Motorbike ride Chiang Mai
The stay in mountain surrounded by beautiful scenic like roads with 1001+ corners wouldn’t be complete without riding them on a motorbike. Hence the time has come to rent a proper one.
Last week I went for a small scooter, just to get a taste of how it is to drive on the left hand side of the road (never done that before). The transition was surprisingly smooth, as much as riding with a backpack (second person). The scooter wasn’t too powerful itself, but just enough to hill climb painlessly. In the process nobody even asked me if I had a proper drivers license, neither if I can handle the bike. They trust you on that, and use common sense instead of applied paper work as it is in Europe.
That I noticed is that traffic in Thailand is very predictable, drivers aren’t “crazy” and in the city the driving speed is no more than 50-60 km/h. Also, many scooter users don’t wear helmet and go riding with flip flops. Everything relaxed.
Few weeks later I decided to change caliber. Started off with Honda CBR 250, just to see if it is any good in the mountains. First test of riding in the heavy traffic (4 pm, were going to the most popular and crowded shopping mall around) wasn’t favorable for the bike agility. Turning radius was way too big for such a small bike and in rear mirrors I couldn’t see much, no matter how I adjusted them.
Later this day came time for some mountain riding. It was already after sunset, and the traffic in the mountains was next to zero, so revs up.
I noticed that my technique lacked, because in faster braking before corners I would block the rear wheel (this model had no abs). In general the ride was ok for first 20 kilometers. Then it turned out that relatively small bike (for the guy who has 186 cm) was literally pain in the ass after that. No matter how hard I tried to find a comfortable position, my bottom was in pain. I came back to the bike shop just before they were closing. Made up my mind already about the plan. It was taking the proper Kawasaki ER 6-N.
Was a little afraid if 650 ccm will not kill me, but the comfy riding position was too tempting to resist. So there I was on the most powerful motorbike I ever had a chance to ride a longer distance on (don’t count Honda VFR 1200, which I only rode a few kilometers on test drive in the boring city roads). Surprisingly, the bike didn’t have a license plate. I was told it was ok, since it had sticker with on the frame which meant same as license plate. I suppose speed cameras aren’t very common in Thailand.
I came back to the guesthouse and set the alarm clock at 6 am. To have a proper empty road just for myself.
The morning sunrise was welcome with whirr of twin cylinder engine. The exhaust engine sounded like it deserved a proper respect. I hit the road to the mountains. Opening the thorttle on full was giving the effect of the world around blurring. In the back of my head was the warning that not having a respect for this bike will finish our adventure down one of the cliffs.
The road on Doi Suthep started. My tank was full, my riding equipment as complete as possible in foreign country, and attitude all positive. Here I come. First cornering proved that the motorcycle was literally glued to the road. Everything, braking, cornering and treading on gas was very balanced and it was hard to find any imperfection in chassis. And the road was truly diversified in terms of surface – from the brand new asphalt, through some bumps (driving too fast in one of those provoked the bike to slide with both wheels, again very predictably.
Kilometers were rolling on, and the position proved to be convenient.
Somewhere in the middle of the uphill, when I felt already that I was a unity with the machine and was driving pretty quick using countersteer, then getting my bottom on the inner side of the corner, something appeared in my rear mirror. The guy on average 125 ccm scooter passed me by and went his own way. As the road consisted basically only from the corners there was no way to use a power I had as an advantage. So little surprised I followed with my own rhytm, again keeping it safe instead of trying to prove how fast I was. Few kilometers later the guy was lighting the cigarette on the road side. I stopped next to him, and congratuled for fine riding. His gear wasn’t like some other scooter riders. He had good quality integral helmet, proper motorcycle gloves. He also explained me that he was local taking this route everyday, since he worked in royal gardens at the top of the mountain. The whole story reminded me of the manga series I was watching when I was just starting my car racing adventure – Initial D. Main hero was Takumi Fujiwara, who with his humble Toyota Hachiroku was defeating drivers in much better and powerful vehicles in downhill drift competition.
I came back to ride, after reaching Wat Suthep the road started being narrower and narrower. Since in this mountains all drivers would cut the corners, I was a little worried about the head-on crash with some songthaew. The pace was reduced, and I would also use honk while approaching the curves when asphalt reached the width good for only 1 vehicle.
This way I reached the mountain peak, with the Hmong village. Since this day I wanted to take second route too, decided to skip the tourist part, and went down the mountain the same way. Again the motorbike was fairly predictable in traction, however I observed that was using too much of rear brake, causing ABS to kick my right foot. Downhill is more difficult part, and I had to be extra concentrated. With those tightening turns, if you want to ride on say 90%, one false step and you find yourself outside the road. Only once I was truly scared. Left tightening corner, and out of nowhere there was a truck in the middle of it. Instead of using counter steer and turn strengthen, I hit on brakes, and as the result the bike straigthen up the corner and I found myself just half meter from the bumper. Fortunately there was enough space so I survived, but if it happened where the road was more narrow…
15 more minutes and I was in Chiang Mai again. There was another scenic route going through Suthep National park. 60 kilometers of pure fun. On the road I met a woman riding an elephant. As I was advancing, there were less and less vehicles (except of beat off scooters and pick up trucks of local people). Road signs with directions were in Thai language only and it was obvious that it was non touristy place. Since Kawasaki was gas hungry, I stopped by the only gas station in there. The charged 12 Baht per liter more than in the city (35 vs 47!!!).
Next 50 kilometers was a pure riding pleasure. Even roads and truly exotic scenery were honey for my palate. Again I crossed the summit, having more and more courage in opening full the throttle.
Surprisingly, in the end of the road, I found myself into in the place full of tourist attractions again.
There were monkey shows, crocodile shows, elephant shows, even the adrenaline center! Gotta hit it next time! At the end of that epic route was Tiger Kingdom, where for substantial fee you could take a picture with tigers. Poor animals, they were made mascots.
On the way back to Chiang Mai a Wild Hogs gang passed me by. There were about 15 bikes riding close to each other. I was riding safely my 80-ish km/h, and they were around 120-ish. Still reasonable speed for a semi highway road. On the traffic light I caught them. It were mostly sport bikes, and riders seemed to be white (but difficult to say, since the integral helmets would cover faces well.
Another epic day went to its end while I reached the old town, exhausted but happy returned the bike and went for a beer.
A word about costs.
To rent the bike costs 1300 Baht with insurance
protective gear is another 500 (but calculated per week, if you shop around it can be obtained cheaper on daily basis).
For the gasoline I spent total of 400 Baht.
experience – priceless!