08 May, 2008

The mighty Haobon (or oh!, how low can the mighty fall.)

So why did I choose a little 125cc road bike for this trip?

Well there wasn't a whole lot of choice quite frankly. In Guanxi province motorcycles are limited to a maximum capacity of 150cc, whereas up around ChongQing and Sichuan 200cc bikes are readily available.

Given the choice of a 125 or 150 it really didn't make much of a difference. The specs on all Chinese bikes read roughly the same and the 125 is rated at 7.5hp and max speed of 85kmh, with the 150 giving a mere 5kmh more top end. Unfortunately there are no offroad bikes available in Guanxi dealers - Mike's Shining Ray was purchased direct from the factory)

Once I had decided on a new bike (in essence because used bikes were actually MORE expensive as the price reflected the restricted number of registration plates available in the location i.e. you buy an old bike with a plate so you can transfer that plate to a new bike) I had to choose a model.
Given the similarities it was fairly easy - what's the best deal the dealer would do? This was where Mike was able to help. He had a great relationship with a dealer who offered the Haobon (pronounced HOW BO) for 3,600 yuan (or USD$500) out the door. My choice was simple - blue or red? I chose blue as it matches my old Suzuki 1400 colour scheme pretty nicely.

The Haobon is made in Guangdong and offers a number of nice (and not so nice, but different) features.


Alloy wheels - far, far better for surviving rough roads. No breaking spokes like some R1200GSes I know.
Front disc brake - not brilliant, but not bad stopping power.
Full instruments including fuel gauge and digital gear indicator.
Electric and kick start.
Handle bar mounted sports fairing - brilliant for keeping the wind blast off the body at those heady speeds of 60kmh and above.
Dual bulb headlight - the lighting is pretty good actually.
Chunky tread rear tyre for good grip on loose surfaces.
Strong rear rack for holding all my baggage.

Narrow seat with paper thin foam providing extremely limited comfort.
5 speed gearbox with ALL down shift pattern BUT with one excellent feature - you can keep going down after 5th and back into neutral and then 1st. This means at the lights you kick down 2 gears to get back to 1st rather than up 4. However, old habits die hard and it is very easy to go the wrong way with your intended change.
Fairly poor build quality with VERY cheap plastics and inaccurate instruments.

Inside, however,  there beats a heart of gold.

For fuller details see http://www.haobonmotor.com/english/productn.asp?ArticleID=202

Additional FREE features that the dealer threw in with the bike include.
2 el cheapo local helmets - I gave these away.
El cheapo top box - yep, you can see it in the photos.
U lock (haven't used it yet)
.... and best of all, a rain poncho. This useful device is great for showers, has a clear section to put over the headlight and is big enough to also cover my backpack (which sits on the passenger seat and is strapped to the top box).

On the subject of reliability, and how well the Haobon is holding together, I have had the following issues to date:

Day 1 - lost the left passenger footpeg - I assume there was no split pin in the holding rod. Peg now replaced.
Day 1 - speedo, tacho and fuel gauge totally inaccurate. They vary their measurements at whim. Not repaired but speedo confirmed to be accurate (as per the GPS) at 70kmh.
Day 2 - seat compressed sufficiently that my butt now hits the seat rails over bumps. Fortunately in Eastern China the roads are not as rough, nor are there as many road works, so this hasn't been a problem in Inner Mongolia. The addition of crash bars (for use as highway pegs) has helped tremendously too, to the point at which I no longer consider this a major shortcoming.
Day 2 - clutch jerking badly on release. Subsequently turns out to be rear cush drive rubbers which are torn to shreds. Replaced on 11th May (for a total cost of $2.50 including installation) and all fine now.
Day 3 - tail light bulb blown (both brake and rear light). Bulb replaced and no recurrence.
Day 3 - lens falls out of tail light. Repaired with duct tape and still holding.
Day 8/9 - punctures on consecutive days. Rear tube replaced both times. No subsequent recurrence (edit - 4 further punctures after returnign from Mongolia into China).

Otherwise the bike is performing fine. The engine appears bulletproof. The wheels and suspension are doing a great job on the rough roads. Brakes and steering work very well and the tyres have excellent grip on the loose rough surfaces. The rear rack is super-strong (edit: it did eventually break after riding a truly atrocious road - had it welded and no further problems) and a couple of times when I have hit roadworks with 300mm deep potholes or bumps (I'm talking about riding on major highways here guys! - that should give you some idea of the quality of some of these roads) I have attained a fair bit of air before landing hard with no negative consequences to any part of the Haobon. It's fair to say that the bike is really suited to Chinese driving conditions quite well as averaging more than 50kmh is just about impossible in any vehicle when the roads are so congested, have constant roadworks and go through the middle of a town every 10km or

The 11 litre tank offers a range of 400-450kms amazing when you consider the 15 litre tank on my Burgie will take me just over 300kms if I am really lucky. Mind you I was cruising at almost double the speed on the Burgie.

What is amazing is that I rode the bike out the door of the dealer and immediately ran it at regular speeds - within 1/2 an hour I had it up to 70kmh (which is over 7,000rpm in 5th) and ran it at over 6,000rpm all day for over 450klm on Day 1. It was only when I checked the manual on Day 2 that I realised the factory says keep revs below 3,000rpm for the first 500km and below 4,000rpm for the first 1000km!!

Given its baptism by fire, and the extraordinary punishment I was giving the beastie on Day 4, I reckon it is standing up pretty well.

..... and that is really what touring Chinese style is all about. Slow, dirty, tiring... but exhilarating and a real sense of accomplishment a the end of each day.

The final words on the Haobon relate to registration. Mike advised that I have 30 days in Guanxi before rego is required, so I have elected to forego it given that whoever I end up selling the bike to is going to have obtain rego in their location. To date, Mike's advice has been vindicated and no police officer has even commented on the lack of plates. In addition, I have seen MANY vehicles without plates (even Police cars!) so I figure I'm doing the right thing.

Now a little competition for you all - I need a name for this little brute. The best I could come up with was HOONBA - an anagram of HAOBON but I am sure someone out there can do better. Let the suggestions begin.

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