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Pattaya Daily News

10 November 2010 :: 16:11:28 pm 45670

The Open Road

‘Four wheels good; two wheels bad.’ As George Orwell might have said if were writing about road transport and not Animal Farm. That had always been my maxim since my early twenties since someone gave me a Lambretta scooter no doubt surplus to requirements after the Brighton Mods and Rocker riots. Of course it didn’t work.
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I toiled nightly until came the great day. My brother, an experienced biker sat astride it and I pushed. Every twenty metres he would let out the clutch and we would be rewarded by a spluttering lurch before the engine died again. After running the equivalent of a half marathon, my trembling thighs gave up.

‘Right my turn,’ said my brother and got ready to push. I tried to protest that I’d never ridden a motor bike before but my breath was coming in great shuddering fits and starts. I sat astride and obeyed his gasped instructions. Wouldn’t you know the engine kicked into life and two things happened: my brother fell face down in the road and I froze with the throttle wide open. The incident happened on a quiet housing estate so precisely why a police car should be parked up, I don’t know. Nor is it clear why I chose that precise moment to fall off.

The officer first checked to see if I had injured anything else besides my pride. When it was clear I would live, he went into officious mode. Did I have a tax disc? I shook my head. Insurance? L plates? License perhaps? I continued to shake my head like a twitching moron not having the breath to explain. He told me we were up to about six hundred pounds in fines and three or four months in jail. Just then my brother jogged up and smoothed away the whole thing in two minutes. The officer saw the funny side and I never touched another motor bike until I came to Thailand.

Last year we went on a family holiday to the mountain holiday resort of Pai, further north even than Chang Mai. There were five of us in the party; my son who rides a scooter round Bangkok; my son-in-law and my daughter who have a BMW motor bike in England which has heated rear seats and an intercom; my Thai wife and I. Which ever way we cut it, we needed to rent three bikes.

My wife didn’t want one of those new-fangled automatic things and plumped for one with gears. This meant whenever we braked which she frequently did, violently, I was thrown forward and clashed helmets with her. I decided to overcome my forty year old phobia and get my own bike. This was achieved alarmingly quickly. I was given a ‘crash course’ of seven minute duration during which I learned where the indicators were, how to start and stop. When I asked about reverse gear, I was roundly ignored. Then I teetered off wobbling round the narrow streets of Pai.

I loved every minute of it once we hit the open roads out of town. On a couple of occasions I was clocked at speeds approaching sixty kilometers an hour. Luckily there were no police in Northern Thailand. All went well for three days and then over-confidence set in. We elected to drive to a beauty spot some distance away – in the mountains.

The road was new with a good surface but wound alarmingly upwards in a series of hairpins. Our party got stretched; the two inexperienced riders, my wife and I, sandwiched between my son and daughter – though it was a kilometer wide sandwich. On a particularly steep section my wife drove into the side of the mountain. I don’t know whether she didn’t see it or this was a Thai version of the emergency stop. She careened gracefully (Thai ladies do everything gracefully) in to a rock face.

She was not seriously hurt and my son and I were reined in to try to find out why it had happened. In all seriousness, having chosen a bike with manual gears, she told us that she merely selected third gear at the start of each day and stayed in it! Apparently three is a lucky number – for some.

Writer: Mike Bell

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mike bell

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