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The Chang Jiang 750 - China Motorcycle History

Updated on December 7, 2011
That's yours truly on the far right!
That's yours truly on the far right!
One of our local excursions into the counrtyside.
One of our local excursions into the counrtyside.

You’ve seen them in the movies, those sidecar motorcycles that look like a relic from a bygone era. Harrison Ford used one to make a dash from one of his pursuers and numerous other Hollywood chase scenes have featured these antique relics. Yes, it is the Chang Jiang 750 sidecar motorcycle, a Chinese gem that originated from a design that came into existence almost eighty years ago in Germany. To make a long story short, which is well documented on several sites including Wikipedia, the CJ750 originated with the German 1938 BMW R71, then, by way of the Soviet M72, found its way to China as the Chang Jiang 750. Chinese production began in the 1950’s but very little has changed since the original 1938 design. Riding one of these obsolete beasts today is like a trip back into the past.

In Canada, I owned a Kawasaki Nomad 1500, a bike that had an engine the same size as my Toyota Yaris. It was modern, fairly powerful and glistened from front to back with shiny new paint and beautiful chrome! The Chang Jiang that I own today in China is pretty much the exact opposite. It looks like something out of World War II and actually is not a lot different than those that saw action at that time. With its boxy engine, sheet metal body and electrical wiring out of the 40s, it is a showcase of motorcycle history. The bikes can still be purchased with a gun mount on the front of the sidecar and other military accessories that are a throwback to its origins.

Cruising through one of Wuhan's many parks.
Cruising through one of Wuhan's many parks.
And sometimes they use a watering can to fill up the motorcycle!
And sometimes they use a watering can to fill up the motorcycle!

In its day, it was considered pretty much indestructible. That is why it was used on the battlefields on a regular basis. The simple technology allows parts to be temporarily replaced with found objects, it can run on one cylinder and go places that regular motorcycles cannot. Here, in China, it is known as a “three wheel jeep to my Chinese biker friends. It is often used the same way that outdoor enthusiasts in North America would use an off-road vehicle. It is also well-adapted to the often torn-up Chinese road system. On a recent road trip out of town, we crossed a bridge where the pot holes were so large that we could see the metal substructure and the river passing under the bridge. My mighty CJ750 had no problem navigating the chopped up road. With a little know-how, it can be used to cross the country since it can be worked on by almost any mechanic and parts are readily available here. Carla King rode a CJ750 on her first solo motorcycle trip across China. To read about her experiences in China or her trip around the United States on a Russian Ural Sidecar motorcycle, click here

On the streets of Wuhan, it is still used as a workhorse by many independent entrepreneurs. You will see them on the sides of the streets in some areas with their old CJs, some so rusted out and bare of parts that it is a wonder they still move. They are used to haul lumber, metal rebar, and anything else that can fit in a pared down sidecar. Basically these machines have become a motorcycle with a box attached to the side for transporting goods. Any remnant of the once elegant sidecar is long gone. They look in amazement as any of us go by in our refurbished machines. Most of the population here still has a fond love of these things and anywhere we go, we are sure to draw a crowd of admirers, especially the older men. There is still a very strong attachment to anything that speaks of China’s past and a restored CJ750 is a prime example. The fact that we are keeping the proud history of these motorcycles alive goes down well with most of those we meet on the street.

In Beijing and Shanghai, they have become the Chinese version of the tricked out bike. Many foreigners own beautifully painted and decorated CJ750s that would rival any show bike found in North America. From flames to top-to-bottom chrome, the sky is the limit for what people will pay. Add on the cost of a legal registration and license plate and the cost becomes as high as a luxury sedan. In Wuhan, there are probably less than a dozen of us that have refurbished CJ750s. Although they are technically illegal in the city, anything over 250cc is, the police tend to turn a blind eye to my friends and I as we truck around the city. I’m not sure if it is because some of us have connections with the police or they just think they are too cool to bust! At any rate, I have yet to be stopped during my four years of riding in town.

The cults of owners of these bikes have spread around the world and it is now possible to find them almost everywhere. Although the CJ750 is no longer produced per se, many have been restored from old military stock or assembled from parts. Most are shipped totally assembled from China from a small group of well-respected dealers such as Leo's Sidecars or Big Bill’s Bikes . A side industry of newly manufactured parts has sprung up to service all the CJ750s that are currently in existence. Here, it is easy to get any part almost overnight but in other countries, it is not so easy to find parts or mechanics who are willing to work on them. Most owners end up tinkering on their own. Everything you read advises not to buy one unless you are a wannabe mechanic. They require frequent adjusting and TLC just to keep them on the road.

Even little kids can dream!
Even little kids can dream!

Of course, I have had my problems with mine. I am far from being a grease-monkey but I do have my trusty Chinese mechanic down the road that comes to my rescue whenever something goes wrong. He gets a kick out of this strange foreigner showing up periodically on his Chinese piece of history but is always is able to repair what is necessary to get me back on the road again. I still ride it to school every day and sometimes get to carry another passenger along with me. Every time I go to the garage to gas up, the female gas attendants want to hop in and go for a ride in the sidecar. It is definitely a "chick magnet" and often gets more attention than the latest sports cars that pass me by on the road. However, Mrs.L. would probably not be impressed to see me passing by with the bike loaded down with young Chinese women! Some things just improve with age and the CJ750 is definitely one item that fits into that category.


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    • kirbylau profile image

      kirbylau 6 years ago from Wuhan, China

      Like. Looks like a nice park up there. It would be nice to know where it is dude!


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