Johannesburg - There I was. Staring out the window in the rearmost seat of some sweltering minibus taxi in downtown Bangkok, knees against my chest, counting down the minutes until arrival at whatever destination I was bound for.
I can’t remember where I was headed but I remember it was an agonising journey... even if it was only 10 minutes long.
It was then that I saw them. Thousands of scooter-riding commuters zooming in and out of traffic like a swarm of free-spirited worker bees. As four-wheeled traffic stopped, these lane-splitting micro-bikers would filter through to the front of the queue, and then jet off again the moment the lights turned green. By my scientific calculations, these scooter-bees had circumnavigated all of Thailand in the time it took my driver to inch one taxi-length forward.
It was a eureka moment for me. As I stewed in minibus misery, I plotted a scheme to bring this two-wheeled idealism home to South Africa where inner city angst is common among road users; and not only those shelling out hard-earned cash for lifts in decrepit Hi-Aces and Quantums, but also those who have to play daily dodgems with sometimes (no, often) errant taxi drivers with little respect for anyone but themselves.
This was ten years ago, and at the time I believed this to be the solution to all of SA’s public transport and traffic woes. Low-income households could, instead of paying for an unreliable and dangerous service, finance a brand new scooter for similar money. They would be free to ride wherever, and whenever, hastily, and at the end of term have something of value to show for their monthly investments.
RIDING THE TALK
For ten years I’ve advocated scooter ownership over taxi patronage like some sort of self-righteous motoring sage. And then I realised... I’ve never once ridden a scooter. I don’t even have a motorcycle licence. How can I question the guy I see crammed with knees against chest in the back of a taxi from the comfort of my own air conditioned car? How can I preach something I’ve never practiced?
Well, that’s changing. Slowly. As of late last year I’m an officially (learner) licensed motorcycle rider, and just a few weeks ago I took delivery of a shiny new Honda PCX 150 which for the next year or so I’ll be tootling around Joburg on. I must admit though, I’m doing this in baby steps, as so far this steering wheel lover’s only ridden for short, infrequent journeys.
I do, however, hereby solemnly swear to dedicate at least one full week of commuting exclusively to this scooter. Which, given bad timing, should see this happen in the dead of a freezing cold winter.
So far my scooting has been pleasurable, and barring some steely staredowns with some of those aforementioned taxi operators, I’ve loved the feeling of wind in my armpits and exhaust fumes in my face.
No, really. Motorcycling is a completely different experience than what I’m used to, and while I’ll never stop appreciating the cocooned protection and climate control of a car, I’m learning to like the open air and background music-free style offered here. Liberating is the word.
This is as basic as basic transportation gets, but still I’ve uncovered a few features this little Honda comes with. I’ll reserve a full mechanical rundown for a later instalment, but one item I must mention is the indicator cancellation switch. Please hardened bikers, don’t laugh, but it took me a few rides to realise that it’s not necessary to manually un-indicate, if you will, by sliding the thumb lever after each intersection. All you have to do is press it once and voila... indicator off. Up until that discovery I was that guy bobbing along through traffic, trying to act like a pro, with one of my blinkers flashing continuously like I was looking for parking. I said don’t laugh!
For now I’ll continue to advocate scooter ownership. I don’t yet know what it will be like arriving at work with snot frozen to my upper lip, but I know that it shortens what’s usually a half an hour commute by almost half. And that’s without much lane-splitting practice. It’s also extremely light on fuel. I’m not quite ready to divulge my actual average consumption yet, because this 150cc engine’s only sipped about a tot of petrol over the last 100 or so km. Let me do some real distance and then I’ll fill you in.
In the meantime, please watch out for that rookie rider attempting to lane-split with his indicator on. That would be me.
The Honda PCX 150, by the way, is priced at R38 490 and there are still two even cheaper models in Honda’s range. All of Honda’s scooters carry two year/unlimited distance warranties.