Ah, blashpemy, sweet blasphemy! Today I can’t escape the feeling that I’ve betrayed my scooterist roots by bashing my way through some backroads of endless bushland of the north-east coast of Australia. No doubt the beast of choice for such an endevour is not the horse or oxen of yesteryear, but the gutteral roar of my friend’s 600cc quad-bike.
The bush here is a spectacular array of earthy browns, greens and yellows, all of which whirl by in a flurry as you belt your way down the several hundred kilometres of winding muddy, potholed roads. At times, I found myself wondering what kind of a trip it would turn out to be on my beloved 150cc TGB scooter? Needless to say, with ditches well over double the size of my scoot’s little wheels – not to mention the occasional gaping hole of bombshell crater proportions – I wasn’t going to find out any time soon.
Having walked many of these trails on previous trips to this beautiful part of the world, I can’t help but think that there’s something a little disconcerting about the noise pollution, waste of petrol and disruption of nature that firing up one of these bush-beasts leads to. I think it’s easy enough to justify buzzing around on a scooter in the city when you factor in the reduction of greenhouse gas emisions made possible from a tiny 100 or 150cc engine as compared to a car. Joy-riding through the bush may have its appeal for a while, but I think in the future I’ll leave outings like this to those who feel the call to the wild via ego-driven, fuel-chugging motors. Horses for courses, eh?
After only a few days here I couldn’t resist the urge to document one of the many great rides through this magical island. This day tour took me from the funky little town of Ubud north through the central mountains and down into the valley at the foot of Gunung Batur. Hope you enjoy!
Bali Sandat Inn II, Kuta, Indonesia. It’s 10am and you’ve been up for an hour or so, taking a leisurely dip in the swimming pool, having a delicious breakfast at the local cafe while perusing The Weekend Australian, delivered to you personally along with your preferred morning repast of pancakes, Balinese coffee and fruit salad. Pardon the cliché, but what could possibly make the day any more perfect? How about seeing the world wizz past your eyes in a colorful flurry of sights, sounds and smells? How about coasting through the open-air, past pristine white-sand beaches, cool mountainscapes and endless picturesque rice paddies? How stopping by a roadside, sitting on a plastic stool, and smugly sipping iced tea as you realise that it doesn’t get much better than this? Yes indeed, it’s time to hand over 70,000 Rupea (about eight bucks) and live the dream – your very own Bali bike for the day.
Before you put the rose-coloured glasses on though, there are a few things you should know. In fact, here are a few things that will send more than a tingle or two down your spine. Riding any sort of a two-wheeled contraption with an engine in a developing country can be a tad risky for the following reasons:
- Is this a mirror I see before me? Oh, yes it is – and, why yes, I do look good! If Balinese motorcyclists have rear-vision mirrors, then you might as well rename them ‘vanity’ mirrors, because that is literally what they are – witness the number of one-mirror modifications, with the remaining mirror turned diagonally to form a portrait frame into which most riders look to fix hair, adjust earings and tighten helmet straps.
- You call that a helmet? In all seriousness, most helmets wouldn’t pass Australian safety standards for push-bikes, let alone something with an engine.
- More ducking and weaving takes place on Indonesian roads than in a large-scale millitary training camp.
- Footpaths are regularly used as ‘wheel’ paths when narrow roads don’t permit two-lane passing. This is especially the case during peak hour, where obliging pedestrians on footpaths skip, shuffle and strafe their way around long lines of bikes.
- All roads should lead to Rome, except in Indonesia, where it’s anyone’s guess. Even my guide got lost on a number of occasions.
- One has the impression that the bikes are as old as many of the Hindu deities worshiped here. At 43,000km on the clock and definitely in its twilight years, my bike sported a wheezing engine that sounded like an asthmatic geriatric complaining bitterly about life’s woes. Defiance was also evident when the ol’ codger decided to stall on me on the right hand lane of a busy 6-lane highway. Needless to say I wasn’t going anywhere fast.
