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IMZ-Ural (USA)

Chang Jiang (China)

Royal Enfield Bullet (India)

Royal Enfield Bullet (USA)


Here's a little bit about the motorcycles I've ridden, the WWII-style sidecar bikes, one made in Russia, the other in China. For the Royal Enfield Bullet I rode in India visit the Motorcycle Misadventures pages.

When Ural America began importing bikes to the United States in 1994 they wondered how they'd hold up at high speeds on American roads. I took one of their pre-export quality bikes on my American Borders journey as an official test rider, and found out. Readers of American Borders know that there were a few serious problems: the gas tank weld wouldn't hold, the generator kept dying, and the machining wasn't perfect, which resulted in one major disaster - the right jug cracked and lobbed around like a wet piece of clay on a lonely road in Saskatchewan at dusk in moose mating season. The folks at Ural were right there the whole time - on the phone and with FedEx'ed packages of parts overnighted to me whereever I happened to be. The problems were noted and the factory in the Ural mountains way over on the other side of the world was informed. The gas tank welds, the generator, the machining, and the general quality of the Urals have since improved and I am very happy to recommend them as they are continuing to be quality controlled for import to the United States, now by IMZ-Ural.

The Chang Jiang sidecar rig I rode through China is basically the same bike as the Ural, that is, it's a copy of a WWII-era BMW, specifically the 1938. CJ's are not allowed into the United States, and the factory doesn't make any export-quality bikes, at least for the United States but I've heard enthusiasts like to ship them in in parts and assemble them in their garages. I thought I'd see a lot of these in China and "blend in" but in fact the old-style CJs have been replaced by ne, blockier-looking bikes. I stood out, too, because of my leather jacket and full helmet, gloves, boots...even when I tucked my hair into my helmet people gawked. It didn't help, because the trip was illegal and though I had sort of semi diplomatic licence plates (it's who you know) I was pulled over four times, once at the border of Inner Mongolia.

The Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle I rode through India in 2000 was a lot of fun because it's small, powerful, and it makes some impressive noise. It was a pretty smooth ride, negotiating Indian traffic nicely - unless something hit me - a fat woman in a pink sari, a boy on a bicycle, a dog.

In 2001 I changed my MO and took a Moto Guzzi on a month-long trip through Italy, inlcluding the islands of Sicily and Sardenia, which has the best motorcycling rodes I've been on in the world. In 2004 I took a Kawasaki KLR 500 dual-sport on an off-road trip through the Colorado mountains, holding on tight at 14,000 feet. But now I'm hooked on dual-sport and will be riding a little 250-something in the Canary Islands this spring. Summer will find me in Italy once more, and Moto Guzzi has graciously offered another bike for a ride down the eastern seaboard of Italy, to Greece, Albania, Serbia/Montenegro, and finally, Croatia before I return to Italy. In case you don't know your geography that's a circuit around the Adriatic Sea.

By the way, the background art here is a map I found of WWII China, with Japan coming in on one side and Russia the other. The Chang Jiang is manufactured on the banks of the Yangtze River.

My Dad asks me when I'm going to sell the Ural and I tell him I'm not. He laughs and says the wires are rotting and the tires are going flat, and I think, well, I'll go down there and see to it next weekend.

I ought to. I had a wonderful trip on it around America. The last time I rode it was to a slideshow at the Sierra Club here in San Francisco, to talk about China. I thought I'd take the scenic route through Golden Gate Park but she quit just before I got there. The battery wasn't holding a charge. I know it's a simple problem but I haven't gotten around to fixing it yet.

Update: I sold the bike in late 2004 to an electrician, his wife, and their two teenage daughers. He found the gremlins in the electrical system and they ride it around in the mountains of Southern California. I gotta say I don't miss her - she was too unweildy for San Francisco, and we had our time, but I'm glad she went to a good home!

A 1995 Ural... just like the ones they made in 1942.

The Russians reverse-engineered the WWII BMW to create the Ural and the Ural Manufacturing Plant in Irbit, Siberia at the foot of the Ural Mountains which was far enough away from the action to be pretty safe from the wartime activities. The first ones rolled off the line in 1942 and they've been making them the very same way ever since.

But this is what I've learned about the Chang Jiang : that the Germans sold the actual factory mechanisms to the Chinese when they were finished making the BMWs, and the Chinese simply took over the manufacture, albeit with lower-quality parts and machining. Unlike the Russians, however, the Chinese have improved the bike over the years. It's got an opposed-twin engine, like the Ural, but it's an 750 cc as opposed to the Ural's 650. Where the Ural is an overhead valve the Chang Jiang is a side valve, which makes it run hotter, I hear, at higher speeds. I think I'll probably be going pretty fast in China, but not as fast as in America.

