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Bad Assed 150s of China


Cool looking 150 I shot in DaliI'm a person who belives that a thing should look like what it is (for the most part). A telephone should look like a telephone. A doorknob should look like a doorknob. Of course there are exceptions. Designers should be allowed to have fun as long as the cost of the dressing doesn't exceed the cost of the utilitarian bits.

Living in China however has forced me to re-examine some of my ideas about what things SHOULD look like in the light of my own cultural bias.

In the United States we have a strong preferance for POWER. Bigger is better. Bigger and faster and louder is better still. Now I've always been a pretty conservative guy in terms of the flashyness of my machines, and the biggest bike I've ever owned is my 600cc BMW R60/6. But in China there's a regulation that all two wheel motorcycles must have an engine of 150cc or less. So that awesome chopper bike up there to the left - 150cc. Looks good though.

In China, there are a lot of motorcycles. A lot of motorcycles. There are a lot more bicycles, and there are what we in the US call scooters, and electric bicycles that are mostly KTM 150scooters (they are way too heavy to pedal for any distance), but there are still lots of motorcycles.

In the hinterlands you see mostly bikes like this KTM 150. Generally they will have crash bars for the engine, and perhaps a leg shield and a windshield, maybe handlebar gloves if it's a cold part of the country, but this one is bare bones but for the basket rack on the back for carrying cargo. A simple straightforward street cycle. No flash but a paint stripe.

WuYang Honda WY125-AThis WuYang Honda to the right is what I consider to be a nice clean design for a utilitarian machine. This is a daily commuter vehicle. It's without pretense, but not without style. A simple workhorse, good looking, with clean lines, and only minimal decoration. This bike is about dropping junior off at school, and getting Dad and Mom to work on time every day with minimal hassle.

The thing about Chinese motorcycles (and indeed Chinese vehicles in general) is that they're made to be easy to maintain, and very cheap to drive, so they have very small simple engines. Actually it's a national law that the motor on anything with two wheels has to be 150cc or less. Three wheelers can be up to 750cc (though I think that some of the three wheel trucks must have bigger engines.)

China as a nation can't (yet) afford the luxury of every person driving around at 150kph (90 miles an hour) in a vehicle that can carry 15 people, and having a rather conservative national policy helps keep peoples' natural desire to be the biggest kid LiFan Cyclone LF150-14on the block in check.

I'm not going to go into a full length tirade about the immoral consumtiveness of North Americans, but suffice it to say that I think we in the States could do with a bit more regulation in this area ourselves.

The thing is that in the "New China" (tm), people like to show off how well they're doing, and just because the Government says that all the motorcycles have to be dinky put-puts doesn't mean that they have to look like dinky put-puts. After all would you rather pick up your girlfriend on a cool LiFan Cyclone like the one at the right here, or the Mr. Sensible WuYang Honda above it?

Now, these bikes would be laughed off the road stateside, but in China there is Suzuki water cooled, alloy frame, 145cc Ninja superbikeno shame in riding a bike that goes from 0 to 60 in... well, it can only go 60 downhill in a tailwind. In fact, there's so much traffic in the cities, that you can never get enough open road to go that fast, and when you get to the countryside, the roads tend to be twisty, bumpy, and full of farmers, so that's not a place you can open up your ninja bike either.


SK175 somewhere in ShanghaiThe whole idea of these China > Design pages is to point out the playfullness that is evident in much Chinese industrial design. While there are certainly a multitude of items that have a simple utilitarian face, there are also a lot of things that seem outlandish to my American eyes.


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