Should I buy a Chinese motorcycle?
Human rights | Intellectual property theft | Poor quality | Politics | Manufacturing
▲ Left to right Mutt Mauler 125, AJS Tempest Scrambler 125, Herald Café 125. Three cool-looking British spins on a Chinese motorcycle platform. Having these bikes reworked in the UK adds to the asking price. But if you talk to other firms you can have your "cheap Chinese import" without frills. However, what's the underlying cost of buying a Chinese bike at any price? See text for our take...
We can tell you from the start that we wouldn't buy a purely Chinese-built motorcycle, full stop. And it hasn't got anything to do with the quality of the product which started out as dangerously poor and has since become much better; so much so that it's getting difficult to distinguish "Chinese rubbish" from bikes built by the more established manufacturers in Japan, Europe, India and elsewhere. In fact, many of these manufacturers have production facilities in China.
In a moment we'll explain exactly why we wouldn't buy a purely Chinese-built bike. But first some background. It won't take long.
Chinese motorcycle factories
As of November 2019, there are hundreds of Chinese manufacturers turning out bikes of all shapes, sizes and description. Scooters and electrics too. China's domestic market buys the vast majority of these motorcycles (we're talking of million of units per annum) followed by other countries in the Far East. Tens of thousands more Chinese motorcycles are sold into Western markets (or dumped, according to some), and their price pretty much reflects their quality.
The ultra cheap stuff is ... well, ultra cheap. We're talking low quality steels, fracture prone light alloys, poor welding, serious misalignment, sub-standard paint and chrome, and a general lack of robustness. In the worst examples, the engineering quality cuts corners like a roundabout—but there are also a lot of new motorcycles that have been built to much higher standards with design and production overseen by engineers from Japan and the West who (arguably) better understand precision manufacture.
Mutt, Herald and AJS
Chinese brands (or sub-brands) are coming on and off the market so quickly that it's all but impossible to keep a check on who's selling what and where. In the UK, for instance, there are plenty of re-manufacturers (for want of a better term) who are flogging bikes built on a Chinese platform, but modified to suit their target markets. These are companies such as Mutt, Herald, and AJS who produce a pretty decent range of small capacity bikes that have been fettled, adjusted and (in most cases) re-equipped to a greater or lesser degree.
In recent years, many Chinese companies have moved beyond simply following trends and ripping-off intellectual property from other firms. They've actually taken a lead in some areas and are producing bikes that are up-to-the-minute, and are even slightly beyond. That's helped dispelled some of the negativity surrounding their product. As a result, UK importers are becoming increasingly confident about marketing and supporting Chinese bikes. Moreover, there are many partnerships evolving between Chinese and occidental or Japanese companies. Ultimately, business will always follow the money, and there's still plenty of that to be squeezed out of China.
Yes, there are still issues regarding quality. Product recalls are often wilfully overlooked. And replacement parts can still be hard to source—although all the other Japanese and Western manufacturers occasionally have similar issues.
The bottom line is that for many riders looking for a new motorcycle (especially at the budget/commuter end of the market), Chinese bikes are not necessarily the best option, but are in fact the only real option.
So today you can buy a Chinese motorcycle with more confidence than before, and many owners of such machines report tens of thousands of miles and years of use without significant issues. But keep in mind that second-hand prices relating to these bikes is often very low.
▲ So what the hell has buying motorcycles got to do with human rights, Chinese or otherwise? Well we've got our views on the subject, but you'll have to answer that question for yourself. Just remember that everything is ultimately political, be it petrol tanks or battle tanks.
Meanwhile, to explain why we wouldn't buy a purely Chinese-built motorcycle, we can summarise that in two words: Tiananmen Square. Many people around the world have largely forgotten China's abysmal record on human rights, but many others haven't forgotten. And China is still locking up millions without trial, suppressing minority groups, colonising parts of the Far East in which it has no legitimate place, and still executes political dissidents. Moreover, increased militarization by the Chinese government is further destabilising the region and is daily increasing the possibility of an armed conflict. And then there are issues surrounding Hong Kong and Taiwan.
We're not suggesting that the West and other parts of the world (Japan, Australia, New Zealand, etc) should totally sideline China. Far from it. The best way to address Chinese human rights issues, and other political issues, is to engage, not exclude. But engaging doesn't mean surrendering values at every opportunity. Engaging doesn't mean expediently overlooking Chinese human rights abuses. Engaging doesn't mean giving the Chinese a clear field.
Intellectual property theft and