Batam on four Beats and a whim

“Weh… jom pi Batam,” (let’s go to Batam) the idea shot out like a pebble from a slingshot from Ahmad Razlan Alias’ mouth.

Our initial plan, over lunch, was to drive down to Johor Bharu on Friday, then cross over to Singapore over the weekend of Feb 24-25 to catch the Singapore Airshow. This was going to be a small group comprising of Pravin Menon, myself, Razlan or Lan, and his two boys, Amirul Iman, 19, and Aqif Firdaus, 15. The other members of the group, Arman Ahmad and Capt M.K. Ganesan wouldn’t be joining us due to prior commitments. For me, this was a working trip, covering the airshow for Twentytwo13.

As is wont with this group, a simple, straightforward ride would often devolve into a complex mission with tight timelines, far-reaching mission objectives, and a lot of complex moving parts.

From a simple three-day jaunt south of the border, it suddenly grew into two sorties into Singapore over two days and out again, and a sea crossing over to Batam in Indonesia, from Stulang Laut in Johor. Total elapsed time: Six days.

Lan said that he wanted to cross the six bridges that spanned Batam’s three major islands – Batam, Rempang and Galang to reach ‘Titik Nol’, or land’s end – with his two boys. Me, all I wanted was to jump on a bike and twist the throttle. It didn’t matter where we were going.

Once we hashed out a rough framework for this ride, Pravin, the group’s unofficial route coordinator, shepherd, safety dude, mission planner, and point man, jumped in and laid out the specifics.

Having been a biker ever since he was old enough to ditch his diapers and put on a pair of baby leather riding pants, Pravin is detail-oriented, blessed with an analytical mind, and resilient. In strike fighter pilot terminology, his CEP (circular error of probability) rate is way above average. By Wednesday, our one-man advance team was already on his Kawasaki KLX250, headed southbound to recce the routes inside Singapore.

To be honest, I was looking forward more to riding a kapchai (underbone motorcycle) in Indonesia than covering the airshow, and thought Batam would be the perfect opportunity to get my ‘feet wet’. I had already done Hatyai and Songkhla in Thailand, and thought Batam would be the perfect precursor to more rides in scenic Indonesia.

As soon as the airshow weekend started, I couldn’t wait for it to be over. For two days, I was at the mercy of Singapore’s seamless, integrated, efficient public transportation system. Everything worked, and worked flawlessly. The only problem was, the amount of walking that I had to do from one MRT station to the next, and to the connecting bus stations.

For two days, I had no access to a motorcycle. I genuinely missed throwing a leg over the seat, sliding the key into the slot, turning it and seeing the twin needles come alive as the bike sorts itself out, thumbing the master switch and hearing the whirr of servos and electrics priming themselves, toggling the engine start button and hearing the 650cc, parallel twin-cylinder engine with a 270-degree crank roar to life and then settling into a throaty, steady rumble.

Monday drifted by in a blur of body aches and throbbing knees. Two doses of painkillers numbed the pain somewhat, which allowed me to function, but not quite enough for me to sign up for the Boston Marathon. I woke up as the faint whispers of the sun began to creep up across the Johor skyline, shimmery and indistinct. I got up, showered, and began to sort out my gear.

We checked out of the hotel and headed for the ferry terminal at Stulang Laut by 11.30am, plenty of time to catch the 2.30pm boat to Batam. The passport and immigration clearance was a breeze. We boarded our Dolphin Fast ferry and settled in for our two-hour, 30-minute ride. The ferry was practically ours with hardly anyone on board. The accommodations were plush and the din from the twin diesels were hardly noticeable. Not bad for an RM180, return ride.

Once in Batam, we hopped into a cab and asked the cab driver to take us to a bike rental shop, so we could sort out our rides for the next day’s adventure.

He took us to Rental Motor Ilham in Batam Centre. There, we got in touch with the ‘jefe’ or boss, Pak Madi, who does everything from bike rentals to wedding planning and photography, corporate events, to podcasting services. The man is immensely talented.

We told him that we needed the bikes to be delivered to our as yet, undetermined hotel by 8pm. It was now 5pm. Usually, Pak Madi would need at least a week’s notice to prepare the bikes, go through the vetting process and make sure that all the paperwork was in order. He hardly ever entertains walk-ins. And three hours was not a whole lot of time to get things together. I wasn’t entirely optimistic.

“Iya… Bisa, pak”, he replied.

By 8pm, four like-new, 110cc Honda Beats were waiting for us at Batam’s New Hotel, a garish, four-storey, ‘cash only’ structure lit up like a monumental Christmas tree, serving as a beacon of hope to the hordes of travelling masses.

We were ready to rock.

Tagged with: