I just did something impulsive and bought a real motorcycle. For the six years I’ve been living in Thailand, I’ve been driving a 150 cc Honda PCX motor scooter. It’s the Buick of motor scooters. I’d been considering upgrading to the Cadillac of motor scooters, a 300 cc Honda Forza. But instead I went crazy and bought a used Honda CB500 motorcycle with only 5,000 miles on it. Now, instead of regretting my impulsive action, I wonder why I waited so long.
I live in Chiang Mai, Thailand, up in the north, surrounded by mountains. Compared to its neighbors, Thailand has excellent roads. This is the right place to own such a bike. Automatic scooters are great for weaving in and out of Chiang Mai traffic, but for mountain roads they are not the best choice. A few months ago we were descending Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest mountain. Since ice and snow are not a problem, roads often have steep rakes that would not be permissible in colder climates.
The PCX has a clever switch that allows the engine to shut off instead of idling. I had left the switch on, which meant that as we began the steep and long journey down, the engine switched off. Drag from the engine is important. It means that the brakes don’t have to do all the work. In this case, I only noticed my error when the brake fluid boiled and I found myself without any brakes at all. And with no lower gears to switch to, I was in a pickle.
Fortunately, I found a safe clump of vegetation to crash into at low speed. In the nearest town I had my front brake pads replaced, but most importantly I made a note to self “Don’t ever put yourself in that position again.”
We have a circular route up here called the Mae Hong Son loop. It takes three nights and four days. It’s spectacular and I’ve made the trip six or seven times already, but always on the scooter. The last few times I’ve driven that route I’ve had Wipa behind me. True, she’s not a large person, but having two people on a scooter on steep mountains roads is quite an exercise in endurance. You can only achieve speed when going downhill.
Yesterday we took a bus to Lampang and then bought a real motorcycle, the kind I used to ride years ago in Iowa and California. I’ve heard that today’s marijuana is more potent than the kind I used to smoke 35 years ago when last I inhaled, well motorcycles have met the same fate. A 500cc Honda is nothing like the one I had 35 years ago.
This fact came through loud and clear yesterday afternoon when I found us roaring up a mountain, still accelerating at 60 miles per hour!
There will be a learning curve, of course. I dropped the bike that night in a motel parking lot when trying to dismount. It’s much, much heavier than a scooter, with a higher center of gravity. Fortunately, it has roll bars to protect the engine and the drop didn’t result in even a scratch. My goal is to get through my re-education without an accident. We brought our helmets with us on the bus, but I forgot about shoes. I don’t think I even own shoes anymore. I wear flip flops. Shifting gears in flip flops is agony. My left foot sports a red mark where the gear shift lever dug repeatedly into my skin.
But oh, I’m excited. I wonder why it took me this long to make the leap. Looking back on the last decade, my only regrets are that I:
Didn’t retire sooner
Didn’t move to Thailand sooner
Didn’t buy a motorcycle here sooner.