CITY GUIDE >Highlights
Dragons in full throttle
(China Daily)
Updated: 2009-09-22 11:48

Dragons in full throttle

American Jim Bryant, leader of biker group the Beijing Dragons, with his collection of motorbikes.[Agencies]

It's 9:30 am on a Sunday and American Jim Bryant, clad in oil-stained blue jeans and a black shirt, leans against his Chang Jiang 750 motorcycle, waiting for the Beijing Dragons.

One by one, motorcycles file into the Pinnacle Plaza parking lot in Shunyi district, the meeting point for the motorcycle enthusiasts. Today, the group includes two-wheeled Hondas, a Yamaha and the sleeker Chang Jiang 750 (CJ750), the favored ride.

The bikes form a line behind Bryant before he gives the signal to leave. Then six engines give a throaty roar, muffling the morning chatter of birds and cicadas, turn their bikes to the mountains and rip down the Shunyi highway.

"Usually we have anywhere between seven to 20 riders," said Bryant. "They come from everywhere."

The Beijing Dragons have been riding every Sunday since 1997, when it was formed as a recreational motorcycle group.

Dragons in full throttle

Bryant has lived in China for 28 years and led the Dragons since 2001, when former leader Rick Dunnagan returned to the US.

Bryant said his interest in motorcycles was inspired by a CJ750 he was given as a gift from his wife in 1997.

"CJ750s are historical," Bryant said of the bike, which was invented by BMW in Germany during the late 1930s and sold to the Russians during World War II.

"They are good-looking bikes with an interesting background."

After riding around the US for three months in 2005, Bryant then shipped the bike to Europe and rode more than 8,000 km to Beijing over the course of one year.

He later opened Jimbo's Classic Sidecars in Shunyi district after walking away from a career at Subway, where he owned two restaurants and franchised more than 30 outlets.

At any given point, Bryant is customizing about 5 or 6 motorcycles.

"We get guys in here all the time that will have a bike fixed and a week later join us for a ride," Bryant said.

"What's special about riding China is the reaction you get from people when they see you pull up on a bike. You could be from Mars and get a similar reaction.

"It's like riding in the wild west."

This Sunday the group includes mostly an American crew, as well as Alexei Vonovon, a Maldovan embassy employee.

"We occasionally get some Chinese riders, but it's mostly Western expats," said Bryant, who wants more Chinese motorcycle enthusiasts to ride with the group.

Over eight hours the group covers more than 350 km, rumbling along highways and back roads, skirting through small towns lined with rolling mountains on the outer limits of Beijing, and spiraling to the top of a mountain on a dusty, forgotten two-track road.

Bryant and his friends rumble through a small town at the foot of mountains on the outer limits of Beijing. Courtesy of Beijing Dragons

Dragons in full throttle

Bryant and his friends rumble through a small town at the foot of mountains on the outer limits of Beijing. Courtesy of Beijing Dragons

Bryant had hoped the road would lead them over the mountain into Hebei province, but instead it ends abruptly, blocked by a wall of thick foliage. Bryant cuts the engine, lets out a disappointed sigh and maneuvers his bike back along the thin trail. He rides 15 minutes down the mountain to the base, his entourage in tow.

For Bryan Wylie, a US embassy employee, cruising the back roads of Beijing with the Dragons is the only chance he gets to unwind.

"We have no goals, no mission statement, it's just a relaxed atmosphere of getting out and riding, which is why I go with them," said Wylie, who has been riding with the Dragons for about 12 years. "Leave the serious stuff at work."

In the more populated cities the group is met with the curious glances but as they move farther away from town they are treated as a spectacle.

Children run to say "hello", locals grin and wave, people stop what they are doing and stare as the group cruises by.

At one point, the procession passes a crumbling piece of the Great Wall. Stopping for a quick break, the Dragons suck in the mountain air and revel in the natural landscape.

"(The Great Wall) has been here for hundreds of years and it will be here for hundreds of years after I'm gone, but it's good to know that for a short period of time I got to experience it," Bryant said.