Chinese Motorcycles vs Cars


If you keep up with the news and statistics surrounding the Chinese motorcycle industry you’ll know that half of the world’s motorcycles are produced in China and the original target market was often third world places where these cheap motorcycles could be easily sold to farmers upgrading from donkeys. Nowadays the target buyers are not all third world and the bikes have come a long way from the shoddy CG copies shipped for a quarter of the price of a genuine Honda.

20 years ago, nay, 10 years ago a lot of Chinese bike sales agents were aiming their products at the nerf herding, crop growing members of society in the places where the earth is fertile and photosynthesis and pig swill are bigger business than mobile phone data plans and Armani suits. The nature of being a farmer in many parts of the developing world is usually that of surviving on low wages and hedging all bets on a good rice yield that season. For those agricultural villagers a little Chinese bike was better than sliced bread; it transported them about their towns, their families to and from weddings and birthdays, their crops and foul to market and, most importantly, carried the several cases of beer needed for a good night of poker with the lads after a tough week of sowing and feeding.

From a brief glance it’s easy to see why a motorcycle is better than a donkey, or why a tuk-tuk style trike is an advancement on an oxcart. Look a bit further and it’s clear that there’s a lot more to be discovered about the benefits of dino-power. With the increase in speed there’s often an increase in profit as is stated by the idiom “time is money”, an increase in money affords the farmer extra budget for farmhands, again I refer you to the age old saying “many hands make light work”. The potential for profit and expansion begun with the advantages brought from cheap Chinese bikes, a mechanized work horse that doesn’t complain, doesn’t need time to recover, isn’t restricted by four legs and won’t snarl at anyone for being put to work at 4:30am on a cold morning.

C2W asked Bolivian teacher and motorcycle safety instructor Diego Torres about the automation of the rural areas in Bolivia. He commented “In the wilds of Bolivia getting their prized agricultural produce to market meant that someone had to carry a giant basket on a back-breaking, day long trek through narrow mountain trails. That is now changing, thanks in large part to Chinese motorcycles”.

While each farmer’s story is a great success brought about by those little Honda CG & Cub copies that isn’t the end of the line. A rise in individual wealth leads to a collective rise in wealth for the town. Now the local town planners are putting in roads where once there were dirt paths only manageable by serious off-road going vehicles. The farmers, now with extra money to play with, consider a car. He’s done well for himself, why shouldn’t he have a brand new mini-van to carry his produce in? He deserves it.

But he’s still not that wealthy that he can afford a nice Ford F150 so following the route which initially lead him to bigger profit he looks to the Chinese market. Here’s what Diego had to say about that – “the change to Chinese cars has happened so rapidly and is due to a few different factors. An important factor is that the quality of the country roads is improving year to year. In the past it would have been difficult for anything other than a motorcycle or a Range Rover to transport goods, now the roads have improved to the level that family cars can comfortably use them. Also, the surplus money, some of which was produced due to the usefulness of Chinese motorcycles has enabled farmers a better standard of living with a greater disposable income. Add to this the influx of very cheap Chinese cars and you have a situation where agricultural workers are now saving to buy cars and keeping their bikes as a secondary means of transport, which basically means it is not necessary for them to update them.”

This change in lifestyle has a knock-on effect reducing the demand for bikes in these areas where cars are now just as useful. Plenty of Chinese car manufacturers are now exporting reasonably priced cars to developing parts of the world as a result of the groundwork done by the bikes that went their first. This isn’t a huge problem for the two and three wheeler industry but it certainly doesn’t fill anyone with hope. The fact that many of these cars, vans and trucks leaving China for distant farmlands have poor safety features, questionable reliability (just like the bikes used to have before modern times) and are plainly ugly imitations of other brands leading vehicles means there is some light at the end of the tunnel for Chinese bike exporters.

In Mongolia, which has a legendary history of horse travel, Chinese motorcycles had been the main replacement for the nag, until now. 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 car, this was originally set up to enable the poorer farmers to buy motorcycles but now they’ve taken a step up the automotive evolutionary chain. They have 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 affordability of cars although sales of motorcycles (mainly Chinese) have taken a bit of a hit.”

It would be fair to conclude that the growing desire for four wheeled vehicles among the agricultural collective is taking up some of the business that was formally that of motorcycles but with the bikes and trikes still maintaining a purpose it’s doubtful that we’ll see a serious downturn in the sales of Chinese bikes to the places where they will still be more efficient than a mule and cheaper than a car.  


February 25, 2016