Biking In Asia

June 2013

Fast facts:

Thailand holds the record for accidents

The cost of a flight back to the UK for instance, repatriation – medical staff, extra seats on flight etc

99% of motorbike accidents could be prevented

Myanmar: In Yangon motorbikes are banned from the main city. It is reputed that someone crashed into a high-ranking military official who then went on to have this law decreed. Although you may get away with riding a bike in other cities, it’s not as easy as in the rest of Asia.

Biking In Asia

An Interview with Eddie Murr, JUne 2013

Foreword: Before joining The Leaping Lemur, Eddie worked as a high-speed courier for many of the top companies in Asia. His resume includes KFC Kuala Lumpur, Pizza Hut Bangkok and A to B Motorbike Taxi Ltd. He also spent time working in a small village in England called London.

We join Eddie for a beer and Q&A discussion (some serious) in a bar in Pai. If you’ve travelled around Asia you’ll no doubt have seen many a tourist taking to the road for the first time. Well, we’ve never seen so many as on the aptly named “Walking Street” in Pai.

Elli: So Eddie, with your wealth of experience travelling on two-wheels, what’s the most important piece of advice that you could give a novice rider?

Eddie: Rule #1 is an easy one to remember. “If he’s bigger than you, he’s coming through!” Quite literally, “the biggest vehicle rules the road” in Asia which can also be said in some areas of Europe, but in Asia they not only practice it, they enforce it!

Elli: Rule #1? So there is a list of rules?

Eddie: Yeah sure.  None of them are written down other than on the a toilet wall here or there, so they vary slightly, but on the whole yes there are rules and they do differ greatly from Europe.

Elli: Care to real off a few?

Eddie: It seems there are 3 sets of rules. Mine, the Asian rules and then the tourists rules.

Note: Eddies’ rules follow this dialogue.

Elli: Well thanks for all of that Eddie. I didn’t realise that there was so much to consider! I take it that you’ll be walking home now you’ve had a beer?

Eddie: Nah, this is Asia and I’ve got a monster dirt-bike outside. Did you see where I put my sunglasses?

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Eddie’s Rules for Travelling Safely in Asia

These are genuine guidelines/ suggestions for ensuring safe travel in Asia. Do we have to mention sensible clothing and footwear?

#1 If he’s bigger than you, he’s coming through!

#2 If someone flashes their lights, it’s not to say hello, it’s to say I’m bigger than you and I’m coming through!

#3 The horn is a warning. Though it may seem as though the throttle/ accelerator is attached to the horn in Asia, it’s for a reason and it works. Drivers concentrate on the road ahead, rather than the road behind. So if you hear a horn behind you, they’re telling you that they are there... and guess what... if they’re bigger than you, they’re coming through!

#4 Joining traffic here is different. As with #3 the person behind has the responsibility to look in front of them, so don’t be surprised if someone changes lanes or joins traffic without looking. Use your horn to let them know that you are there. I advise to follow standards from home and “look, indicate, look, pull out, look!”

#5 Traffic lights really are just part of the street decorations. So, even if you’re lights are green, slow down and “look left, look right and look left again!”

#6 As with rule #5, the various lines in the middle of the road are there only as decoration. Globally they are: dashed (overtaking allowed), solid/ dashed (they are allowed to over-take) dashed/ solid (you are allowed to overtake). In Asia, they are nice but nobody (including the police) really looks at them. At all times assume the person on the other side of the road will overtake and refer back to rule #1.

#7 If you’re the pillion passenger on a bike (the one at the back) then you have a responsibility as well. Use your eyes and ears as though you are in charge of the vehicle. And beware of that hot exhaust pipe otherwise you’ll be sporting a nice burn mark for some months to come.

#8 Automatic vs Manual. Give me manual gears everyday of the week, but then I’ve been riding for a long time. If you are new to bikes then opt for the automatic because it really is one less thing to worry about. If you are given a manual motorbike and are new to this, then consider always pulling off in 2nd gear. The bikes will handle it and it also means that you’re not going to “pop a wheely” and end up on your arse. Watched a girl in Vietnam pop a wheely (she had a friend on the back that was wearing a large rucksack) and she smashed the bike up pretty much without even reaching the road.

#9 Insurance. Check with the rental company. Normally, insurance is VOID if you do not have a valid International Driving Licence. So this raises the question of paying for insurance. Check. Most of Asia will insist on taking your passport as security and rules differ on charges for damage. If you have a video option on your phone/ camera, then record any existing damage and make sure the rental company are aware. Some places are more relaxed than others, but don’t get caught out. In Koh Tao for example, you scratch if they replace it! And that can be costly.

#10 just because you see some 9 year old kid and his mates take a road, doesn’t mean you will be able to! These guys ride bikes before they ride in push chairs. Consider your riding skills when taking rural roads.

#11 When taking a tight/ blind bend, slow down and assume that any on-coming vehicle will be in the middle or the wrong side of the road. This rule also applies to hump-back bridges and other blind junctions.

