Taiwan was tough riding, but like a pair of old leather shoes, after a while I got used to it.
The first problem was organizing a bike. I thought I had this sorted out through the Hartford Company, which makes a nice dual purpose export model. I had seen one several months before in Kathmandu, Nepal and was able to determine they were manufactured in Taiwan. They agreed to give me access to one, but forgot to tell me they were manufactured for export only, which meant not legal to ride on the streets of Taiwan except as "test" bikes with a special license.
The motorcycle is 125-cc and 150-cc (the 150-cc models are now on the production line for shipment to the USA, with some tire changes to meet USA DOT requirements).
At first I thought it would be too small for what I had in mind, some long distance riding at speed with a full load, but that is not the riding style in Taiwan. Also, off-road riding was limited. The jungles were home for some very large snakes with "snake trails" instead of footpaths and much of the land in Taiwan is under water for rice fields. Not the best stuff for off-road romps.
The Hartford factory assigned one of their technicians to escort me to the countryside for some "practice" before turning me loose on my own. His name is Daniel Chung (see photo above) and he managed me through some hectic Taiwan city traffic before we arrived at the test area used by the company.
Best described, the test area is where military tanks and jeeps go to play. Lots of deep canyons, ugly rocks, and 4-wheel drive areas. Daniel instructed me to "take care" as he knew little of my riding experience and me. He was on a lead bike and I promised I would try to keep up with him.
The 125-cc bike was little in size but surprisingly big in guts. It was able to get me airborne easily in second gear, and jumped/landed well on a suspension system designed for someone half my size and weight. After we did some jeep/tank trails for a little while I asked Technician Chung if I could try some more serious off-road riding.
Daniel looked at me with some trepidation, then agreed to handle the camera. By this time I think I had him convinced I could keep both feet on the pegs if I drove slowly enough. I failed to tell him that my definition of off-road and his might not be the same. Once I got him distracted with trying to focus my camera I got him unfocused on where I was riding and took off cross country, which fits my definition of off-road, meaning no road. The 125-cc Hartford and I plowed through some deep grass and weeds as I kept trying to find its limits.
After some time I rode back to him to check on film and shots. He told me he got some good photographs, we had a laugh about me fooling him as to where I was going to ride, then he told me, "Most of us do not ride in that grass because of the snakes." Those who know me know of my dislike of any adventure involving snakes. Technician Chung was getting the last laugh on this Crow Indian and this ended my cross-country riding.
Next I wanted to see if the 125-cc motorcycle could pull some steep, uphill rocks like my BMW HPN and Yamaha XT 600, so pointed to an uphill track of ugly rocks. Mr. Chung wavered on my attempting this ugly hill because he did not think the 125-cc had enough grunt to pull my weight up and over the top. I promised to go slow and back down if unable to make the crest, and he nodded his "OK." Not wanting to "lose face" and fail making the crest, I rode like a wildman, which lost me any face I had earned up to that point in the day.
The problem with a small motorcycle hitting rocks the size of footballs is the rider (me) sometimes bounces higher than the motorcycle, meaning feet come off the pegs and hands off the handlebars. In the photo above you can see an American who has lost face in some very ugly rocks. Mr. Chung, a gentleman to the end, never laughed or made a negative comment like "I thought you said you would go slow ."
Taiwan has over 10 million motorcycles on the road, most of them commuters, 125-cc or smaller. Step-thrus of Vespa clones constitute the majority of the 10 million. I decided that if I was in Rome (Taiwan) I should try riding what the locals do, so managed a 125-cc SYM, made in Taiwan, shown below.
This type of motorcycle equates to about one for every two people in Taiwan. Laws, parking and space necessitate this size motorcycle. Gasoline was not too expensive, about $2.00 per gallon, which has some effect on their use, but parking is the biggest problem. The 10 million motorcycles on this Island are parked, sometimes three deep on sidewalks, everywhere. They are used almost exclusively as a commuter and I saw none (other than mine) being used to "tour".
Fortunately the road system is small enough (no motorcycles of any size are allowed on the "autobahns" or major highways) these smaller motorcycles are able to maintain adequate speeds to keep up with traffic. On some roads there are special lanes assigned for motorcycles only and at stoplights a special area, in front of all the cars, is for motorcycles only.
One problem for a foreigner is to purchase or rent a motorcycle. Paperwork makes is nearly impossible for a transient foreigner, like myself on a 14 day pass (no visa required), to purchase a motorcycle, and rentals are available only in certain "tourist areas." Fortunately, a great problem solver around the world is also paper, folding paper, like in dollar bills. I carry my own license plate and a registration for it with me as I travel around the world, sometimes affixing the plate to motorcycles needing one to jump through local loopholes.
Worried about being stopped by police on my SYM motorcycle, which had a local registration assigned to a local person, I attached my own license plate. In the photo above you can see I kept both plates on the motorcycle.