Ok – so now I’ve scared you, here are a few things that might cheer you up a little:
- Amidst all the horn-tooting, sudden lane-changing and footpath sharing there is a pervading sense of harmony and a strange order to the surrounding chaos. All of this rests on the fact that unlike western countries – vehicles have to conform to one driver’s/rider’s ‘right of way’ and the horn is used as an emergency measure. In Bali, the onus rests on each rider to warn others of their presence on the road. This means plenty more horn sounding. But the flipside is that you don’t use the rear vision mirror, because every time someone is in your blindspot you can expect a poilte toot. It’s not saying ‘get out of my way you bastard!’ it’s more like ‘Hellow there friend. In case you weren’t quite sure, I’m over here!’
- Motorists of all kinds rarely go very fast. The norm is 40km/hr. Sure, an accident is still an accident, but dropping your bike at 40 is far less potentially fatal than having a stack at 80.
- Balinese roads are (generally) very-well paved with (generally) good signage, traffic lights and (generally) usually plenty of room to (generally) move.
So are you tempted? I was! These are just some of the photos from my trip through the rice paddies to the fabled Hindu temple of Thanah Lot on the picturesque coastal cliffs of the southern-Bali peninsular. You can find more about my time overseas by checking out my RealTravel blog here.
As any blogger knows, it’s hard work maintaining a blog. Harder still though, is the sense of failure that comes when we continually put off making a post because we feel it’s not good enough. I’ve been lucky enough to be part of such a wonderful community of bloggers and readers whose comments have been inspiring and encouraging. After having posted regularly for quite some time last year though, I can’t believe how my own sense of perfectionism has stopped me from putting fingers to keyboard and sharing some of my wonderful experiences.
Perfectionism can be a dangerous thing! Thanks to the support of all my readers, I’ve decided that sometimes it’s more important to get the idea out than letting it languish inside your head. So here goes…
How often have you led a double life? For many of us, the teenage years provided the fertile soil in which our tendencies to say one thing and do the other grew like a field of wildflowers. Just think about the number of times you said, “Sure mum… I promise I’ll be home by 11… no, I’m only going to the movies to see ‘Driving Miss Daisy’!”
For some of us, this rigorous adolescent training comes in mighty handy. Especially when one’s mother has maintained a hard-line stance summed up with the simple words “you’ll ride a motorcycle over my dead body!”
One day my girlfriend’s mother comes to visit – a once a year occurrence that always has us changing water in fish tanks, scouring ovens, scrubbing toilets and squeegee-ing windows until all is squeaky-clean and in record timing. This occasion is the first visit since the purchase of the scooter back in April. And so it is that I begin depositing my ideas into the local Bank of White Lies:
“Oh that thing? We’re minding it for a friend…”
“Yeah – that next-door neighbor is a real hoon! wakes us up with that engine roaring at 2am every morning!”
“Who on EARTH has parked this scooter in my driveway?! I will speak to council about this first thing Monday morning!”
Of course we’re rather lucky here folks – we live in a block of eight units, so it’s unlikely she’ll assume that the scooter is ours. That is, unless she spots our gear.
“Why don’t we just take our helmets, jackets and gloves and shove them in a laundry basket with towels on top?” Felicity asked.
“Because your mother would lift the towels up and find them,” I patiently reply.
“What about in the cupboard?”
“Your mother would open the cupboard door and find them.”
“Your mother would open the lid and…”
You see, the mother of which we speak is the meticulous type. She likes to inspect and suggest, and is generally none too pleased if we don’t placate with the usual ‘oh – what a great idea! wish I’d thought of that!’ She also likes to poke around.
Needless to say, I load up the car with everything from our riding gear to my collection of Australian Scooter Magazine, my scooter manual, extra sets of keys and a nice-looking Vespa key ring that Felicity bought me from Europe. I drive the car well out of sight. I cover all in the back seat with a blanket and hope that the cops don’t think I’m harboring a corpse. At least nothing incriminating will be found… at least, not this time.
That morning, we open the door and launch a barrage of smiles as we show mother-dearest around the house. She turns to face me squarely.
“That scooter downstairs…” she begins.
“Yes?” I hesitate.
“I saw it in a catalogue the other day. Nice torque… fair bit of power… should ride pretty well on the motorway. What do you think?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t know, Sandy! Never ridden one myself,” I stammer, all the while smiling nervously.
