Tag Archives: Tony’s Big Bikes

“I don’t want a pickle…”

Honda Phantom, rented from Tony's Big bikes in Chiang Mai.
Honda Phantom, rented from Tony’s Big bikes in Chiang Mai.

“…I just want to ride my motor-sickle.”

So goes singer-songwriter Arlo Guthrie’s ode to his beloved red Triumph Scrambler. And so goes the mantra of every man and woman who loves to ride.

Non-riders might have a difficult time understanding a rider’s devotion to his machine. They might shake their heads and consider this devotion to be a form of arrested development. That’s probably because… they’ve just never been there.

They don’t know that riding a motorcycle induces a state of visceral bliss that can’t be conveyed in words. Though this joyous sensation radiates from the body’s core, it is spawned by a mental abstraction, because the motorcycle is much more than an exquisite mechanical contrivance. It is, in the truest sense of the word, an icon, and it embodies the two most important things in the rider’s life:

1.Personal Freedom

2.Unfettered Mobility.

To most people who ride, this metaphorical stuff is meaningless. To them, riding is just totally cool, and the idea of giving it up is unthinkable.

But riding a motorcycle is inherently dangerous. Riding one in Thailand is even more so.

Let’s assume that, despite these obvious risks, you find yourself riding a Honda Phantom, a truly pristine example of the breed, and you’re cruising through northern Thailand on steep winding roads, passing through lush mountainous jungle fit for a King Kong movie.

You’re humming along, lost in that indescribable state that is a common experience to those who ride.

This is soooooo sweet !

Then, on a steep downhill curve to the left, a series of unavoidable events occurs. The details are irrelevant. All that matters is that whatever skills you thought you had as a rider, they are not up to the challenge of this situation, and you tumble into every rider’s nightmare – you go down.

You go down, and you and the bike slide right out into the middle of the highway.

In an instant, you’ve gone from bliss to black rage. Your left foot is pinned between the bike and the road and you can’t get up. You shake your fist and pound the asphalt.

Do you rage against a fate that has reduced you to helplessness?

No.

Do you tremble with fear, knowing that on oncoming vehicle could turn you into hamburger?

No.

Do you survey your wounded flesh, hoping no permanent damage has been done?

No, because all you care about at that moment is the damage done to that gorgeous motorcycle.

You try to lift the bike but can’t budge it. Then you’re distracted by the squeal of tires.  You look to your right. A pickup truck swerves to miss you, then jerks to the side of the road and skids to a stop.

The driver, a dark-skinned Thai man wearing a wife-beater undershirt, camo pants and flip-flops runs to your side. He lifts the bike off you, pushes it to the side of the road, drops the kickstand, leans the bike onto it, and without even looking at you, he jumps back in his truck and speeds off.

Stupified, you stand there in the middle of the road, staring at the vanishing truck: this guy just did you a serious favor, and you didn’t get a chance to say thanks.

You limp to the side of the road. You don’t feel much pain yet – a surge of endorphins has seen to that – but all you really care about is the bike.

When you left Tony’s Big Bikes in Chiang Mai, this bike had nary a scratch on it. As far as you can tell, you are the first one to lay it down. You are not proud of this.

So you survey the damage. The headlight is cockeyed and its rim is scratched up. The left mirror is bent. The  rubber foot peg is bent too, and the left saddlebag is scuffed, but worst of all, the voluptuous gas tank has a dent, maybe a half-inch deep and about the size of a tennis ball.

You fuss with the headlight and get it re-aligned, then you stand back and look at the bike. Like a rider thrown from a horse, you know you have to get back on. You straddle the bike and press the starter and the Honda surges to life. As far as this bike is concerned, it’s as if nothing had happened, and if it could speak to you it would say, “Quit sniveling and let’s get going.”

You try to stay loose, but gradually your body stiffens and your left leg feels like you’re standing too close to a blowtorch. As the days pass, these aches and pains don’t let up much, but when you take the bike back to Tony’s in Chiang Mai, the worst pain is in the middle of your chest. It’s the same feeling you’d have if someone had entrusted you with a fine horse, and you’d returned it to the stable lamed up.

You’re legally responsible for the damages. The owner, an Englishman named Duncan,  is very reasonable about this, and you leave feeling grateful. To him, the bike is just a financial asset. But to you, it is… more.

Most people who hear you story will shake their heads, thinking it exposes your distorted emotional attachments and immature disregard for risk, not to mention a complete loss of perspective.

And, they’d be quite right.

But then, that’s what love is all about, isn’t it?

