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The Arrival of the Chinese Custom Made Era

And its affect on the export industry


The Chinese generation born in the 1990s will gradually become the major motorcycle consumption group as they come of age. The novel phrase 'personalised and custom made' when related to motorcycles has become increasingly popular in China, and has gradually become the key guiding ideology for most Chinese motorcycle manufacturers when considering the imminent transition period in which a motorcycle’s main job will change from ‘labour to leisure.’ This is a Chinese trend which will invariably have a knock-on affect for the export market.

Inspired by the transition, all kinds of advertising activities, advertising slogans and brand new products themed with 'personalised and custom made' are being flashed around China but what does it all mean? Chinese motorcycle historian Guo Chenjiang relates the following historical tale.

“A government official of the Qing Dynasty named Mr. Zhou Hongsun bought a motorcycle as early as 1886. He liked to take his 'new gadget' out for a ride whenever he was free. He was China's first motorcycle rider. China's first motorcycle rider appeared barely one year after the invention of the motorcycle. The aristocracy of the late Qing Dynasty were crazy about imported things, like imported matches, imported records and imported vehicles. These things were mostly the symbol of social status at that time, and also a reflection of their personalities.”

Mr. Guo puts it in to perspective.

“It seems that we can sense the personalities of the 1980s and 1990s Chinese generation from Mr. Zhou Hongsun’s obsession: seeking uniqueness and freedom from vulgarity. Seeking uniqueness from ordinary things is a quality deeply engraved in Chinese people's hearts. Most of the time, we just need an opportunity to recall this quality; we can easily notice that when the motorcycle entered China as an imported product, it was given a mark of 'personality' through Mr. Zhou Hongsun in the way that today’s motorcycle riding generation in China want to install their own personalities on their motorcycles.”


Mr. Pan Huang, Chairman of Shanghai Jianyang Co., Ltd and Director of Shanghai Daguan Co., Ltd recalled his fascination for motorcycles since the end of 1970s.

“I went to study in Japan but in fact my main agenda was to see if there are better motorcycles in Japan than the Suzuki King 125. Thirty years ago, owning an imported 'Suzuki King' motorcycle would get you the limelight absolutely, it was the pinnacle of success in the same way that driving a Porsche Cayenne in China seems to be now. There are many stories about motorcycle fascination of the 1960s and 1970s generation but we only learned outside motorcycle news through circulated stories, books, newspapers and a few movies. The Soviet movie 'Siege of Leningrad' made me fall in love with the military motorcycle which as nicknamed 'cannon' and I began to love motorcycles deeply since then. Later on, the Hollywood classic 'Easy Rider' aroused my desire for the Harley-Davidson and custom made bikes. There were many other people who became custom motorcycle fans under the influence of movies in his time. At that time, the average monthly income of an ordinary worker was only RMB 100, but the price of a relatively good motorcycle was several thousand Yuan, and the price for some imported motorcycles like Honda or Suzuki was about 10 thousand Yuan. It would be more distinctive to ride a Suzuki King motorcycle at that time than driving a Mercedes Benz now. So, motorcycles which were expensive at that time were out of the reach of ordinary people so they began to customise.”

Motorcycle racing emerged in China in 1990s, and with it people got to experience the thrill of riding and watching racing bikes. Harley Davidson entered China at the end of 1990s, and riding one was a huge status symbol and despite the growing disposable wealth of the middle-classes, it still is. As the influence has grown with the expansion of motorcycle fan groups; motorcycle obsession has become a mainstream ideology for the younger generation. Motorcycles have become their shared dream.


Fen Liu of UNIDO explains how this passion for custom bikes has affected the export industry. “At last years CIMAmotor expo we were honoured with the appearance of the China Harley Davidson fan club. I was at a dinner with these guys and also some motorcycle importers from Indonesia who were impressed by some of the photos the HD guys were showing. They were especially surprised when one of the enthusiasts said that his cruiser was in fact a custom made Chinese motorcycle and that he did not have the capital to buy a HD. Impressed with this the Indonesian importer asked a motorcycle manufacturer if it was possible to mass produce a similar model, they researched it and developed a frame similar to a v-frame to give the model that ‘special look.’ At the moment it is in the developmental stage but all things being equal a custom made cruiser has given the Chinese industry a new model line. This is a bit of a revelation for us as the Chinese motorcycle industry is down to a 3% market share in Indonesia and it’s given us a new emphasis.”


A visit to the many motorcycle workshops surrounding the Zhuhai International Racing Circuit serves as a prediction of things to come. Zhuhai has become the centre of motorcycle custom development since an influx of international designers appeared in 2008, a year in which the Shanghai Circuit staged the MotoGP. The affect of the cultural and technical exchanges between the visiting motorcycle designers and Chinese designers cannot be understated. American motorcycle designer Chris Holbrook details the phenomenon.

     “Years ago myself and some of the other foreign guys decided to design and produce Chinese made dirt-bikes for the road as a bit of fun for ourselves. After completing our project we were advised by David McMullan to register them with EURO III COC and export them to Britain; we were delighted with the response from the UK and even MCN magazine awarded us a 7 out of 10 after testing one of our models! We pretty much had things all our own way for a couple of years until some of the Chinese guys started showing an interest in our work. They were amazed at our methods in creating ‘unique’ custom model designs and they learned damn fast! Chinese design guys are now building unique models from scratch and then mass producing them, the days of them ‘cloning’ Japanese models are going and it’s partly due to the customised motorcycles they have seen being built by foreign designers around China.