“Good… because If you ever do, you can forget about marrying my daughter.”
“Lets have some tea, shall we?”
Last week, the unthinkable happened: the Roads and Traffic Authority of New South Wales, Australia issued me with a license to kill.
Well, not really, but kinda…
In most parts of Australia, after one has been on a learners license for three months or more, one soon knows the delights of the Provisional Driver Training Program. Such was my joy on Thursday, when I took the TGB to the local range (no shooting here, mind you!) to submit myself to a grueling eight and a half hours.
And what a session! There was cone-weaving (certainly not to be advised after you’ve had a few…), u-turning, breaking at breakneck speeds, swerving to miss tennis balls, and of course, riding around in traffic wearing a florescent yellow vest (the generous size of which would have enabled most wearers to adopt this garment as an evening dress or toga).
Bad jokes aside though, these days are about as important as life can get, especially when you consider that you’re learning how to stop yourself from being squashed on the tarmac like an overripe tomato by a truckie who just plain didn’t see you. Being a teacher, I really have a penchant for understanding theories and applying them in practice.
One such theory – the famous “3 second rule” – really makes a lot of sense. I mean, how can any of us know for sure that the person we might otherwise be tailing from a distance of one car-lenghth (if that) isn’t going to have a heart attack, epileptic fit, or perhaps just stop the car suddenly for some reason unknown to us? And yet – look at the road – how far away is the average car from the one in front, pelting down the motorway at 110km? OK – so I’ll be the dork who sticks to the left lane and has an olympic swimming pool between me and the guy in front of me.
Funny how all the young twenty-something men with whom I did the course just jumped on their souped-up bikes that afternoon and roared off to the RTA to collect their new licenses – tailing, speeding, revving at the lights and generally showing complete disregard for just about everything we learned that day! Or am I just overly sensitive?
Perhaps it’s the commonsense of you guys out there in the blogosphere that keeps those of us who really want to live safe?
I wonder what your thoughts are on intermittent blogging?
Unbelievably, I’ve been thinking about this blog over the past two months without writing a single thing. Why? Well, detailed reasons are too cumbersome to bother you with – so I’ll just say that work commitments, winter, laziness, an uncharged camera and, finally, plain old embarrassment in the midst of such an amazing blogging community have all taken their toll on me.
Nonetheless, a backlog of ideas exist for this still-beginner scooterist! As we folk in the southern hemisphere move towards Spring, I’ll be resuming my wacky tales with a passion.
How is the summer treating you guys up north?
Relishing each riding experience and in search of new ways to describe my new life as a scooterist, I discovered on a ride to work this morning what makes the thrill of the road so unmistakably unique for us two-wheelers. Thus, I dedicate this post to the one thing that we know far better than anyone else on the road and so rarely often celebrate: the humble smell.
…the earthy smell of recently disturbed grass clippings as you buzz past council workers riding lawnmowers with engines that clatter in harmony with your 150ccs…
…the smell of freshly fallen rain on the glistening road, masking the petrol fumes of a bustling inner-city street…
…the smell of warm bread as you overtake the delivery truck at 6am – when you’ve skipped breakfast and are starting to feel a bit peckish…
…the smell of roadworks – sparks flying, concrete being pummeled by jackhammers, sewerage churned up and workers having smokos…
…the smell of riding home at night…
…the smell of careless sea breeze on a summer’s day, sweating like nothing else in your rider’s jacket…
…the smell of the country, when the fumes are gone and the open air opens your nose to the memories of pine trees, eucalypts, lavender and wildflowers…
…the smell of recent roadkill, where blood, feathers, fur, metal and tires have clashed in a moment of fear, absent-mindedness and crushed bones, spattering reds, browns, yellows and greys onto a dirt road…
…the smell of crushed leaves in autumn…
…the smell of something sweet in the air but you just can’t figure out what it is…
Have I missed anything? You be the judge!
