Decision to take up motorcycling driven by convenience, economics

The late morning sun is jackhammering me, the heat merciless and unrelenting.

As my mind slowly begins to melt to slush under this oppressive heat, it tries to process what’s going on around me.

I am third in line. To my right is the bane of my existence, the dreaded ‘titi’. During the last class before my test, I had managed to botch five of the seven attempts. I just could not nail the right entry speed, the jolt at the start of the obstacle threw me off, and from that moment on, I was fighting it every step of the way, overcorrecting, and struggling to keep it together.

I am convinced that today, when it mattered most, it would make certain that I failed.

Next thing I know, it is my turn. A million things are running through my head – the CITO sweep, hand signals, clutch and footbrake only, NO throttle inputs, look at where you want to go and not where you’re at, stay on it for seven seconds, clutch to adjust speed, etc.

The whistle shatters my reverie. I look up and see the Road Transport Department examiner giving me the signal to proceed. I scan the instrument panel to make sure the green ‘N’ (for neutral) is off, perform the obligatory CITO sweep, raise my right hand to indicate that I am ready to make a fool of myself, and twist the throttle…

I was late to the bike-riding party. I had been thinking about it for quite some time, but never got around to it. Partly because I’m quite attached to my bones. I’m also risk-averse. I would never try skydiving simply because I cannot see the rationale of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane.

For years, I have been enamoured by the romanticism of riding a motorcycle. The vast, open roads, hitching your bags to the tail, swinging a leg over, firing her up, heading off to nowhere, trundling along off the beaten track, sipping coffee by the fireside in the shimmering afterglow of a dying sun as you prepare to bed for the night. Just you and your machine. Very Mat Salleh.

But my reasons for taking up riding were driven purely by convenience and economics. After leaving my job, I sold off my cars and opted for the practicality of e-hailing rides. Zero ownership costs, zero running costs, zero stress, no parking fees, no entanglements with idiots who ‘chope’ parking spots, being dropped off and picked up right at the doorstep… you can’t beat that.

And if you’re lucky enough to snag a Vellfire or an Alphard for your trip to Bangsar Village, the security there will most likely address you as ‘Datuk’. Or ‘Tan Sri’, if you carry a walking stick. I love arthritis.

Driving used to be fun. Now, it is a soul-sucking, emotionally-draining endeavour. I imagine drawing blood using a straw is better than being stuck on our motorways during peak hours.

Last year, the Dutch GPS and consumer electronics company TomTom said that Kuala Lumpur drivers spent more than 159 hours on the road in 2022, with 75 of those hours due to traffic jams.

The e-hailing solution worked great for a while, but then the costs started spiralling. Pretty soon, it no longer made economic sense.

Around that time, a friend bought himself a 150cc Vespa GTS scooter. A full bag of gas costs around RM15, which is good for 300-plus kilometres. You can park it anywhere, take it anywhere, and is so light and nimble that you can chuck it about. The insane bit is the road tax – RM2. For an entire year.

This was perfect for my needs, so I got one. But after about a year of puttering about on my Vespa Primavera 150, the itch to upgrade to a Vespa GTS 300 was too much.

The 150 is great as a city carver, but on highways, it’s a lead sled. If I wanted to overtake a car, it would take me a full day to do it. The 300 GTS made sense – oodles of power with the same reliability, useability, and convenience of a 150cc machine.

Which explains why I am here, at the ripe old age of 55, sitting for my class B licence motorcycle exam. In a class of 16- and 17-year-olds, I stand out like a sore thumb.

Now, the entire class of more than 100 students is lined up at the periphery of the test area, watching and waiting to see if this ‘uncle’ would nail the ‘titi’ or end up in a cloud of dust, pinned to the asphalt by a 206kg Kawasaki Versys 650.

Fortunately, I quickly realised my initial mistake of feeding the throttle. I jam it back to the stops and work the clutch instead. The roll-up to the start of the ‘titi’ is good, and I crest the bump without too much of a wobble. From that point onwards, it’s just a matter of staying on it.

I count ‘One potato… two potato…’, all the while working the clutch to control my speed. My eyes are laser-focused on where I am going. My aged and cured posterior shifts my body weight on the seat like a well-calibrated gyroscopic gimbal, to maintain balance. The reassuring thud of my rear wheel hitting the tarmac after nine seconds is the best feeling ever.

One obstacle down, four more to go on this part of the test…

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