In 2016, China had over 140,000 road traffic accidents. In 2013, the World Health Organisation estimated China had 18.8 deaths per 100,000 population. This number is approximately twice that of the USA (10.6) and four times that of Europe (5).
To a newcomer, Chinese traffic appears to have no rules or, if there are rules, it appears they are neither followed nor enforced. In reality, of course, there are rules; they do generally manage to avoid hitting each other. However, Chinese rules are very different from what most travelers are used to.
Do not assume that Chinese drivers will follow any rule you know. The rule is much more that they care only for their own vehicle.
Foreign drivers must try to adapt to this (or, perhaps more sensibly, give up and take taxis or hire a driver). You do not have to learn to drive like a Chinese, but at least you should not be surprised when they do. In the absence of road signage, the rules of the road specify that the vehicle ahead has right of way (see Right of Way section in this article). Therefore there is absolutely no point getting angry if someone cuts you off or drives against the red light or on the wrong side of the road. You simply yield and carry on as if nothing had happened.
Every car/driver has a "body language" which predicts what they will do next. It is essential to learn this "body language" and drive by it. If you are driving down a four lane road, and the lane in front of the taxi to the right of you and slightly ahead of you is blocked, the lane ahead is free, you should immediately assume the taxi will move left into your lane without any warning. This sort of thinking ahead, or defensive driving, can help you avoid many problems but of course you cannot predict everything that may happen.
Another way to look at it is that there are only two rules you must obey, both equally important. Don't hit anything, and don't get hit by anything.
Despite all the above, driving conditions are not as chaotic as in say, Vietnam or Indonesia. Many foreigners do drive in China and, after adapting, some feel reasonably comfortable and confident about it.
Right of way
The concept of right-of-way is quite different in China than in many other countries. "First is Right," or less succinctly, any vehicle with a slight position lead or access to a gap before another vehicle has de-facto right of way to enter that gap. This essentially allows for any driver the habit of cutting right out into the traffic flow forcing the opposing vehicle to either stop or crash. This rule applies to lane changes too that can come at anytime from any angle. Be alert to brake at any moment! If you do not force your way in, you will not ever be allowed to enter the flow of traffic at busy sections.
The general rule appears to be keep moving no matter what. Cutting people off, swerving into the oncoming lane, driving on the shoulder, or in a fenced-off bicycle lane, or the wrong way down a divided highway are all fine as long as they keep you moving in the right general direction and do not cause an immediate accident. It is even fairly common to see cars, trucks and motorcycles all on the sidewalk along with pedestrians and bikes all going their own separate ways! Taxis are the worst offenders.
Merging: vehicles depart from intersections, side streets, alleys and parking lots, merging onto any road without yielding to traffic already underway on that road (and often apparently without a glance at oncoming traffic). If the merging driver can reach any opening in traffic, the oncoming cars are expected to yield and allow the merge.
Lane changes: lane changes and turns are more often than not signaled, but then the "first is right" rule reigns, and yielding is expected of a trailing vehicle, even if only trailing by a small margin. Imagine where the collision dent will be: if someone enters your lane and you strike the side of their vehicle, it will be assumed that you failed to yield even though they cut you off.
Left turns: at intersections, upon a red-to-green light change, vehicles intending to turn left across straight-through traffic will usually enter the intersection to accomplish their turn before straight-through traffic can proceed. Allowing the turning vehicles to complete the maneuver is the best practice. Such turns are aided by the yellow-before-green traffic light sequence common in China. Furthermore, observe this protocol and use a red-to-green light change as de facto left turn arrow. If possible use a leading turning vehicle as a shield. Be aware that vehicles behind you (using you as a shield) will often try to veer to either side of you, completing their turn without regard for your situation.
As always, "first is right"; trailing traffic is expected to yield. In other words, a "new" green light is usually regarded as a "left arrow".
Regarding left-hand turns in general; a vehicle desiring to turn left across oncoming traffic will not yield to oncoming, established traffic and await a "safe" opening. Any opening may be exploited, the required minimum size of the opening apparently depends on the left turning driver's sense of self-preservation (larger vehicles and poorer quality vehicles will take more chances). Oncoming vehicles that slow in wariness of a possible ill-advised turn, will often prompt the turning driver to commit. Oncoming drivers are advised to continue without pause, while preparing for heavy braking or lane changes to accommodate the turner.