Jim Bryant loaned me his Chang Jiang when I went to Beijing in October 1998 on a China Road planning trip. It was in excellent condition and rode nicely through Beijing and out of town to a remote part of the Great Wall, where we camped overnight.

Below, I'll give you details on the status of the bike, all the maintenance issues, and other biker-type stuff.

  Maintenance Log

23 April 98

Between downpours I walked down to pick up the motorcycle from the Subway sandwich shop on Dongsanhuan North across from the Kempinski Hotel. Jim was visiting the states but had the staff give me the keys and the registration. I uncovered it.... black, a side valve, tractor seats, license plate number 00069.

It started right up with full air choke and no prime. As soon as I got on, and it started raining again. I'd planned to ride it around town for a while but considering the weather headed straight back to Capitol Mansion instead, to park it under the staircase. I'll take a better look at it later. I know, I know -- I'm such fair-weather rider.

24 April 98

It is a beautiful day in Beijing so Teresa and I go for a ride down Dongzhimen Wai Xie Avenue (where I found the marketplace on my way to the Lama Temple . The bike runs very nicely. It's quiet, stable, and shifts smoothly except for second gear which slips out at high revs. I'll just have to shift a little sooner. There always seems to be one gear that's a little out of adjustment on these bikes.

It looks like I may hang out until Friday, May 1st for the national holiday to join a group of riders who are leaving for Europe, or so that Teresa can ride with me to Datong.

2 May 98

04424: Beijing

3 May 98

04614: Datong
5 May 98 4782.8: Datong
05036: Hohhot
8 May 98 05120: Hohhot
11 May 98 05583: Dongsheng

05663: Baotau

05760: Baotau - new left side and a little air in the sidecar tire. Back tire hardly worn at all. There's a lot of stuff in the road, and sometimes no road at all, but there's hardly anything I've seen that would cause a puncture, that is, except for in the hotel parking lots that are under construction and short pieces of rebar sticking straight up. The left piston was covered in oil. New rings.

13 May 98 05769: Baotau

05939: Wuyan - disfunctional turn signals

13 May 98 06011: Linhe - new right and left jugs. Lost ball-peen hammer and a couple little miscellaneous tools to the local mechanic. Had to buy the right jug because they don't sell only the left jug without the right. I argued like crazy but they insisted. I have a feeling that the mechanic was trying to get some new parts out of me surrupticiously. He has a couple of Chang Jiangs. But the right side is good so I took it with me. He was pissed off. Plus, he went back on his price and wanted more money because I was an American. I would have been glad to settle that up front, give him more had he insisted, but am I awful for feeling that a price settled upon is the price paid? I gave him an additional 40 yuan for "oil and gas" and he was happy. The price I paid for the new jugs and labor was ridiculous, about $80 USA. But... you get what you pay for. I remember that after Baotau.
15 May 98 06052: Linhe

06219: Shizushan

15-17 May 98 Yinchuan - disfunctional odometer, speedometer. (These potholes, washboard roads, and dimpled surfaces just end up rattling things apart. I touch the thing all over every day, and I almost always find a missing screw or nut.)
18 May 98 Shapoto (208 km from Yinchuan). Tuneup. An attempt to adjust timing. Failed. Then a long hot road through the desert. I joined the nomadic camel herders for a while!
19 May 98 Shapoto: Dispatch 17, floating on pigs!

Timing adjustment - finally good.

Valve adjustment and seal.

Jingyuan (225km from Shapoto), the town from hell. That terrible experience (see Dispatch 18), but the mechanic was an expert. He fiddled with the valves which didn't need fiddling with because I had just checked them in Shapoto. Plus they were hot when he got his hands on them. But he played with the timing and got it right. Then he took off without me and wrecked the left side - just the parts that come off. I figure he turned right really fast while he was looking down at the engine and couldn't recover, and went down really slow breaking off the mirror, signals, clutch cable, horn... at least he had the pieces for a quick replacement during the mob scene. Talk about stress! I went off the next morning at dawn with no front brake and a clutch cable that wouldn't tighten any more and barely engaged. When I stopped for gas outside of town the back brake was smoking. I loosened it up and screwed it completely out of the back. The gas station guy reminded me of my dad. He helped me put it back together, and then checked the whole thing over, gave me hot water for my tea jug and made me wash my hands with soap and sawdust.Completely erased the events of the previous afternoon.

Immediately after was more unexpected desert and I was thankful to have had the early start (escape) and was through it by 10 am. It was downright cold. The bike runs better than ever.

Was running along just dandy, passing Hui villages with caves dug into the hills and more camels, and noticed that there was no key in the iginition. Panic attack. No extra key, and no hope of finding it on that rugged road I was traveling, and miles from civilization. So I just kept going. Guessed I could hotwire it. Figured, too, I'd see one of those key guys at the next decent sized down. Chinese locks are crap and there's plenty of work for locksmiths. They have little tables set up, normally next to the cold noodle stand or the fruit sellers, with metal wires on a rack full of keys. The guy I stopped at looked at his collection, took one off, put it in the iginition, turned it, and it started. We had quite a laugh and he got his 5 yuan and a San Francisco keyring to boot. Not that he knows where San Francisco is....