So, my friends, for those of you who ride, here’s wishing you a lifetime of safe and happy miles. For those of you who don’t (this writer is now among you) the only thing to offer is…condolences.

Either way, happy trails,

Bruce

PS. For the morbidly curious, corroborating photos showing the damage to the writer’s body are readily available upon request at weberbruce5@gmail.com.

No photos, however, were taken of the damage to the bike. That would have been much too painful.

 

 

old-tree-s-house

 

 

 

Also, if you’re ever lucky enough to be in northwest Thailand, do yourself a favor and stay at Old Trees House.

After you cross the bridge going out of Tha Ton, watch for the sign on your left. Turn and go up the steep gravel drive, then walk into the gardens. In the cool shade, you’ll see lush plants with exotic colorful blossoms backed by a thousand shades of green. You’ll hear the gurgle of fountains, the chirping of birds, and the soft murmur of Thai women’s voices.

You’ll see six brightly painted houses, all with big porches, tucked into the manicured foliage, around a free-form pool with two waterfalls.

By the time Paolo, the owner, comes out to greet you, you’ll feel like you’re on a morphine drip.

The only downside to Old Trees House is, it is very hard to leave.

And the breakfast is always first-rate.

 

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Blue Phantom I

Blue Phantom
Blue Phantom

Greetings, friends.

If you’re like most people, at some time in your life you’ve gotten a crazy idea, about going somewhere and doing something that doesn’t make sense. You keep hoping that reason and  logic will prevail and you’ll drop the idea. But you don’t

You announce your plans to friends and loved ones, but they don’t try to talk you out of it. At first, you  think they don’t understand the risks. Then you start to suspect that you’re not the beloved soul you always thought you were.

So, despite your fears and doubts, you find yourself At Tony’s Big Bikes in Chiang Mai, Thailand, negotiating a two-week rental of a Honda Phantom. You repress the fact that between 50 and 60 people a day are killed in motorbike accidents in Thailand, and you also ignore the fact that you haven’t spent time on a serious motorcycle since 1976 when you sold your Yamaha 650. You tell yourself the Phantom is no crotch-rocket, but truth is, it’s a powerful cruiser that’ll get you killed just as easy as a mad-dog Kawasaki.

To add juice to this experience, you’ll have to regain your skills in downtown Chiang Mai traffic, among people who believe that traffic laws are an evil vestige of colonialism. Thais are a gentle people, but they can be Hell on Wheels.

Anyway, you sign a contract that says you’re responsible for everything and the shop is responsible for nothing, pay with a credit card, then hand over your passport: no shop in Thailand, to your knowledge will rent a bike without keeping it.

Now it’s time to face up to your folly. You straddle the bike, (a black one with orange flames on the tank) , you lean and turn the key, push the starter button, and when it comes to life. you feel that primordial surge up your spine, the same feeling, no doubt, that the first man to ride a horse felt when he grabbed the animal’s mane and climbed on.

But this romantic stuff fades quick, because the owner and his lovely Thai assistant are staring at you, and all you care about now is getting out of there without killing the engine. You squeeze the clutch, kick the shifter into first, the bike squats, and, Buddha be praised!, you ease out like a pro, into the maelstrom of traffic.

You stop at the first intersection, waiting for an opening, trying to stave off panic. When traffic eases, you pull out, running the revs up too high for first gear. You shift, throttle up, shift again. Now you realize that Chiang Mai traffic is like a live video game, and the price of unwariness is… nevermind that – just stay on the left!

You’re soon overwhelmed with all this input. Your sphincter is puckered three inches off the seat, your neck muscles are clenched so tight you can’t turn your head, your eyes are burning from sweat and pollution, but you don’t notice the smell because you’re hardly breathing. You don’t really care about any of this, because, truth be told, you’re having too much fun.

To get the feel of the bike before you leave town, you follow the moat road around the Old City, and soon the old reflexes are coming back. You shift and brake smoothly, avoid three vehicles that pull straight out in front of you, getting used to Death being just a few inches away. But at a traffic jam, the bike won’t go into neutral. You fiddle and fuss, but no dice.

Back at the shop. the owner, an Englishman named Duncan, looks at the shifter, shakes his head, says here, try this bike. It’s a black one, good tires, no parts falling off, so away you go. You get to the street that leads to Route 107, and about two kilos up the road, you hear a whining sound and the engine dies. You pitch forward, instinctively push the starter button, the bike fires, then dies again. Can’t have this. Back to the shop.

The owner says sorry, try this other one. Hope springing eternal, you strap on your bag and ride away. At the intersection, you notice that the handlebars are at a twenty degree angle with the front wheel, and the tank has a huge dent in it.

