Beijing by sidecar
Written by Oryx
Looking for something more adventurous and personalised than a double-decker bus tour? Then head for Beijing and hop into a 1930s-style Chang Jiang 750 motorbike-with-sidecar.
London has the ubiquitous double-decker bus, Amsterdam its canal tours, and in Melbourne you hop on and off a tram. Beijing, though, does things differently. The Chang Jiang 750 sidecar-motorbike has been in production since the early 1950s, and while motorcycle enthusiasts have long had an affectionate place for it, its recent resurgence has spilt over to tourism.
Gael Thoreau of Beijing Sideways explains: “Roaring through the traffic – or along the country roads towards the Great Wall – really allows one to feel and smell and see the city, much more than from a chauffeured car or bus.”
Gael, who moved to Beijing from Brittany, France 10 years ago has a well-oiled team of trained drivers and guides, who organise a range of day, evening, or half-day inner city tours, and longer tours to lesser-visited areas of the Great Wall.
Up to 20 thrill-seekers at a time zoom along the busy roads, lanes, and byways of China’s capital in these renovated three-wheel antiques. With the wind in your hair (helmets are optional) and the smells of the city all around, the unique visual perspective coupled with the vicarious feeling of being part of a one-day motorcycle gang, are as much a part of the experience as the sights themselves.
As well as tackling Beijing ‘essentials’, such as the imposing Forbidden City, Ming Dynasty-era Tiananmen Square, and iconic ‘Bird’s Nest’ Olympic stadium, the CJ750 is also able to negotiate the city’s bustling hutongs (lanes) – too narrow to visit by car – which offer a rich cameo of life in Beijing before the advent of skyscrapers and steel. And the mode of transport makes it easy to stop for any reason, such as enjoying a cup of tea at Gulou, or exploring the flea market at Panjiayuan.
Feel the need for the open road? Then take a one-day or overnight tour to the Great Wall. En route, you’ll stop at the astonishing Zhang-Laffitte, built by multi-millionaire real estate developer Zhang Yuchen as a copy of the 17th-century baroque Château de Maisons-Laffitte, to which he added two wings from the Palace of Fontaineb-leau. It includes a hotel, spa, and – fittingly – a wine museum.
Climbing out of the well-padded sidecars at the Great Wall, take a short hike through orchards of walnut, peach, and cherry trees, before traversing a more deserted portion of the Wall and settling down to a well-earned picnic with a Parisian flair. After another hike to take in the spectacular panoramic views of the countryside, your newly-formed ‘gang’ rejoins the vintage bikes in a different location, then rides back into town as the sun sets.
CJ750s Around The World
While tour companies like Beijing Sideways offer a thrilling three-wheel experience, the CJ750 has fans across the world, from rentals in the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa (www.sidecars.co.za), to mechanics in Montreal – who all meet at the community web site www.cj750.org.
Danny ‘California’ Woody – whose machines can be seen on the second floor of the Shanghai Ritz Carlton – produces some of the finest CJ750 restorations. Danny’s sidecars include special details for the ultra-vintage look, such as a shower hose to cover cables, and feature flawless paint jobs.
Germany’s BMW R71 motorbike/sidecar combination of the 1930s was copied by the Russian military, to become the IMZ (Irbitski Mototsikletniy Zavod) M-72. When the plant in Gorky closed, the tooling was sold to China’s People’s Liberation Army; thus, the Chang Jiang 750 sidecar-bike was born. Production of the CJ750 continued through to the mid-1980s, and with around 1.5 million built, it is the third largest production motorcycle in the world.
Today’s CJ750 M1 (22hp, 746cc side valve) is a copy of the original M-72 right down to the 6V electrical system and other quaint features.