20 May 98 Lanzhou (184 km from Jingyuan)

As soon as I got into town I saw two broken down Chang Jiangs (the newer models - there are no older models around any more here in the wild wild west) on a sidewalk and sure enough there was a Chang Jiang mechanic. All the police have the newer Chang Jiangs and one team came in while I was there to get some minor stuff done, so I then really knew I was in the right place. They even let me take their picture. The mechanic corrected my electrical problems between several torrential downpours. Had I been 15 minutes later I would have been slipping and sliding all over the place. Lanzhou is mountains and with China's road conditions I wouldn't want to try it. Especially with the trucks dumping oil all over the road, the brick trailers leaving a brick trail, etc. So I now have blinkers that beep, a headlight that has a bright, and speedometer and odometer functionality, perfect brakes, clutch... I'm set!

Always a party (above) when a something breaks on the Ying Yang machine.
(Below) Cop stop

30 May 98 From: intlinquiries@ural.com (URAL Inquiries) To: <ck@verbum.com>

Subject: These Orthodox Russians

Date: Tue, 26 May 1998 11:17:56 -0700

Hey, Carla! Maybe you'll consider my message biased, as I'm - a Russian - will be defending the Russian factory... But as I'm the person who communicates to the plant, I'll be the best person to tell things that factory does per our request from their own design projects.

"Chunking the URAL out forever the same way" is as far from truth as it can be. The old Ural died in the early eighties when they redesigned the whole bike. If you've ever seen M-67 they used to manufacture before then - you'll know what I mean. Even during the recent years of our cooperation, we've witnessed the factory upgrading almost every single assembly of the bike on their own without any input from the outside.

Let's pick a few areas:
GEARBOX: changed the design to improve 4th gear oiling, changed the positioning of the oil filling plug adding a dipstick to it, changed the 4th gear pair to beveled type; soon a new gearbox with improved gearing will be in production (this is between us) ELECTRICS: sourced out a new higher output generator; developed a new reliable and compact ignition system;

... and the MAJOR news in this field are coming later this year! Watch out for our 99 model year bikes! Miscellaneous improvements have been done in other areas of their "forever" Ural, not to mention the new models that came out: Sportsman that you probably know about (Americans had nothing to do with designing it) and Chopper-Voyage and Cobra, which you can probably check out at their German dealer's website (we decided they have small potential in the US).

Voyage is a whole new bike - talk about "the same way" here! And now some info on the sore matter: how in fact innovative are the Chinese. In 1991 the Chinese couldn't figure out how to raise compression in their classic engines - whatever they did to Changs resulted in a weak engine yielding at max. 25 hp. So they visited Irbit, and in the spirit of socialist (still at that times) cooperation Russians were dumb enough to share their designs, ship 2 bikes to China, pay Chinese factory a visit and even to leave their manufacturing drawings behind for Chinese to evaluate!

Do I need to mention that they've never been paid, and have never heard back from Chinese since then, while the whole project was started as a joint venture where Chinese in return promised to supply tools for better gear machnining. This ain't no lie, and if someone questions truth of that story I'd be willing to provide her/him with some actual documents, names and details proving how innovative are Chinese in reality. I can slide into pure chauvinism and speculate that whatever improvements that Chinese are making to their products are all planted by the Japanese engineering and technology, just like you are doing in your passage making judgements about Irbit plant, but I won't - as I like to talk only about things I know for a fact - and above evidence is a true fact.

Where are you getting facts to build such a prejudiced picture of the Irbit plant I unfortunately don't know. So I'm in return asking you to correct me if I was wrong in my facts above - maybe crafty IMZ engineers were dressing up the windows for us a bit?

Carla, I hope you get my message in a right way. It just bugs me so much when people make their judgements without any real knowledge of a fact, like: "oh yeah - I know URAL - they use all original BMW tooling and this piece of junk travels 40 mph at most". Hello.. Where'd ya got that from, dude? So I was surprised to hear that sort of generalization from you and I'm sure that you are simply aren't aware of all the work that Russians are doing to improve the design and quality of their bike. And to do my own speculation: if Russians had an economy as healthy as Chinese do now, and if they had as healthy domestic market as Chinese do, to fuel sales inside Russia and fill up company with cash, Chinese will be left behind in the dust. It's just too much pain that Russia's been going through lately, that doesn't allow them to fully catch up with the rest of the world. Best wishes and good luck with your journey! Dennis

Motorcycle Misadventures | © 1995-2007 Carla King, All Rights Reserved Worldwide