By now, you think Lord Buddha’s trying to tell you something. Back at the shop, you tell the owner the deal’s off – you don’t want to get stranded out in rural Thailand on one of his junk bikes.

He tries to sell you on another Phantom, but by now, your doubts are getting the better if you. You refuse to deal. He points to a sign on the wall that says no refunds. You say you don’t care, give me back my passport.

The owner nods, goes to his desk, gets your passport and, just to be nice, gives back half your rental fee in cash. You stuff this in you pocket, pick up your bag, and head for the door.

But you feel sick. Now, it’s either the same process at another shop or scuttle the plan. Just as you get to the door, Duncan says, “Wait, try this one,” pointing to a bike in the corner. “I was gonna take it out this weekend, but you can have it. It’s all gassed up and ready.”

It’s a blue one. It looks clean, with gleaming chrome and new tires. It beckons. Your heart leaps.

You get on, ease her out, and oh my, she’s a true sweetheart, behaving like the perfect woman, responding to your every command. You pull back into the shop. The owner’s way back in the corner gabbing. Quick as you can, you strap on your bag, wave to him and shout, “See you in two weeks.”

He smiles and waves, and now you’re the only guy in all of Thailand who has rented a motorcycle and still his passport, plus half his rental fee, which’ll come in handy if the bike breaks.

Now you’re really on your way. You get to route 107, glide along, singing songs, can’t believe how great your voice sounds as it reverbs against the helmet’s visor.  Then just outside of Mae Rim, you hit an unavoidable pothole and the gas tank lid flips off and slides down the tank into your crotch. You squeeze your thighs, look down and see gas in the full tank gurgling like boiling water. If any of that spills out and hits something hot on the bike…

You pull over, shut down and fuss with the cap. It won’t lock. But you stick it back on and say that’s too bad, ’cause you’re not going back to Chaing Mai.

Things go fine till you get to Doi Wiang National Park and it starts to rain. This tropical rain is so heavy it’s like being under water. The road winds through steep jungle-covered hills. Trucks pass and throw waves of water that make you swerve. Under the fogged-up visor, you see the road drop off into a place they’ll never find you, if they ever bother to look.

The rain lets up, and you realize that you have to urinate immediately. You find a bus-rider’s shelter and pull over. You stand shivering, waiting for the flow to start, then you feel stings on the back of your leg. This is Dengue Fever country, and you don’t fancy three weeks in bed with a temp of 104. After you slather your skin with Deet, you breathe deep, finish your business, and get back on the road.

Darkness falls, but you don’t notice, because you’re focused on Thais on motorbikes coming at you head-on. Driving on the wrong side is considered normal, but what’s even more annoying are the countless stray dogs that dart in front of you.

When you reach the village of Tha Ton, up near the Burmese border, you’re cold, tired and hungry. You get fed, find a bed, and fall into an eight-hour coma.

You wake to the sound of gongs that are far away but seem very near. You pull on yesterday’s clothes and step out of your room, stunned by what you see – steep jungle-covered hills shrouded in heavy mist, a few houses here and there, set amongst a riot of tropical flowers backed by a thousand shades of green. A wide muddy river, the Mae Kok, rustles at your feet.

You’re planning to leave that day, with an agenda of places to see. You sip coffee and consult your written plans. but despite the caffeine, you now feel like you’re hooked to a morphine drip. You breathe slow and deep. You gaze at the lushness around you. Your body sags. The agenda slips from your fingers. You aint’ goin’ nowhere.

You stay for days, enchanted by this village and its friendly people Twice you try to leave town, but you can’t do it.

Then one morning, you tell yourself you’ve had enough of this inner peace business. You’re an American – you’re not built for Nirvana. You settle your bill, say your goodbyes, and top up the Phantom’s tank. But before you leave, you gotta do something about this gas cap.

You pull up at the local repair shop. The shop owner says the cap’s locking mechanism is shot, but he fusses with it for ten minutes and it seems to be down tight. You pull out money. He says no charge, but you hand him twenty Baht. He smiles and takes the bill. You won’t know till a few hours later how important this offer of payment turns out to be.

Slowly you cross the bridge, easing away from a place you don’t want to leave. Three kilos out of town, you’re still going slow, which is very fortunate, because a Thai woman on a motorbike with a young girl on board, paying absolutely no attention, turns directly in front of you. You see the terrified looks on their faces as you slam on the brakes, but there’s no way to avoid the crash.

To be continued.

Source for statistics on Thai motorbike deaths; The Nation, nationmedia.com, May 16, 2013

 

 

 

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