Friday, February 16, 2007

The Encyclopedia of Motorcycles

I was in the Somerset Mall today and went into the Paperweight bookshop.

There I discovered a thick volume called, "The Encyclopedia of Motorcycles". It costs over R400, so I do not see myself buying one soon. I saw one interesting article in there on the history of Motorcycles in China.

I scanned the article quickly.

The history of the manufacture of motorcycles is quite different in China than in the West. In the times of the world wars the communist government responded to the needs of the Military to provide them with effective transport. They set up a large factory to build a very limited number of motorcycle models - the most well known one was a copy of a BMW-500cc engine.

In the 1950's the postal service also demanded motorcycles and the factories expanded.

There was no great drive to produce large numbers of motorcycles in this time. The government policy did not really encourage large scale mobility. If I recall, motorcycle production reached approximate 250 000 units per year in the 1950's/1960's.

In the late 1970's and 1980's government began to change their policy. They encouraged the corporations to mass produce motorcycles for the populace. The corporations were still run by government and were managed by means of 5 year plans, but the populace were free to buy the motorcycles as they needed and the corporations became profit driven.

The corporations produced large numbers of motorcycles. Most of the models were imitations of Japanese or European makes, made out of inferior parts in order to keep them affordable. Most of these motorcycles fall in the 50cc - 150cc range.

I cannot remember the exact figures, but today several million motorycles are produced each year.

The article mentions that a very small proportion of these motorcycles make their way out of China. (That is obviously where we come in). The article also believes that these motorcycles will never be a threat to the motorcycle industry in the west. This industry is historically driven by different values (not affordable mass transit but speed, precision, power, and luxury.)

I wish I had time to study the article in more depth. I'll be returning to the shop soon :-). I am quite happy to be associated with a movement (can a person call it that in South Africa) that attempts to popularise the use of affordable and sustainable means of transit over and above the more exclusive and elitist luxury transport industry.

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