Surrounded by mountains, hulking trees and jungle growth, the untapped beauty of Southern China is a wonder not often beheld. It took a unique group with their love for producing high-end motorbikes to bring us out of the sprawling cityscape and into natural splendor. Start saving your pennies, you might want your own bike when this is all over.
It’s getting harder and harder to ignore the renewed motorcycle culture that’s beginning to span the world over. Individuals and clubs, alike, are spending huge sums of time—and money—looking for, rebuilding, maintaining and of course, riding their bikes. This isn’t just transportation; it’s passion and style. It should then come as no surprise that these aficionados are present even in China, and apparently growing quickly in numbers.
Approximately a year ago, we were introduced to the high-velocity lifestyle of Churchill Custom Motorcycles. For those that missed the story, Winston Sterzel, a South African based in Huizhou, believed in a dream and founded his own custom-build motorbike shop. With business now ticking over, we caught up with the guys and found out more about their most recent exploit: a road trip around the Pearl River Delta and China’s southern provinces on the backs of their beloved machines.
Winston a.k.a. Serpentza
Since the last interview, Winston admitted that there had been some trying obstacles during the year. Losing a member of his team and dealing with high export and labor costs, combined with involving Chinese partners to negotiate licensing issues, have all resulted in Churchill concentrating more on media-based revenue, while still making the occasional specialist build.
This led to the idea of leveraging their annual road trip into something that could gain exposure for the business. Having already used video—via YouTube—to promote his biking escapades, Winston decided to up the ante and professionally document the latest tour. When Winston met Rik, a director and producer on a completely separate project about South Africans living in China, they put their heads together and Conquering Southern China was born.
With over 60,000 km of cross country riding under his belt, he obviously had more than enough experience to pull it all off. Using their hand-built Moriarty bikes, they set off from Huizhou and wheeled all the way to Yunnan on a grueling journey that would last more than two weeks.
Due to the fact that motorbikes are prohibited on Chinese highways, the guys had to navigate many of the smaller backroads to undertake the journey. “It’s a lot of planning, but worth it when you get to see how many inquisitive and hospitable people are out there in the small villages. The one major downside is that the condition of many roads was appalling, causing numerous maintenance issues and downtime,” Winston said.
I asked if would there be a follow-up documentary next year. “Sure, it’s always been an annual thing for us, so looking forward, we plan to do the northern provinces next, with eastern and western to follow,” he explained.
Matt aka Cmilk
Having previously lived in Inner Mongolia, Matt became affiliated with Winston after they began talking online and later came to work for Churchill.
During our previous interview, Matt stated his goal was “…to create Japanese reliability with classic styling,” a feat he feels they have achieved. Many bike builds are capable of running 5000 km without mechanical failure.
“Ultimately we are niche business that aims for practicality, with style,” Matt explained. Still, despite their best efforts to make affordable products, Matt now reiterates Winston’s point that the Chinese market is not a lucrative or viable long-term business plan.
Lengthy and costly export permit processes mean that prestigious builds are still only reserved for the elite, as the pace of the market is still not fully developed. Hence, the shift of focus to media-based projects.
Rik aka Director
Coming from UK and based in Beijing, Rik has made numerous short films and documentaries, but admits that this is his first stab at a creating a series.
“The trip was so long, we decided to cut it into four parts at half an hour each. We followed the guys in a backup car carrying all our filming equipment, but they had the advantage when it came to the rural terrain; we virtually destroyed the rental car we were in,” Rik said.
Citing his most memorable moment of the trip, Rik recounted, “It had to be when we were in Guangxi province. We were in a small village where the locals are forbidden to cut their hair. The tradition is to only use fermented rice water to wash it, which obviously didn’t smell too good. Winston lost a bet to Matt, which resulted in him having to wash his hair in the putrid solution. I will never forget watching him heave as he undertook his task to the amusement of the surrounding villagers!”