When I was stopped by a traffic policeman (riding a BMW R1100 RT) who I could not outrun, I carefully explained that where I live we can transfer license plates from one motor vehicle to another (true, if a transfer of paperwork is also done), and that the insurance could also be transferred. Showing the police officer my valid insurance (for USA) and registration (all written in English), as well as my International Driving Permit satisfied his request for "Papers and Documents." My passport with valid entry permit was also needed. I finally finished my paperwork presentation by giving him a personalized business card (card on one side, small photo on the other, then laminated together). Business cards are very big in this part of Asia and often presented instead of a handshake. Of course, this entire roadside stop was conducted in English (me) and Taiwanese (he) but in the end we parted on a friendly basis, I am sure he hoping never to see me again because he did not write any ticket, and me thankful he did not confiscate my motorcycle.
Taiwan was an interesting ride. First I had to learn the rules of the roads, quite different from Thailand from where I had just come. I saw numerous accidents involving motorcycles, but usually at slow speed, and was thankful traffic moved at a slower pace than in Thailand. The stoplights were fun. At a red light all the motorcycles would move to the front, ahead of all cars and trucks, then when the light turned green it was like the start of a Grand Prix race, except everyone was on nearly equally slow small scooters, including ladies in dresses and high heels, men in business suits and no one wearing leather or Gore-Tex. Everyone did, however, wear a motorcycle helmet. The difference between my helmet and theirs was major, like $390.00 USD, as most of their helmets cost less than $10.00 USD. I also learned that there is little brand affiliation, like Harley guys waving only at fellow Harley-Davidson riders. In Taiwan no one was waving, most were just weaving, in and out of traffic.
Taiwan has the distinction of being the country in the world with the highest motorcycle accident rate. After my time there I now know why. It is numbers and odds. With 10 million two wheelers, given the space and traffic, the odds are higher than where I live in Montana, being one of two motorcycle riders in town. I think I like the Montana, USA odds better.
(Next I return to the USA, where I hope to log the final miles of this third ride around the world on a USA manufactured motorcycle, possibly spending some time on the "Mother Road," Route 66.)
July 27, 2000, Going Out Again - 'Round The World
October 4, 2000, Why Another Long Ride, The Plan, and Mr. Fish
October 10, 2000, the beginning, in America on an Indian
November 6, 2000, AMAZONAS-Tamed By Beasts in Brazil
November 22, 2000, Monster Cow, Wolpertinger and Autobahn Crawling Across Europe
December 22, 2000, Enfield 500 Bullet, India Motorcycle Dementia, Ozoned Harley-Davidsons and Gold Wings
December 25, 2000, Yeti on a Harley-Davidson, Nepal By Enfield, No Carnet Sexpedition
January 1, 2001, Haunting Yeti
January 25, 2001, Monkey Soccer, Asian Feet, Air 'em Up: Bhutan and Sikkim
February 12, 2001, Midgets, Carnetless, Steve McQueen on Enfield, Bangladesh
February 20, 2001, Higgledypiggledy, Salacity, and Zymurgy - India
March 20, 2001, Road warriors, sand, oil leaks - meditating out of India
April 8, 2001, Bike Cops, Elephants, and Same-Same - Thailand
May 1, 2001, Little Bikes, Millions of Bikes, Island Riding - Taiwan
May 15, 2001, Harley-Davidson, Mother Road and Super Slabs - America
June 8 , 2001, Crossing The Crazy Woman With A Harley-Davidson, Indian, BMW, Amazonas, Enfield, Hartford, SYM, Honda
January 1, 2002, Donged, Bonged, and Gonged - Burma
January 20, 2002, Secrets of The Golden Triangle - Thailand
March 31, 2002, Bear Wakes, Aims Green Machine Around The World
April 10, 2002, Moto Cuba - Crashes, Customs and El Jefe (Fidel)
May 20, 2002, Europe and The Roads South to Africa
June 10, 2002, Morocco Motorcycling, Thieves and Good Roads
July 30, 2002, Russia – Hard and Soft, By Motorcycle
August 30, 2002, USA – American Roadkill, Shipping Bikes and BIG DOGS
September 30, 2002, Good Times Roll Home, Riding With Clothes On, Team Green - USA
November, 2002, Mexico By Motorcycle - Gringos, Little Norman Bad Cock, and Bandits
March 2003, Laos by motorcycle - Guerrillas, Mekong Beering, and Plain of Coffins
July, 2003, Alaska by motorcycle – Deadhorse, Fish Story and Alaskan Bush
January 2004, Angkor, Bombed Out Roads and Dog Eaters - Cambodia
April, 2004, Minsking, Uncle Ho and Snake Wine
August 2004, Around The World Again, 1st Tag Deadhorse
February 2005, Colombia To The End Of The Earth - South America
January 2006, My Marriage, Long Strange Ride, Montana Nights
May 2006, Cherry Girls, Rebels, Crash and Volcano - Philippines
September 2006, Break Bike Mountain Ride – United States
March 2007, Kawasaki Cult Bike “No Stranger To Danger Expedition” - Thailand and Cambodia
November 2007, Lone Wolf Wanders: Bears, Moose, Buffalo, Fish
April 2009, Global Adventure Roaming: Burma through the USA to headhunters on Borneo
February 2010, Adventure Motorcycle Travel: Expedition to Alaska, then Java
Copyright © Dr. Gregory W. Frazier. 1999- All Rights Reserved.
Thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author,
and not necessarily Horizons Unlimited