(thanks to the flickr.com community for these borrowed photos…)
This morning I decided to loose the car and scoot my way through the 42km of laneways, roundabouts, traffic lights, overpasses, underpasses, highways and motorways that connect my little unit in Parramatta to my school in Glenmore Park. Having only formally ridden for three and a half weeks, the prospect of an 84km round trip as the book-ends of a full day’s teaching is still a very daunting one.
What I hadn’t counted on this morning was the near gale force winds to which the humble scooterist is often prone. I had read so many entries from my favourite scooter blogs about this subject and it seems that the consensus is clear: when the wind blows, stick to sailing!
What a scary sensation it is to have a combined weight of only 182kg (scooter @ 122kg + me @ 60kg) hurtling along the motorway at a cool 90km/hr, to be buffeted by winds in all directions. Sometimes I felt knocked sideways; other times it felt as if I was slicing through a big gust one second, only to be nearly bowled over the next! In truth, I’m probably exaggerating the severity of these winds, but it did make me think twice about suavely remarking at a dinner party, “oh yes – of course I ride in all types of whether!“ In fact, the more I think about it, the more I’m realising how the ego is perhaps the deadliest factor in the rider + deadly outcome equation.
I wonder whether or not motorway riding is really the way to see the world on a scooter? Sure, motorways cut a lot of time off our journeys, and I’m pleased that when riding my simple little 150cc TGB that I can surprise other motorists with my formidable, comfortable top speed of around 110km/hr. But I’m constantly inspired by the scooter bloggers out there in the blogosphere that celebrate taking the time to make each ride special – and that usually means stopping to smell the roses.
Well, it had to happen. Like most red-blooded twenty-somethings, I relish a good Saturday night out in the city. So it was that last night I took the TGB out for spin and painted the town red… scooter style!
I must admit that I was nervous about the decision to finally hurtle onto the motorway that joins Sydney’s outer-west with the inner-west and city centre. After all, it had been raining, the sun had set and I had many misgivings about sharing the road with cars and trucks that pelt along at a cool hundred kilometres an hour. But I was eager to finally make it into the heart of the city that is internationally renowned for its stunning harbour, famous landmarks like the opera house and harbour bridge and generally known for its seductive charm that draws in droves of British backpackers, Japanese ‘maxi’ tour buses, stylish European filmmakers, and… well… the humble scooterist, yours faithfully.
One of the unmistakable bonuses for anyone on two wheels in Sydney is undoubtedly the free parking lots that one finds peppered throughout the heart of the city – yes, FREE! I wonder if NYC, LA, Paris, London or your city is as generous? Sydney has now become the place where one very rarely brings a car. A simple three hour stay in the private car parks can relieve the unsuspecting out-of-towner of $30. Even the parking metres – if you’re lucky enough to find a random spot on the street – cost an absolute bomb and are usually limited to a two hour stay. If one plans a day or night out in Sydney, one takes the busses or trains. Of course, STA’s track record (no pun intended) for running on time (or sometimes at all) is questionable at the best of times.
So you can imagine my joy, dear reader, when I finally pulled to a patch of road right in the city centre above which a green sign displayed the message ‘motorcycles only.’ No metres, no hourly limits, just a good place to pull the scoot up and walk a couple of minutes to the steps of Sydney Town Hall where I met my friends for dinner.
After a good 4 hours (no, I wasn’t paying attention to the time – but I did spare a thought for the poor driver with parking metre paranoia) – 4 hours of dining on jap chae, biembiembap, the ubiquitous kimchi that one finds without any effort in any of Sydney’s fine Korean restaurants… not to mention the coffee, cake and ice cream on which we gorged ourselves afterwards… after 4 hours of enjoying Sydney’s finest cuisine and company, I took my friends to the parking lot to meet the TGB and have a go for themselves.
Thomas – who hadn’t ridden before – said at the end of the little introduction, ‘Michael – I think you just sold three scooters.’ He and his partner Valerie are off to Rome in a month and I suspect there they’ll know the joys of the Vespa (I’ll let you know the details of their blog if/when they get one started). I just had to ask the ladies to pose in front of the scoot!
Other than that folks, if you’ve not been to Sydney before and are wondering if it’s a good city for a scoot, then the answer is a resounding and unanimous YES.