Shanghai Sideways Offers Vintage Motorcycle Tours
If you want to trade the tourist trail for an insider’s slant in to China’s hippest city, simply slip in to a 1930s German sidecar and let the locals do the talking.
Shanghai Sideways French proprietor Thomas Chabrieres always had his eye on the China prize. He had a long line of French relatives feeding his wanderlust and love of Asia at an early age as his father and grandfather told him about their extensive travels to China. Chabrieres knew early on that he too would be headed that way.
Shanghai Sideways tour kicks off in the French Concession, a part of Shanghai that was administered by the French in the late 1880s and through the mid-twentieth century. The tony area has an immediate European and French feel as the tree lined streets are filled with Sycamores that were brought over by the French.
Throughout the tour Chabrieres shares tidbits rich in history, delivered casually in conversation while driving the vintage sidecar, a Chinese Chang Jiang 750, a replica of the 1956 Soviet IMZ (Irbitski Mototsikletniy Zavod) M-72, which is a replica of the German 1938 BMW R71.
Chabrieres has a fleet of 30 or so sidecars at his disposal and a group of impassioned expats that run the tours, because they love the city and the sidecars. The Bund is barely mentioned. Instead you zip through alley ways, are taken to private clubs, shown interesting Art Deco buildings like the James Cohan Gallery and talk about the city’s art and architecture. All the while you are weaving through busy streets and alleyways while capturing locals get their food groove on at local markets. It’s the side of Shanghai you would see if you lived there.
One such local spot is the evocative Yongfoo Elite, originally a member's only club and once home to the British Consulate in Shanghai. Today it is a restaurant, not known for the food. Instead, it is the vintage décor that is a feast for the modern eye, as are the gardens, by day or by night lit by a sea of candles. It’s a top spot to see and be seen and a plum place to look back at what the glory days of Shanghai were like in the roaring '20s and '30s.
The Kee Club is another such spot today. It's an exclusive private club, made up of twin stone villas from the '20s and styled like a private residence from the '20s. It’s an urban oasis where members are encouraged to indulge in the finer things in life such as art, food, fashion, wine and each other. It’s where the arty, influential and entrepreneurial go to mingle, make deals and get in to mischief.
Taking in the city at a slightly slower sidecar pace allows for an inspired look back at a city that seems to be moving full speed ahead.
January 11, 2013 update: Shanghai Sideways has changed its name to Shanghai Insiders.