Part 3 of 3
In the final installment of a three-part series (Part 1, Part 2)
Carl talks about China's position in the global motorcycle market, a worldwide motorcycling community, and offers some words of advice for aspiring motorcyclists.
So you've done the rides, made a website and film ... what's next on your motography plate?
Ideally what I would like to be able to do is represent one of the manufacturers overseas, like in the U.S. China is one of the world's largest motorcycle manufacturers—they make half the motorcycles in the world—and they're starting to hit foreign markets—big time.
Here, the new 200[cc]s are just shy of 1 wan [RMB10,000]. That's still cheaper than in the U.S.—that's still like almost half-price. ... So it'll be very interesting to see what China does with this, and if I could help in some way or take part in that I think it would be cool. If they were able to offer a good-quality bike for cheap money, most people would step on that—I could get that 400cc bike for $4,000, and it's good quality, and I can get good parts for it—they'll do it! ... I'm excited about it too because I feel like I'm in a position where I may be actually able to contribute to it, and of course get something out of it myself too. If I can start a more-with-less campaign for the Western world, I think that would be awesome. Like, do you need a 1200cc motorcycle to go 5km to work? Do you need a 5-liter car to go down the street to buy groceries? I just think that's too much excess. And people pay for it. And they pay for it, and then they complain about it.
I go up there [into remote regions of Xinjiang and Tibet], and I'm on a $1,000 Chinese bike, and I'm out there going on these roads that these guys on huge European bikes some of them would think twice before going down these things.
So I wanna establish it that, hey, don't knock these cheap little things.
I actually got onto the cover of what is kind of like a riders' catalog. And that was a big boom because that was probably the first time a Chinese motorcycle has been put on the cover of—anything really—overseas.
Do Chinese motorcycles have a good shot at having major presence in the global market?
I think that there is some potential there, but they need to step up to larger engines. Jialing actually moved up to a ... modern 600cc six-cylinder, fuel-injected dual sport-adventure/touring kind of bike but it was just reviewed [in] the L.A. Times. [The reviewer] rode one in Xinjiang on a tour trip, and she said—and I basically think she's right—that it's not ready for the U.S. market, and there's lots of reasons, like the styling's funky, there are some things a bit suspect quality.
This bike that I have now, the engine and frame are actually Japanese. But the plastics and the name—it's badged Chinese. They're trying to get into the market.
Internally, the manufacturers and stuff, they've got to adapt a little faster. Now you open up, and you got this world economy. Now you've got to deal with a whole different exchange of different kinds of ideas, needs, attitudes, styles, tastes. How well and how quickly can they adapt to this? They've already been doing this inside South America, and they've got very good response—very good response. And that's not the same kind of market, but so far they've gotten a very good response down there, and if they can build a base and they develop their product, I don't see why they can't be competitive elsewhere. Their manufacturing standards are sufficient, but the design philosophy needs to have a lot more development. And that is gonna come with experience.
You've mentioned online forums and portals for motorcyclists as well as the automatic kinship when you come across other riders on the road. What's this network like?
What you end up really having is a worldwide community of riders, and it really doesn't ever cease to amaze me how quickly they openly accept other riders. ... Literally people give up their beds for you 'cause they know you just came in off the road, and that's not just in China; that's almost everywhere in the world—South America, Central America, Africa, Asia, Europe, certainly North America. ... I've never met any other group of people quite like it. And I'm sure that's a big thing that keeps me into the sport. It's a small group of people, but man are they committed.
What about traditional cyclists you meet on the road?
I think the problems and dilemmas that motorcyclists and cyclists face on the road are very similar. And I will very often stop and talk to bicyclists, and I've got a lot of pictures with them as well. Mostly Chinese. Actually the Chinese are awesome cyclists. That's something I wish the world had a little more recognition of. They bicycle through everything. They don't carry anything! Maybe a plastic bag with a bottle of water and some bread in the back or something, right? And you're like how the hell did you get all the way out here? [They respond], "It's OK, only two more days and I'll be in Golmud" or something.
It's like, "You got a bottle of water! A hundred and fifty kilometers, and you've got a bottle of water! And a thing of bread in the back!" They're phenomenal. And it's not just young guys either. It's older guys too, and girls. I'd say it's probably almost equally girls as it is men.
What would you say to people inspired by the film or your travel logs? What would somebody need to do their own motography?
You need a bike you're somewhat familiar with, and you need some of your own mechanical skills. You have to understand that out on the road, you can find a lot of people who can help you, but you don't want to have to rely on that. You have to bring your tools. If you're going to bring your camera gear, it's gotta be in a place where it won't suffer too much from shock and vibration. You need to do what's called a shake-down ride where you take all your gear, and you ride for a couple of days, so you know how the bike handles, make sure there's no nasty surprises.
Beyond that I think most of it is mental if not emotional preparation. When I went out into it, I had the benefit of being a beginner. If you just don't know, and you've got the gusto, you'll just do it anyway.
You can feel lonely but you also love this freedom to not have to ask anyone else, "So what you want to do?" ... There's no similar-minded culture or person or language that you can bounce your mind off of. When you're in the helmet, you spend a lot of time reflecting on yourself and the things that you've done and how you feel about them. And so that private time in the helmet is very deep, and it's very rich. It will have a profound impact on how you view the world after you come back. The first thing on your mind is the here and now, and then when you get really far out there, you have that kind of traveler's loss of time—you don't even care what month it is; the sun goes up, and the sun goes down, and you need to do certain things within that time period.
Do it if you want change, and do it if you feel like it's important to understand what is potential. And you're willing to be honest with even the ugliest parts of yourself. And I figure if you walk away learning, you really can't lose.