Joe Martin

My search for a bike with a sidecar started a few years back about the time I was going through my bankruptcy and divorce at the same time. I had a Harley Davidson shovelhead for about ten years and loved riding, but being married and having a few kids curtailed that pleasure quite often. Needing money for something else, I sold my Harley with the hopes of getting something in the future to take my two kids around in. I came across the Urals with the sidecar and thought that was the answer. I have owned five air-cooled VWs over the past ten years and do most of my wrenching so the BMW horizontally opposed style motor seemed pretty close to what I was used to. I started the hunt on the Internet to find what kind of Ural I would get, accessories, and how to make it look a bit older and "cooler" looking. I came across pictures of the Chang Jiang and knew that was the bike for me. It had the vintage look with the old style plunger frame, spring seats, and a great history as a military working bike. I've had a thing for military vehicles. I drove a VW Thing years back and was a vehicle mechanic in the U.S. Air Force for 4 years.

I joined the Chang Jiang Experience Yahoo group and found a local guy Fred Croxton, right in my town of Allen, Texas who had a newer CJ and was nice enough to let me look at his up close. He not only took me for a spin down the street, he let me pilot his rig, and from that moment on, I knew I had to have one. That was in July of 2005 and my journey had begun. Another CJ owner by the name of Fred Balanay from California was the next to contact me and has been the most helpful in the process of buying the bike from overseas.I explained to him money was extremely tight with me and would have to sell a well loved 1965 Volkswagen Westfalia bus to fund the bike purchase and was for a better word, leery of sending my money across the seas to a country half way around the world. Fred told me of his dealings with Shao the bike builder from CJSidecar. He had bought two bikes from him and had nothing but positive things to say about Shao. It seemed Fred and I became sort of pen-pals as I was hounding him with a million questions via e-mail. I gotta say, Fred is a very patient man to put up with all my questions; "but what about...? how do you get...? where do I...?" bla bla bla.

At this point, Fred informed me he has a co-worker that lives not too far from me in Dallas, Texas by the name of John Hosier. It turns out John was getting his bike delivered about September that year from Shao. Cool! Another person to ask questions to and he lives within driving distance! John was great telling me his stories on picking up his bike at customs in Dallas (where I would go too), and walking me through the whole process of paperwork to get my bike registered... but I'm getting ahead of myself.

I contacted Shao and asked him for a quote to build a bike with a list of things I wanted to have installed or done to it. Shao was another patient man dealing with a bombardment of questions. His quote was reasonable to me, and I had to make the hard choice of selling my beloved VW bus to fund the bike build. With an empty hole in my heart, I watched my reliable fun hippie bus drive off into the sunset with it's new owner, holding a crisp cashier's check in my hand. Keep in mind, I've owned that hippie camper for ten years and watched my two kids grow up in it. I remember thinking "this better be worth it!" The next day, I deposited the check into the bank for overseas money orders to Shao. It's late October 2005 now. By early November, Shao started my bike in Beijing. It was a surreal experience to see progress pictures of my new bike being built in China. I knew the bike was mine, but couldn't touch it or examine it closer than the progress photos from Shao. I saw the pictures from the sandblasted body/fenders and frame, to the painted parts, and finally to the complete bike that now sits in my garage. I was hoping to see my bike under the Christmas
tree that year, but had to wait a bit more and got to know the experience of patience very well.

The day I had been waiting for; February 22, 2006. Evan, a good neighbor of mine had volunteered to use his truck and grab a buddy's flat bed trailer to give me a hand picking up my crate. I had regaled the tale of buying this bike to him over many months and had a notebook full of facts, pictures, and documents to show him. I think he was just as excited to see it as I was. This guy was a real trooper and fellow biker (custom Indian Scout) and it was even his wedding anniversary! Damn! What a guy, huh? He was going to swing by and pick me up at 6:00 AM to beat the traffic down to the customs warehouse in Dallas. I couldn't sleep a wink and was up drinking coffee at 4:00 AM fully clothed waiting by the door.

