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Chinese Three Wheelers

One of the things that struck me as REALLY cool when we got to travel around China, was the variety of vehicles that I'd never seen before. Sure there are lots of Volkswagens. And here in Shanghai there are a good number of Buick's and GM products, and a lot of busses and trucks, and dinky motorcycles but (especially as you get Cool 3 wheel caraway from the ultra-modern coastal cities) there are also an astonishing variety of vehicles not like anything seen on American roads.


Pictured at the left here is the proud owner, and a small taxi or courier car from a small city in JiangSu province. This little car is a bit unusual, as it's not based on a motorcycle or a tractor, but is a rear wheel drive, fully enclosed vehicle that happens to have just one wheel up front. I don't know if it counts as "rack and pinion" steering if there's only one wheel, but it has a pinion.


This is a Chang Jiang 750 motorcycle made for the Chinese military, but is now privately owned. This bike, and it's variants, are by far the most common 3 wheel passenger vehicle I've seen in my travels about China. What's that you say? It looks like BMW R71 series from the 1930s? Well, there's a reason for that. These are directly descended from the venerable rigid-framed, 750cc air-cooled opposed twin with enclosed shaft drive. This machine is excused from the 150cc restriction on motorcycle engine size because it has the sidecar attached, and is thus a 3 wheel vehicle. This particular example was in Beijing, but these bikes are not uncommon everywhere we've been in China. There are several manufacturers of similar bikes in varying configurations, but the Chang Jiang is the top of the heap in terms of quality.


The more modern bike below is tagged "Feng Tong" and serves as a police bike on the island of Putoushan.

Other side of police sidecar750cc sidecar police bike



A lot of small transportation and service needs are cheaply met by rear wheel drive motorcycle based three wheelers. These are mostly the familiar 150cc motorcycles outfitted with a two-wheel rear axle, and some kind of frame or enclosure.


3 wheel taxi

This yellow beauty is a taxi in Chingqing, which is a high altitude northwestern city, so it gets cold. I doubt if it has heat, but I'm sure that the hard shell makes for a much more comfortable ride than the more open configurations below.

Both vehicles below were photographed (at night) in Dali. Dali is in a southern region, and is pretty temperate even in January when we were there. I'm not sure of the gearing, but the area there is quite hilly, and these bikes have very small engines. In any case you see lots of transporters like these all over China

SMall Motorcycle truckAn open Cab from a warmer place

Another common variant of the three wheel motorcycle is the "handicapped" vehicle shown below. You see old people, and folks without full use of their legs riding around on these glorified mopeds. Shown below are a motorcycle styled version on the left, and an older example with a more mo-ped feeling.

More modern 3 wheeler for aq handicapped personMotorized trycicle for handicapped person

The most modern version has a "Scooter" front end, with a nice cut out providing for easy mounting without the need of lifting a leg over the gas tank. The stylin' front end also means that grandfather can feel cool chillin' at the exercise park or running down to the majhong hall.

Are they all red? That's a good question. I'm pretty sure that I've seen yellow and black ones too, but I'm not sure they're placarded as "handicapped".


Sometimes you still see the father of these machines around. I saw this gentleman in the marketplace near Fuzi Miao (Confucious Temple) in southern Nanjing. You can't see it in this picture, but the bike is driven by a hand crank (behind the basket). The lever he's holding is the brake, and turning is accomplished via the high-mounted steering wheel.

One of the most common work vehicles is this tricycle with a bed. These serve the role that pickup trucks do in the US. They haul everything from people to pipes. The bed is sometimes replaced with a box for hauling, and the same basic frame is sometimes fitted with a seat and a cover, and used for pedi-cabs.

While we're looking at work vehicles, let's see some tractors and trucks. The majority of the tractors we saw in the countryside were like this example to the left. A two seat cab with a bed on the back supported by two un-driven wheels, 3 wheel light cargo van with external engine and front wheel driveand the engine mounted out in the air over the front wheel. The whole assembly then swings on a pivot to turn. Not exactly a high performance arrangement, but it puts the engine in a place where it's easy to work on, and it provides great traction. I've seen this same simple two stroke engine (or ones just like it) powering pumps, compressors, and generators too. Simple tractor external engine front weel driveThere's also a four wheel version of this tractor that's quite common, but that'll be on the "Cars and trucks" page.

My son Asa is here standing in front of the most rudimentary example of this type of tractor I've yet come across. It's a garbage hauler in the town of YangShuo.

Full sized truck - only with three wheels.

This medium duty truck is about the heaviest three wheel vehicle I've seen. It's rear wheel drive, and has double wheels under the bed, so I don't doubt that it could haul a ton - slowly and without braking on any sharp downhill curves. It was photographen in the northwestern mountain city of ShiYan, and there's a bit of snow on the fender.

A simple 3 wheel pick-up

This much lighter little pick-up trike serves in the countryside not far from our school in Shanghai. I was amused by the scooter front end, and the kitchen chair driver's seat.

As always, if you have any comments or corrections, please feel free to drop me a line at the email address below.


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