When the pandemic hit, after initial disbelief and unrealized expectations that they would open after a ‘few weeks’, We settled into 2 years of life within a 730 sqkm country. Life wasn’t too bad. Family, ‘local hobbies’ like hiking, cycling, similarly adventure starved friends, work and the relatively wide food choices our little city offers kept us occupied. Netflix had a couple of great years.
In the interminable months when borders were closed, we’d dream about going to faraway places. Kuantan, Cameron Highlands, Ipoh, Hatyai, Bangkok and more. Now the time has come, hope these thoughts and notes help you get started on your first steps as a traveling rider.
For starters, ride whatever you’ve got in the garage, in-laws house, void deck etc. I happened to have a sport bike and lots of excuses about age, bad back etc and chose a used BMW GSA. Whatever you choose, make sure it is well maintained, serviced and is as ready as you are to take on your journey. Although it is easy to find workshops in Malaysia, I take it you’d rather be riding and seeing places.
Packing for an overnight trip on a motorcycle is easy, if you want it to be. I always try to ride with my boxes for a few reasons. They offer safe storage, free your hands and make packing easy. Just dont overdo it and pack your fears and take backups for everything. Keep it simple. Some of my friends bring 5-7 liter bags and do perfectly fine.
Just make sure the absolute essentials like passport, medications are covered. Quick dry clothes can be washed and dried overnight to wear the next day. If you are lucky enough to have one of those old incandescent lamps in your room (usually in lampshades and bathrooms) hanging clothes over them dries them up quickly.
And remember, the expression All The Gear All The Time (ATTGATT) was created for touring. Rumor has it overseas road rashes and hospital rooms are no more fun than local ones.
Don’t forget intangibles like insurance, data roaming subscriptions or an overseas SIM if you travel frequently. Visas if you need them.
Finally the morning of the trip arrives. When a group says assemble at 7 am, they actually mean they will set off at 8 am. Just kidding. Be punctual, it is just courtesy. Be ready, fill up on petrol, have sufficient water, use the restroom etc. I find it easier to start a ride without breakfast. There will be several stops for food (especially breakfast) anyway if you are riding in Malaysia. But if you are a mandatory breakfast person, go ahead.
Pay attention to the ride leader’s briefing. Most groups will tell you a rough route, intermediate stops (usually breakfast points or petrol stations) and some route details like major turns, system for designating cornerpersons etc. You will learn as you go, for now just relax and tell yourself to ride safely and within your limits.
When the ride starts, build up easy. There will be a lot going on, experienced groups ride faster than normal. Start slowly and build up. It helps having a communication system like Sena or Cardo if your group uses them. You can speak to others as you ride and the banter helps you get into the groove and relax. Just don’t let it distract you.
There are many things that can catch you unawares at the beginning of a ride. For one, there is a little concrete ledge as you cross the toll counter at Senai. Hit it at just the right angle and you’ll be embracing tarmac in no time. Things like that. Riding a motorcycle is about observing these things but not dwelling on them and getting caught up with them. Just look ahead and move on.
On the ride itself, well meaning friends will tell you to lean more on corners, ride faster etc. They absolutely want you to be safe and enjoy the experience but remember you’re only starting and there’s plenty more to experience and learn. Always stay within your abilities.
In general, you will only be able to sit in the saddle 75 to 90 minutes at a time. It is always good to stop, hydrate yourself, have a small snack or chew gum to help you focus on the next section of the ride. Riders and drivers who ply the roads every day have strange habits. They will follow you closely, flash headlights, use turning lights to indicate they are overtaking. Just let them pass and ride at your own speed.
It helps to have the confidence (and the horsepower) to overtake a long column of traffic stuck behind a heavily loaded, slow moving truck for example. You get open road to yourself for a time. But that will only last until you come upon the next heavily loaded, slow moving truck. So, take it easy and plan to arrive safely.
When you get to your destination for the day, lock up the motorcycle the best you can. Remember the story about 2 guys running away from the tiger? One does not need to run very fast, he just needs to run faster than the other guy. Don’t hesitate to bring a lock if you feel you need to. Inspect the motorcycle for any damage you may have picked up on the ride. On short trips, just checking the tyres for any debris from the road or cuts and cracks is sufficient.
Get yourself checked in, enjoy the company and get ready to ride the next day. For those with the luxury of time and going on multi day rides, building in non-riding days in between helps a lot. These days keep you from the monotony of riding everyday, even for seasoned riders. They make you want to get back on the motorcycle.
All in, plan on doing everything you can to get back home safely. Remember to note down your thoughts on what you did right or wrong on a trip. For me that includes notes like, “I should have have checked twice before overtaking that truck near Jemaluang” or “I should have packed one less set of clothes” or just “buy a better tank bag”. These notes help when you are getting ready for your next trip.
Riding should be fun; riding should be safe. Keep riding.
Vinod describes his strongest skill as the ability to learn. He revels in being a perpetual beginner in everything he does and in understanding things deeply. He believes equal parts in the law of averages and in being in the present. While on the motorcycle, he leaves testing lean angles and top speeds to his immensely more talented ride buddies.