By Bill Pratt
The China highways remind me of Montana for the first part of our adventure. We were very surprised by the good roads. But they would not always last. The equivalent of the China Department of Transportation was constantly building new roads. They often would tear up a 40-mile stretch and work on that section as one project. This meant you would ride on asphalt, traveling up to 80MPH, only to encounter a new section of construction. It was difficult to average more than 40MPH in the construction areas. After seeing so much construction, it became obvious how the Chinese logo for the DOT was conceived. The logo is a broken wheel. Judging from the washboard roads, the insignia was perfect
The excellent professional drivers hired by Su Zhi Wei insured the success to our China portion of the adventure. They always kept up with the group, and would lead us through many of the complicated turns in busy traffic. Every day they would insure our extra large bags were loaded in and on top of the jeep. This particular jeep was made in China and looked just like a Jeep. However, Jeep of China cuts some of the corners. The roof soon caved in from the weight of the bags and the front bumper began to fall apart after the first week of driving. The most surprising was how slow the engine turned over when starting. I thought there was a bad battery. I got a chance to see the starter motor on the four-cylinder engine and was shocked by it’s small size. The starter was the exact same size as our single-cylinder Kawasaki’s.
At first we were a little disappoint by the government requirement for an escort vehicle. As each day progressed, we welcomed the companionship and assistance. They were always available in case we needed a repair part, a spare tire, or fresh water.
The only flat on the trip belonged to Mr. Dong. His Honda picked up a staple, (remember the wood crates?) in the rear tire. Our first choice for repair was a bottle of Slime. After screwing with the slime for about an hour, it became apparent Slime was not going to fix the flat. Rusty volunteered one of his 90% off-road tires to Dong and the team started the tire changing process. We used the side stand to break the tire bead and within minutes we were inside the tire. The inner tube had wholes large enough to put your finger through. No wonder the Slime would not work. I retrieved a spare tube and Ken was the lead technician operating the replacement process. The sun had already set and we were to enjoy a fantastically clear sky illumined by millions of stars. Su Zhi Wei looked up and asked about all the stars clustered into such a large mass. We explained that he was looking at the Milky Way. He had never seen the Milky Way from his home in Southern China.
Although we had spares tires for the motorcycles, all of us were able to make our tires last the balance of the trip. No further flats and hardly any air were required. Our tires of choice are the stock Dunlap’s that comes with the KLR650. Most of us had used motorcycles, so we purchased new tires from Dual Star. They had new tires removed from Army motorcycles. We all had various tube brands and I think only one rider had wheel locks. All of us raved about how well the Dunlop’s performed. They had great highway speed with lots of grip in the turns. When it came to crossing deep streams, climbing steep dirt roads and bouncing off rocks, the tires continued to perform.
Because the flat delayed us, we arrived at our next hotel about midnight. We all stopped and began to unload. Su Zhi Wei found out that our rooms had been given away and we had to find another hotel in the next town. Because we had booked rooms at the best hotel in each town, the leftovers were less than desirable. But, we were on an adventure and the motto of the trip became “It’s all part of the show”. We must have repeated our trip motto another 100 times. It kept our spirits up most of the time.
The next morning we were treated to what was referred to as Chinese junk food…Top-Roman noodles. We quickly found out how rustic some of the hotels could be, but as we headed north, more surprises were to come.
But, the geography quickly changed, as did the road conditions. We were approaching into the Gobi desert, which was remote, beautiful, and really designed for the capabilities of the KLR650. As we found, the roads were mostly flat and fairly smooth. We were able to stay over 50MPH on these roads and in some places we could exceed 65MPH while riding in the dirt. Most of us had not ridden dirt roads for a long time. My last adventure in the dirt was on a Kawasaki 120cc I owned in Idaho. That was about 35 years ago. We all got back to dirt riding instantly. My hat is off to every rider for how well they handled the conditions.
Bill and Gary stop for a Kodak moment on a China highway. It reminded me of a US highway you would find in Montana.
Here I am cruising across the Gobi desert at about 65MPH. This is one of those million dollar pictures that I will always cherish.
The Dragons are approaching 80MPH while crossing the Gobi on our way to Golmud.
Ó Copyright, Bill Pratt, Mill Creek, WA – March 2001