Chop Suey Roads

There are quite a number of expressways in China which as their name suggests allow the traffic to move at a more rapid pace- they are the motorways in this part of the world. However they are strictly no-go areas as far as motorbikes are concerned, as almost all of the bikes here are 125cc models and they’re considered too slow and too much of a hazard to be allowed onto high speed roads. To be honest they’re pretty much a hazard wherever they go. Several of us (probably all of us) had tried to get onto the expressways as we made our way northwards, it’s the equivalent of going through a toll barrier and as always bikes can generally squeeze by. Almost all of us were turned away with some angry words, I did manage to sneak on once when I really couldn’t find any other route out of the city of Lanzhou. It was a fantastic feeling to be able to ride fast again, making good time and getting the benefit of a cooling breeze. However, mindful of my role as guide, I was soon back on the normal road when I’d worked out where I was. The so-called normal roads were so clogged up with traffic that it’s hard work riding along them.

There can be no relaxing on the roads out here as the Chinese are probably the most bizarre and unpredictable drivers I have seen anywhere in the world. Yes, worse than Cairo’s mad mullah taxi drivers who literally scraped their cars past me, the truckers in the Bolivian Andes driving huge distances sustained by coca leaves and weaving erratically the whole way and, dare I say it even worse than the terrifying circus-like free for all that passes for traffic in Delhi.

Cars, bikes and trucks will suddenly pull U-turns in the middle of the road and go in the opposite direction, there is no concept of dual carriageways, you might think you’re on one but there will always be someone coming along in the wrong direction on what you may naively be thinking of as YOUR side of the road. Another favourite trick is for vehicles to pull onto the main road at speed from a side street and not look either way to check for other vehicles. We quickly came to the conclusion that almost everyone behind a steering wheel is a potential suicide waiting in the wings to take us out. My favourite scenario was the day that I looked ahead and realised there were no less than six vehicles all side by side driving TOWARDS me, using both lanes on the road and both the hard shoulders, I'm still not sure how I managed to squeeze through and survive unscathed.

Our average speed on days like this was always low- often taking a whole day to cover 250 miles and being exhausted at the end of it.