Chinese motorcycles positively affect modernization in developing countries


Report by David McMullan and Sean Kerr


In Asia

Chinese motorbikes pack the streets of Hanoi, Vientiane, Mandalay and other large cities in Indochina, a reflection of the fact that Chinese exports to Vietnam, Myanmar and Laos amounted to $8.8 billion in the first eight months of the year. Roughly forty percent of the two million motorcycles sold annually in Vietnam are Chinese brands, according to Honda (which has a 34 percent market share), further demonstrating that Chinese motorcycles are popular in developing countries and have, in fact, greatly contributed to the improvement of the lifestyle of many citizens of the third world.

In Laos in the village of Long Lao Mai a positive story can be heard. There, motor scooters which typically have small but adequate 110cc engines, literally save lives says Saidoa Wu, the 43-year-old village headman of Long Lao Mai, a village nestled in a valley at the end of the dirt road adjacent to Long Lao Gao. “Now when we have a sick person we can get to the hospital in time,” Mr. Wu said. “Improvised bamboo stretchers (that villagers here used as recently as a decade ago) to carry the gravely ill on foot are now history.” In a village of 150 families, Mr. Wu counts a total of 47 Chinese motorcycles; there were none 15 years ago.

In Mongolia which has a legendry history of horse travel Chinese motorcycles have replaced the steed. Motorcycle importer Erdene Jagar of Ulan Bator commented “you can now get a hire-purchase agreement with the bank when opting to buy a Chinese motorcycle. The ones I sell have to be especially reinforced because of the tendency of Mongolian farmers crashing them when drunk. David McMullan of CMM finds this hilarious and has said that I have invented a new breed of bike called the ‘drunk farmer bike,’ But comedy aside it has been a revolution for these guys who can now trade at much further distances than before. Mongolia is the most unpopulated country on earth per square mile so travelling for trade has always been a difficult business. Not so now due to the drunken farmer’s bikes.”

Latin America

In the wilds of Honduras getting their agricultural produce to market meant that someone had to carry a giant basket on a back-breaking, day-long trek through narrow mountain passes. That has now changed, thanks in large part to the Chinese motorcycle industry. Villagers ride their Chinese motorcycles, which sell for as little as $400, down a rutted dirt road to the markets. The trip now only takes around one and half hours. “No one had a motorcycle before,” said Felipe Rodriguez, 52, a teacher in the local school whose extended family now has four Chinese motorcycles. “The only motorcycles that used to be available were Japanese and poor people couldn’t afford them.” Affordable Chinese moto products have flooded Latin American countries like Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela and these products have transformed the lives of some of the poorest people in South America whose worldly possessions a few years ago typically consisted of not much more than a set or two of clothes, cooking utensils and a grass-roofed house built by hand.

In China

With agricultural income growing in recent years and despite the popularity of cheap cars, a growing amount of Chinese farmers have bought motorcycles and tricycles of their own and because of this fundamental changes have taken place in their life style. Deng Xiang, an ordinary farmer of Fengjie County, in South-West China’s Chongqing municipality is not among the wealthy, but has been a motor-tricycle rider for many years. He described the present-day life of his fellow villagers as “riding a motorcycle to visit relatives and friends, driving a tricycle to transport farm produce and goods for crops growing and cropland plowing.”

In the past, horses, oxen and mules were invaluable for rural households in China. These animals played a key role in plowing farmland, fetching water and transporting crops from fields to the threshing floor. Carriages and oxcarts were the major transportation vehicles in the rural areas. With the number of motor vehicles on the increase, horses, cattle and donkeys have become “rare animals” in Fengjie County nowadays.

According to CAAM (China Association of Automobile Manufacturers) the number of registered motor vehicles bought by farmers reached 59,900 in the region last year, bringing the total number of such vehicles to 577,000 or one for every two farming families. Statistics available show that China had about 29 million motor vehicles in the rural areas in 2014 and its output of motor vehicles designed for farm use was 5.29 million.   The price of a motorcycle is 4,500-5,500 Yuan, and a tricycle cost 7,000 to 8,000 Yuan, at these prices it is possible to eventually mechanise every Chinese farmer. But it’s not just for agricultural reasons that young Chinese country dwellers are turning to motorcycles. Xiang Dong reports, “In the past, none of the young girls in this village had married men who lived far away. However a friend who got married recently said her husband’s home is 50 kilometers from her home in Fengping Village. It’s the motorcycles and highways that have changed our life.” A road leading to her then fiancée’s village was completed last year allowing them (with the aid of a motorcycle) their courtship time. Currently, 99 percent of China’s townships and 98 percent of its villages have access to highways. The total length of highways open to traffic in China has reached 2.9 million kilometres.

Vehicles also help enhance communication among local farmers and enrich their leisure time as in Baofeng Town in Pingluo County where the residents have set up more than 30 basketball teams and built over 20 basketball courts. Su Shaoyun, head of the cultural station of Baofeng town said that many farmers ride their motorcycles to the town to take part in basketball competitions in the quiet season for farming. Huang Hui an official with the regional agriculture and animal husbandry bureau said “wide use of motorcycles is a symbol of the improvement in the living standard of Chinese farmers and these modern vehicles also helped improve agricultural output and the quality of farmers’ lives.”


It’s not just the developing nations that have benefitted from budget Chinese 2 wheelers. Some years ago the British government installed a ‘congestion charge’ on drivers in London with the purpose of cutting down on traffic in the centre of the busy capital. Motorcycles are exempt from this charge. Electrician Mickey Humphries lives in a London dormitory town and has this to say. “I used to drive my van into town every day. Parking was expensive enough but when the congestion charge was installed it became financially impossible to drive in. I decided to get a scooter and had a good look round, now because I’m not an enthusiast I don’t have any allegiance to Honda, Yamaha or anyone and decided to get a Chinese scooter from someone I had heard was a reputable dealer. That was 4 years ago and my trusty scooter is still getting me cheaply in to the centre of London every day. I’ve saved a fortune!”

February 16, 2016