By far the most common configuration for commercial vehicles in China is three wheels, one steering wheel at the front and two driving wheels at the rear.
It would be fair to say that most Kiwis would not have seen a three wheeled vehicle unless of course they were fans of Rowan Atkinson’s wonderful TV character Mr Bean. In many of the episodes Mr Bean’s Mini comes in to gentle contact with a three wheeled Reliant ,this contact always leads to the Reliant quietly trundling off the road and gently tipping over, all very amusing.
Three wheeled vehicles have never made it in big numbers in the UK and in fact were probably only manufactured at all because of a taxation advantage over conventional four wheeled vehicles.
In NZ, apart from a few BMW Issetta ‘s and other German ‘bubble cars now in collectors hands, three wheeled vehicles are not seen.
In China they are everywhere, in all shapes, sizes ,carrying capacities and engine capacities. Theyare pedal-powered, petrol-powered and diesel-powered . The pedal-powered ones are manned by lean but very strong farmers and are used to transport farm goods and occasionally the whole family including farm animals and pets.
The petrol-powered versions are powered by small 125 cc to 150 cc Chinese-made Honda or Yamaha engines. They are very quiet and in the form of a three wheeled taxi can carry 4 passengers plus the driver: quite remarkable for such tiny engines . Their top speed fully loaded is about 30 kms per hour. There have been thousands of these little taxi’s in the cities we have passed through over the last 4 weeks as we have made our way across China.
But by far the most destinctive three wheelers are the diesel powered versions .These are all powered by a single cylinder diesel engine with varying capacities from 500 cc to giant single cylinders of upto 2000 cc
They carry loads of farm produce, building material – in fact any load you can think of – and are always grossly overloaded. With a top speed of 40 kms per hour any increase in gradient causes the already over-worked engines to billow clouds of black smoke and the engine revs drop so that individual firing strokes can easily be counted !! Following them is not good for one’s health!
These amazing vehicles are still being made , are all painted” Mao Tse Tung blue” and have a reputation of lasting forever. It is easy to see why they are so popular and so much part of the Chinese landscape in both the countryside and the cities.
We have captured a picture and a sound byte of these remarkable machines. Make sure you listen to it.