Car-pedestrian interactions are complicated; ubiquitous pedestrians, bikes, and cycles, often acting negligent or even oblivious toward surrounding traffic, are generally considered to have possessed Right of Way in any collision between them and a vehicle. If a larger vehicle strikes a pedestrian or rider, the larger vehicle will generally be assumed liable. Bearing that in mind, vehicles will use their speed and security advantage, and often the horn, to maneuver through even densely occupied crossings. Aware pedestrians will generally expect a vehicle will force through a walk way, and are often confused if the vehicle halts to allow them passage. Painted cross walks (white bars painted on road ways) are not typically observed as "pedestrian protected" areas, but woe to a driver who strikes a pedestrian there. Never assume a driver will actually stop for you at a marked crossing. Drivers will actually push anything in front of them off the sidewalk or side of the road, it is assumed you will move out of their way.
Running red lights
Chinese drivers routinely go through red lights if there is no opposing traffic. Pedestrians do not count as traffic; just honk at them to get out of the way or swerve around them. It is also moderately common to run red lights even in the presence of other traffic. This become less after visible road-rule enforcement cameras are widely installed.
In some places, it is legal for car drivers to make a right turn against a red light - albeit they ignore the latter part of the rule 'turn with caution' - it's all too common for cars, and more notoriously, trucks, to fly round an intersection too fast and unfortunately accidents involving pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists are too common.
Chinese traffic law does actually permit emergency vehicles to run red lights as well, however Chinese police often flashes emergency lights to enhance police presence. Most suspects not on duty will also include government and military vehicles, and even diplomats.
Many drivers of very large construction trucks prefer to drive late at night (10pm-4am) on roads such as the Jingmi Highway or Chaoyang North Road (in Beijing). These drivers are paid by how many trips they make and because of this they are notorious among Chinese and expatriates for running red lights, seemingly without slowing down. They will also most likely be abominably overloaded, almost certainly for (illegitimate!) economic reasons as well.
Two-way traffic everywhere
Bicycles and motorcycles and sometimes cars ignore one-way signs. On divided highways, seeing pedestrians, bicycles and motorcycles going the wrong way down the shoulder is entirely normal, and a few go the wrong way beside the center fence. At traffic circles (roundabouts), drivers hate going around the island in the middle if they can avoid it; they will often just swing left instead. Lane markings are also routinely ignored; for example, taxis often go straight through an intersection via a lane marked as left turn only, because that gets them past other cars.
On newer roads there may be, for example, a roughly triangular traffic island southwest of an actual intersection. Two sides are roads; the third is a curving lane intended for drivers making a right turn form eastbound to southbound. In China, drivers turning left from northbound to westbound routinely use that lane.
Many Chinese cities have bicycle lanes fenced off on either side of the road. These lanes will carry two-way traffic regardless of the direction of the traffic flow: including bicycles and motorcycles plus the occasional car, truck and pedestrians. Cars routinely take to these lanes if traffic in the main lanes is jammed; they then honk at bicyclists to force them out of the way using their horn as a form of "sonic plow" clearing the way in front of them. The driver is operating under the assumption you will move and if you don't move in a timely fashion you are risking being struck down if walking or on a bicycle and will most likely be blamed.
Even the sidewalks often carry two-way bicycle and motorcycle traffic, plus the odd car going to or from a parking spot. Cars again operate under the assumption they own the sidewalk and its up to you to get out of their way. Again, even on the sidewalks, vehicles honk at pedestrians to get them out of their way.
Lorry drivers may not bother with switching on lights at night. You should. Switch on your headlamps — all (reasonable!) lights on, in fact, if there is no other vehicle approaching you. Please be aware in doing this, if the local police catch you in a vehicle with lights on during daytime, you will be fined — this will be very different to some road rules in Europe and Canada!
Few Chinese drivers seem to know about dimming their headlights for approaching cars. Except on some freeways, driving at night is unpleasant and dangerous. Avoid it if at all possible.
When driving at night, be very aware that people often walk in the middle of the road, with the back to the oncoming traffic, in dark clothes. This is one reason local drivers do not often dip the lights. In the country, there may even be people sleeping on the road.
Bicycles very rarely have lights and many do not even have reflectors. Motorcycles often run at night without lights. Both are sometimes on the wrong side of the road.
Tunnels on expressways usually have lights on at all times; however those on minor highways may be unlit, even for miles! Make sure your vehicle's lights are in good working order.
