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February 7, 2013

Motorbiking helps long term vagabonding city dwellers

Picture credit: Flickr/Alfred Glickman

After I read this article about motorbike travel in Indonesia, I started thinking of my own experiences: I switched the focus from great memories of incredible biking trips around Southeast Asia and India, and I considered my actual situation. I concluded that I could not lead the same comfortable life if it wasn’t for an old rattler of a motorbike I am driving around Penang Island since 2010.

To be honest, when I tell my foreign friends that I use a motorbike to get around town, I am confronted with skeptical stares: ”Oh man. That is dangerous.” And I do not blame them: the vision of rush hour traffic in most Asian cities may discourage the most hardcore city driver from hitting the road, and inspire safer options such as public transport or taxis. However, I think that by committing to learn how to handle the traffic, the long-term traveler can really increase his chances to blend in with the local city hustle.

Before I used the bike, I had to ask my girlfriend for rides, or use the erratic public transportation: this last option would have been ok if the buses showed up at the expected time. And when borrowing her car, parking was always a problem. One of the occasional perks was to get stuck in traffic at 32 Celsius degrees for longer than I had ever wished for.

I needed to get back my freedom of movements and time, and put both of them to greater use than to improve the art of cursing the next approaching driver. I decided to try to do what the locals did: so many of them were zooming past me blocked in traffic, wedging with dexterity among the oppressing lines of cars. It looked like the perfect solution to speed up my days, and possibly have some fun doing it.

When I managed to get to try an old bike lent by a good friend, the first time on the Asian road was quite scary: I rode slowly at the outer side of the road, carefully watching for every approaching car and trying not to get pushed on the sidewalk by the multitude of moving things on all sides. But as my initial clumsiness transformed into a growing security, I noticed a series of great life improvements.

Time management:  For sure, by riding a motorbike I was able to cut my commutes down to a fraction of the time I used traveling by car. When you sum up all the rides you may have to do in one day, you may notice that your lived life bonus increases by a few hours, and you will be very glad to be speeding on two, instead of chugging on four wheels.

Now, do you believe that the traffic can actually be this bad? - Picture credits: Flickr/nicholaschan

Parking: Driving a car may be more comfortable and safe, but what about parking when about another thousand people want the same as you do? Parking, let me tell you, was a nightmare: sometimes finding a spot would take me almost as much time as the drive itself. Crazy, isn’t it? Even crazier when you think that you can park a motorbike almost anywhere! Some cities even have free parking spots reserved for bikes, and generally the police won’t mind if you stop for a few minutes exactly in front of the place you need to go to. No more stress, long walks, or pay for parking bills. When you add this to your time management calculations, you will find you have even more extra time on your hands.

No heat: Living in tropical countries means that sometimes your car is so hot that before you can hop in it you have to wait at least 10 minutes to cool it down. Have you ever driven a motorbike in the sun, feeling the air become fresher as you gain speed, and just enjoy every minute of it as other people have to engage with the very unhealthy air conditioning habit? Ok, if you did, you get what I mean. And… get a little more extra time on your hands.

When I do the math and sum up all the time I saved, and think of the fun I have riding the motorbike in Penang, not only I see that my days have become a couple hours – or more – longer, but I wonder why all of the other people keep driving cars. Do not tell me that it is to transport things, as if you pay attention, people around here can carry so many improbable loads on their bikes that I conclude, it is just a matter of style. Choose the easy one for yourself, and use the extra time you gain to actually do more in your daily life abroad and TRAVEL. Being stuck in a car it is traveling with the worst part of your grumpy self.

MARCO FERRARESE explored 50 countries and lives in Penang, Malaysia since 2009. He is currently a PhD candidate at Monash University’s Sunway Campus, Kuala Lumpur, researching the anthropology of punk rock and heavy metal in Southeast Asia. Besides his academic endeavors, he blogs about overland Asian travel and extreme music in Asia at www.monkeyrockworld.com

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Category: Asia, Expat Life, Notes from the collective travel mind, Simplicity, Vagabonding Advice, Working Abroad

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