Evan and I waited patiently as the forklift loaded my crate onto his 7x12 foot trailer. It slid right in. We both brought hammers and wrecking bars to rip the crate open and I barely had time to take pictures. There it was, my 1972 OHV CJ 750. It was decked out in WW II Afrika Korps beige and dressed up with three ammo boxes and a jerry can. Within minutes, my bike was free of its shipping crate. It had been about seven months since I rode Fred's bike, but it seemed like an eternity to finally have one of my own. John gave me a heads up of what to expect with our local folks down at customs. He told a funny story of them doing an Abbot and Costello routine of getting the documents and cargo, but wouldn't release one without the other. It's funnier when he tells it. For me, things went pretty smooth, except for one thing. The officer behind the counter told me he needs to inspect the bike to make sure it has a MPH speedo and some other crap I had never heard of. He explained that people might confuse Km/H with MPH and be whizzing around at excessive speeds... obviously he hasn't ridden a CJ. And if you think about it, if we were looking at our Km/H speedo and it said 60 Km/H, we would be putting around at under 40 MPH. Well he had a gun and another document I needed so I didn't argue with him and left feeling a bit dismayed. (I later found out he was wrong because of the bike's age and didn't need a MPH speedo.) That was enough fun for one day dealing with customs and paperwork, so we headed back to my place with my new bike strapped down to the trailer.

After giving the bike a good examination at my house, we put gas in the tank, hooked up the battery and videotaped me kicking the motor over 16 times before she fired up. It turns out, I had the choke closed too much and it wouldn't start. Trial and error, my friends, that's life, eh? Evan held the camcorder and climbed into the sidecar and we were off! It was frickin' freezing that day (in the thirties) and didn't even take jackets with us. The excitement I felt was just like I thought it would be. We took turns driving and riding around and froze our nuts and bolts off. It didn't matter, I was in the wind again!

I did have to take my bike down to customs again so they could look at the VIN on the frame to verify it matched the paperwork from Shao. That was their assurance I wasn't trying to import contraband or something else into the country. With the signed form from customs, I was off to my local police anti-theft department and gathered the last notarized document I needed to register and title my bike. After a visit to vehicle registration and about $200 later, I was holding the long sought after temporary title and registration declaring the bike was mine, ALL MINE!!

As far as being mechanically sound, I did have to go over the bike with a bottle of blue locktite and hand tools assuring everything was secure and wouldn't fall off. This was after my tail light cover fell off my side car fender while riding. I was taking my kids for a spin and heard a "ting-ting-ting" sound behind me. I glanced back just in time to see my cover bouncing into the tall grass beside the road. I combed that section of road many times and never found it. The first thing that went through my head was that the same thing happened to Fred. His was ran over by a truck and was unusable. I am in the process of replacing both assemblies with the Model A tail lights from JC Whitney. I saw many pictures on CJU and liked the way they go with the style of the bike. I have some extra scrap metal in my garage and will fabricate a bracket more permanent than the temporary one I put on recently. One of the biggest improvements was to lube my cables and pre-stretch them. After lubing them and adjusting the free-play, I zip-tied the levers to the hand grips and left them overnight to stretch. It made quite a bit of difference. I noticed my rear wheel was slinging the wheel bearing grease from the hub internally and now my rear brake shoe is saturated with a nice coat of grease. I guess the heat from riding back there thinned out the grease and centrifugal force did the rest. I plan to upgrade the wheel bearings with double sealed ones ASAP. I have only had minor things to attend to on the bike. Even though I found out I have three bent push rods, I was still able to ride it with properly adjusted valves for over 500km so far. Shao sent a replacement set for me. The other day my clutch cable broke on the lever end but was able to ride it home so no biggie there. I just used the replacement cable Shao sent me with the bike.

Well folks, that's pretty much it for the bad. Everything else is great! I have been very impressed with the motor and how smooth it is. It's a far cry from my old Harley shovelhead. Yup, I can even see out of my mirrors when I ride! You Harley riders know what I mean. I love the way the bike handles with the side car. I feel like I'm on an ATV when I go around curves and feel very stable and secure on the road. And the reverse? That's the greatest thing since sliced bread! I love backing into a parking spot without looking like a cartoon character spinning his feet to gain traction.

She fires off with the first kick even when it was 38 degrees in the mornings, I can't complain. Fred and John were right. Everywhere I go, people smile and give me the thumbs up. Er... I'm pretty sure their using thumbs. I haven't had this kind of attention since I drove my old hippie bus. I refuse to be in the norm, and this bike is a great avenue to experience road travel in. With basic mechanical skills, a love for motorcycles and the willingness to share stories with anyone who asks questions, I would recommend a CJ750 to anyone.

Thanks to everyone who helped me along the way. I look forward to adding more stories in the future.

Click here to read another article by Joe