Monday, February 13, 2012

Asia's Mother of Necessity: The Ubiquitous Motorbike

From Jakarta to Dili to Bangkok to Manila and to every other, equally exotic, Asian capital city there’s absolutely no escaping them…..

The 'bikie culture' as we know it - boyz with coiffured hair, decked out in leathers astride an expensive, high powered toy - definitely out to impress!

Firstly, let me put my ‘disclaimer’ down from the outset … these ramblings are from an eco-freak and non-fossil fuel, cylinder head therefore, I guess, I’m hardly qualified to comment. The only throbbing I’ve felt between my legs is bum numbness induced by hours humping around on a mountain bicycle saddle and I can’t really recall having felt the wind blowing through my hair because my golden, flowing locks deserted me many moons ago. I once had a brief flirtation with a MB as a young forester but it didn’t blossom much beyond that. Cars and MBs have rarely been the object of my desire or fascination – they simply don’t do it for me and I’ve used and sometimes abused them over the years merely as a convenient conveyance.   

A family outing at the seaside resort of Com enjoyed by all
Although I may be described by the hard core bikies as a conservative old bat, my views on MBs have become even more entrenched with time and recent experiences in Asia. In this part of the world they are the bane of my life. Undoubtedly, they are unmanned drones especially in the hands of the Timorese youth, coffins on wheels that are smelly, smoky and incessantly noisy. The definition of youth here is decidedly different from that of elsewhere. Bike riders are often unlicensed and its common to find children aged around ten or younger experimenting on Dili’s congested roads.

Have MB will travel..... over land, sea, and mountain .... distance or terrain is never an issue for our intrepid travellers. MBs loaded on a ferry from Kupang to Rote Island
I simply adore my MB, there is no other!

To our Asian friends, the motorbike is everything and so much more. For most, a giant leap into the 21st century, ‘affordable mass’ transport where it’s not unusual to get three to five up – an entire family on one MB! They also offer vastly increased mobility, and despite challenging terrain, bikers travel vast distances on their trusty steeds. The catch phrase in this neck of the woods is: ‘Have MB, will travel….’ and Asians are not daunted at all by land, sea, mountain, jungle, and river.

A sales rep with a difference.....
The Dark Knight vs his counterpart....
They’ve also become ‘new age’ work horses and in this regard their commercial value and earning potential cannot be underestimated – all manner of sales representatives use MBs to ply their trade….. plastic & cookware, clothing & linen, fish mongers, miscellaneous trinkets and jewellery and self-contained fast food eateries on wheels. MB taxis are common in the impoverished rural areas are often the only available form of transportation.  

Meals on meals - Rote Island
For young adults, MBs are their pride (definitely a status symbol linked to economic prosperity) and joy. The wilder, recreational side includes drag and street racing, especially in Dili, although it’s not something I’ve encountered first hand. Thrills and spills are aplenty but since they generally appear to happen at low speeds, fatalities seem to be relatively low.  It's the head-on collisions, with other motor vehicles, that exact a deadly toll and memorials consisting of rock cairns, flowers arrangements and crucifixes are found dotted around the countryside in profusion.

This roadside fast food vendor received a steady stream of hungry customers

MBs loaded for Indo-island hopping between Timor and Indonesia

Australian and other Western tourists get to ‘live out’ their own version of the Mad Max trilogy whilst vacationing in Asia and Bali is the prime spot to hire low powered MBs at inexpensive, daily rates. The young, wild and reckless can have fun in the sun, joining their own lemming run, all the while thumbing their noses at ‘conventional’ traffic rules and breaking many with impunity. A case of Who let the dogs Out?  In spite of this, fatalities and injuries seem to be relatively low or are perhaps under-reported. The obligatory apparel here is the Bintang singlet, thongs, boardie shorts, peroxided mullet, strategically located tats and all rounded off with a light to moderate state of intoxication.   

Jakarta, Blok M peak hour traffic (2008ish) a nightmare for pedestrians with elevated carbon monoxide levels ....
Bikie facts

·         Major Japanese MB brands are manufactured under license in Indonesia including Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki (in order of popularity, value for money and reliability especially in Timor-Leste);

·         A new Indonesian manufactured Honda 125cc MB retails in Dili, Timor-Leste for around US$1,300 - strictly cash only;

·         There is a roaring trade in both new and second hand MBs but rarely higher than 250cc;

·         Wearing of crash helmets is ‘supposed’ to be compulsory locally, although this is not strictly policed with a ‘good quality’ helmet retailing for approx. US$35. Pillion riders – babes in arms, toddlers, children, teenagers, adults and the elderly seldom wear protective headgear;

·         All manner of ‘imaginable’ engine and exhaust modification takes place with little or no policing;

·         Yamahas are the preferred street and drag racing MB;

·         The impact of millions of MBs on the regional environment is clearly the ‘great unknown’ yet even so, if every third or fourth Asian family share a MB is quite likely that their carbon footprint is still significantly lower than that of the average Australian or American family (consisting of 2 motor vehicles – the obligatory 4-wheel drive and mid-sized family sedan, multiple plasma screen televisions, A/Cs and countless other  energy-eating appliances).

'Free' pavement parking in Jakarta

1 comment:

  1. Only thing missing here: what we saw and still see in Cairo: MB's as conveniënt ambulances to bring victims from the front of the battle field to the fieldhospitals in Mosques and on sidewalks. The up-side you might say.