#12 Never, ever drink and drive. A lovely young dive diva I know from Koh Tao was asked about her scars. The question was raised as “Wow, that’s some scars! Bet there’s a tale to tell there!?!?”. The response was “Same story as everyone else on this island – motorbike”. That’s not to say she’d been drinking, but the chances are that someone had been.

#13 Assume everyone else on the road is drunk, stoned, blind and/ or an idiot. If you can tie this in with the above, you should enjoy your travels, not have to fly home or carry any of those trendy bandages that seem all the rave with young travellers these days.

Asia Rules! We have riding the best in the world!

Though satirical, don’t copy them. They really do start learning to ride before they walk.

#1 Use of mirrors. These are a fashion accessory and should be used as such. Ensure the mirrored side is dirty (stops the sun reflecting back on you, and subsequently stops you getting brown) and that they chromed outer-side is shiny. 

#2 Parking you vehicle. It is part of the structured driving examination in all of Asia. When parking a vehicle outside of an establishment, then one should aim to take up as much space as possible, blocking any access/ exit point where possible.

#3 Pavement: Used widely through the rest of the world for locals to walk on, this can be considered as dedicated motorcycle lane as nobody in their right mind walks in Asia.

#4 Traffic lights. There are a series of different colours. If you stop and wait around at one long enough you will see a beautiful sequence of colours.

#5 Colonial Road Rules: So many parts of Asia were colonised by Europeans, all enforcing their own rules for driving on the left or the right. To make it easier for you, use either side of the road for travelling in either direction. Generally, whichever takes you closer to your destination is best.

#6 Although there are only two wheels, this should not mean that you are limited to 2 people on your bike. 3 gives optimal balance and weight distribution, though this is unfortunately against the law. Note, most police officers only count the number of helmets on a bike, so if travelling with more than two people, ensure that a maximum of two helmets ever be used.

#7 Your moped has large springs for suspension. You should be safe to carry up-to at least 20 cases of beer on your bike.

#8 Mobile phone usage. Carrying a mobile phone in your hand prevents you from doing other things whilst riding. Instead, stuff the phone up the side of your helmet. Note, this is the only time that you should wear a helmet.

#9 If you do decide to wait at a traffic light because there is too much traffic crossing in front of you, then do park on the black and white lines. This way you will be able to engage pedestrians in conversation whilst you wait for your turn to cross the junction.

Tourist Rules 

Okay, so this isn’t all tourists but have a think the next time you see any of these. And you will!

#1 Just because you’ve never ridden a bike in a country with real rules, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t jump on a bike in a country where you don’t understand the signs, the language or the rules of the road! Get that bike, the bigger the better and feel the liberation!

#2 Elbow Helmets: These are all the rave in Pai at the moment. Any pretty young girl riding a bike for the first time should protect at least one of their elbows as much as possible, hence the large elbow protecting device that you can sling onto your arm as you scoot along. Some parts of Europe also use these to protect their heads.

#3 If you have a small penis, then get the biggest dirt-bike or street bike that you can! You will of course lose any additional manliness that you have gained by the throbbing engine that now exists between your legs if you 

(i) wear a helmet, 

(ii) wear anything other than cheap thongs/ flip-flops, 

(iii) forget your mirrored sunglasses, with mirrored effect on both the inside and outside of the lenses, 

(iv) forget to have a warm bottle of beer/ mineral water in your left hand.

#4 Pillion passengers (someone on the back). Just because you haven’t ridden a bike before, doesn’t mean that you can’t take a passenger on the back! In particular you should consider taking someone that is: 

(i) extremely nervous and hence extremely fidgety. Your riding skills will become in enhanced greatly from this experience 

(ii) a drunken/ stoned friend is the fast track version of rule #4 (i)

(iii) the pillion is twice your size and body weight and nervous. Extra points if they have an oversized rucksack on their back to help keep that front wheel light!

#5 Make like a local and give a dog a lift. If you want to impress, then show of your local knowledge by encouraging an animal onto your bike. 

#6 Kids are safe here! The ground in Asia is much softer than the ground/ roads in Europe. Subsequently, even though you would normally insist that your child wears a seat belt in the car, or wears knee pads to roller-skate or even shin-pads to play football, in Asia it is more than safe to allow children to travel on the back of a motorbike without safety gear. For added effect, let them sit facing backwards or hold your child under your arm as you ride along.

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Further Reading.
This "article" was written because Elli is actually about to start learning to ride a moped. About time to! But not until she'd spent some time on the back of my bike and until she was aware of the roads. Not that I'm some super-biker, just that I've got long enough teeth and enough experience to know my (and my bike's) limits.

Some further reading. Quite alarming actually!

THOUSANDS of people die every year on Thailand’s roads due to head injuries. The carnage has even caught the attention of the World Health Organization (WHO), which recently issued a strong message urging officials to improve road safety here through the strict enforcement of traffic regulations. It should be a national priority, said WHO’s chief executive. Maxmilian Wechsler takes up the story with interviews, observations and some shocking statistics on this terrible but unnecessary loss of life

Motorcycle accidents kill 27 people a day

According to the Public Health Ministry (PHM), motorcycle accidents claim the lives of 27 Thais and injure 438 every day. Of those drivers involved in accidents 80% were not wearing crash helmets.