June 14th, 2018.

According to Trader’s ‘man in China’, importing bikes from China into the UK is fraught with hazards, but with a little know-how can pay dividends. Here, David McMullan delivers a short masterclass

Over the last two years, I have seen an escalation in enquiries about the import of motorcycles from China to the UK, so here’s a quick guide on what to do!

First, do some market research — get down with the kids! What’s in vogue, café racers, scramblers, adventure bikes, or scooters? Chinese companies manufacture machines to suit all and more, although if you’re looking for a new 1,200cc superbike, forget China.

China specialises in 125cc bikes, with some decent models up to 600cc. Many of the bigger bike manufacturers have a ‘sole trader’ agreement with companies in the UK. Another option is to employ a Chinese factory to make a bike according to your specifications. Most manufacturers will agree to do this, but make sure you have a binding legal agreement in place forbidding them from making your design for any other company.

You can only choose factories that produce Euro 4-compliant models, unless you’re importing off-road motorcycles only. When contacting the manufacturer about your model of choice, make sure that you have seen a copy of the Euro 4 certificate of conformity — many Chinese companies advertise ‘motorcycles of Euro 4 standard’, which means nothing without the correct paperwork.

In the past, several importers have used Chinese trading companies. This can be problematic for many reasons, not least the fact that if the trading company goes out of business, you have no direct relationship with the OEM producing the parts you rely on. Trading companies are middlemen, so will cost you more money per unit. Using a trading company does have its positives, though, such as that it can source from several different manufacturers on your behalf. Alibaba used to be the go-to service for importers of Chinese motorcycles. These days Alibaba seems to be filled with products, and many of the ‘factories’ on this platform are trading companies, advertising products they do not make.

The most tried-and-tested way of sourcing your products is to get off your bum and fly to Guangzhou for the Canton fair. Hosted in April and October of every year, the Canton fair is the biggest display of export models in one place in China.

Unless you have experience of importing from China, it’s advisable to work with a freight-forwarder based there. This is by far the most popular option for businesses importing Chinese motorcycles and can be arranged by your Chinese motorcycle manufacturer or agent. The advantage is speed. There is no need for an account manager based in the importing country, but the problem of the extra expense remains. Insurance is normally around 0.4 per cent of total goods value and covers you for all kinds of damage — I have seen container ships sink in the Yangtze, so it’s important!

You may have problems with aftermarket parts sales if you employ a trading company. All motorcycle manufacturers will offer you two to three per cent spare parts for each unit (though you may receive less). Make sure you get the parts that go wrong more often by researching into the matter — ask dealers for advice.

If you need any help with visiting China for the Canton fair or China Motorcycle Parts Fair contact