Overtaking on the right, despite being illegal, is very common in China. One reason is that slow vehicles often drive in the center lane of multi-lane roads, If you find yourself behind such a vehicle and want to pass on the right, be alert for anything from motorcycles to horse-drawn carts in the right lane.
Public buses and many private buses, rather than acting as professional drivers responsible to their human cargo, are often among the most aggressive drivers; Many in the countryside routinely ignore stoplights or fail to slow while turning, will pass stopped or slower traffic even if this requires using the oncoming traffic lanes, and will often employ their sheer size to enforce merging. Again, "first is right": if the front of a vehicle hits the side or rear of another vehicle, the front-dented vehicle is assumed at fault, no matter the circumstances that preceded the collision.
At night, illegal racing is another problem. Chinese police is known to be inefficient when dealing with illegal racers. The situation becomes more complex when illegal racers have relation to government officials (i.e. nepotism). Gas theft can be a problem on highway rest areas, though most thief targets truckers at rest.
You should pay extra caution if there are vehicles with military license plates. As military vehicles are not governed by normal traffic police, some drivers may employ fake military plates to avoid being caught with traffic offenses and pay motorway tolls (Police and military vehicles are excluded from paying motorway tolls). These fake license plates can be hard to spot. Besides, there can be real military vehicles which were driven erratically.
Known as "pengci" (碰瓷) in Chinese, there are plenty of con-artists who wilfully cause staged crashes, and demanding expensive compensation. Stay vigilant if there are erratically acting pedestrians or vehicles. Meanwhile there are also con-artists who falsely (and unfortunately, successfully) accuse good Samartians during traffic accidents. In case of a traffic accident, please always dial for police or film the scene before helping others.
New drivers are often marked with the label 实习, but their driving quality varies from acceptable to deplorable. Stay away from them if you can—they are often overwhelmed by the traffic as well.
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. 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 licence.
There are some restrictions. 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, Xiamen, 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. Motorcycles are also generally prohibited from entering expressways. You are advised to check the signs in expressway entrances if motorcycles are prohibited on that expressway. Traffic surveillance cameras are prevalent, making it almost impossible to circumvent the consequences of sneaking a motorcycle into expressways.
Thanks to an increase in dangerous motorcycle driving and parallel imported motorcycles, motorcyclists may subject to more frequent pull-overs by the police. However, police checks won't be a hassle if you have the necessary documents and licenses.
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 rarely seen outside of China.
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 are 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 they may confiscate the bike. In 2006, a few foreigners in Shanghai were detained and evicted for unlicensed riding.
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 have started selling 600 cc motorcycles on the Chinese market; price including registration should start at about ¥35,000.
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. 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.
Perhaps 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 Russia because the treaty of Versailles forbade the Germans to build military motorcycles. Later there was a factory in Germany and at the end of the war the Russians took that, 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.
Side valve machines are still produced but there is also a modernised version with overhead valves and electric starter. These are not your high performance sport bike; even the new OHV model is only 32 horsepower. However, they were designed for military use and are very solidly built. Prices are ¥20-odd thousand. They are invariably sold and ridden with the sidecar; it might not be possible to license them without it.
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.
One vendor that does this type of export is Sidecar Solutions [dead link] in Beijing. They also rent bikes, organise tours, and help with Chinese drivers licenses. Another Beijing Chiang Jiang specialist with similar services is Chiangjiang Unlimited. 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.
A real fanatic might consider riding a Chang Jiang from China to Europe using routes in the Europe to South Asia over land 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.
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, grainfed beefsteak etc.
- Dragon Bike Tours Chinese based, offer a Silk Road tour
- Asia Bike Tours, based in India and using Enfields, run a tour into Tibet
Electric scooters are common and cheaper than motorcycles (¥1,500 for a base model, ¥3,500 for the top-of-the-line; you can rent one for less than ¥100 per day). 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, but they are very very silent and often you will not hear them coming at all until its 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 motorised 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 electro-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.
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 batteries, will lose its ability to hold a charge over time. It is often possible to purchase a new battery for a used bike.
- [formerly dead link] Bohai Train Ferry, ☏ (Yantai), ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Sails between Yantai North Station and Dalian Lüshun West Station, and provides car ferry service apart from train service. ¥550.00 (for sedans less than 6 m).
China railway ferry runs from Haian South Station to Haikou Station, known as North Port and South Port respectively for car drivers.
There are also car ferry services runs from Haian Port to Haikou New Port. Tickets for both ferry services can only be purchased on spot.