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Born to be wild: Singaporeans travel cross-country in their motorbikes

More Singaporeans are travelling to countries as far as China and Kazakhstan on their motorbikes

Jean Iau on 06 Aug 2017

The Straits Times


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While most Singaporeans were still in bed at 7am yesterday, an entourage of 63 riders saddled up their motorbikes and headed for Tuas Second Link.


Their destination was Mersing, Malaysia. The journey would take about two hours from their meeting point just across the border in Johor.


Such day trips to Malaysia are a monthly occurrence for Stormriders Motorcycling Club, which has signed up 58 new members since 2015, adding to its tally of more than 100 active members.


Other motorcycle clubs that spoke to The Sunday Times also noticed an increase in their club membership in recent years, although most do not keep track of their exact numbers.


Apart from day trips, enthusiasts sometimes take months off work to travel further afield to countries such as China, Kazakhstan and even Norway.


Many say they would rather hop on their bikes instead of taking a plane or getting on a bus because they get to experience the terrain and enjoy the outdoor environment. Some also cite lower costs as an advantage of travelling via motorbike.


Club president A. Khaliff, 57, says: "More people are realising how much fun these trips are and how they actually keep you fit.


"Riding in Singapore can be quite tiring because there are traffic lights everywhere and the speed limits are low. In Malaysia, you get on the highway and keep riding all the way up to Penang, Ipoh or even Thailand."


Goldwingers Singapore has noticed double the number of riders - about 80 - at its recent events, compared with its first one in 2004.


Mr Peter Poh, president of Team 27, which is an invite-only motorcycle club, also notes an increase in demand to join his club. He says: "Everybody loves to travel on motorbikes for the adventure and people start to realise how it's a unique experience.


"(Short trips to Malaysia and Thailand) are cheaper than taking a flight or driving because there's less fuel consumption and fewer tolls, and it is more satisfying because you get to see more things."


Mr Nielsen Chia, 41, even quit his job to pursue his passion of longdistance cross-country motorcycle riding.


The former regional manager says: "You can take a plane or coach or see pictures and videos and the scenery will still be nice, but the feeling of accomplishment you get when you look at Mount Everest in close proximity, having put in all this work, is an emotional experience."


Mr Poh Yu Seung, 47, a corporate communications manager, agrees.


"The sensory experience is on a different scale. When we are in Thailand, it has a very different kind of air from China.


"When we ride through the mountains, the air changes. You can feel it through your skin, the air through your lungs and then it really brings the senses into play."




Not many would quit their comfortable jobs in pursuit of their passions, but Mr Nielsen Chia, 41, and Mr Andre Liu, 40, threw caution to the wind and did just that.


They tell The Sunday Times they wanted to go on a long cross-country motorcycle trip while they were still physically able, but found it difficult to get long periods of time off work.


"You have to pursue your passion while you still can," says Mr Chia, a former regional manager who quit his job in November last year.


"Motor sports is still a sport and you need to be physically fit, so you should do it while you can."


Mr Liu, a former IT risk manager who quit in March this year, agrees. "Quitting was a personal decision because I didn't want to be restricted by when I had to be back at my desk.


"I wanted to take time off to reflect and ride and see the places I had read about or seen in photographs."


The friends, who are both single, have been avid motorbike riders since their teens and recently returned from a trip to China with about 13 other motorcyclists.


They spent close to two months on the road and rode through four countries, including Laos and Thailand. The trip cost them about $10,000 each.


Both agree that the highlight of the trip was reaching the northern Mount Everest Base Camp in China and seeing Mount Everest up close.


They say their plan was to enjoy the trip and worry about finding new jobs only when they returned.


Mr Liu says: "I didn't really think of (quitting my job) as a trade-off, but more of what I needed to do, so why not? Now I have to look for something new."


When asked about whether he believes his decision was worth it, Mr Chia says: "You won't know at the time and it depends.


"There are always opportunity costs but, of course once I was on the trip, I thought, 'I made it to the Everest Base Camp, wow."




The surfaces of retiree Christopher Liu's motorcycle storage boxes are running out of room.


Each time he rides to a country, the 61-year-old pastes a print-out of that country's flag on the metal boxes secured to his motorcycle.


He has been to more than 50 countries over the last 27 years.


"They are medals of honour," he tells The Sunday Times on the telephone from Sumatra, while on his current tour of Indonesia.


The former business development manager, who retired in 2015, was inspired by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman's television series Long Way Round, in which the two actors take a three-month motorcycle trip.


Last year, he outdid the television stars and took his longest trip - a five-month-long ride through Eastern Europe and Central Asia.


He shipped his motorcycle to Istanbul, Turkey, then travelled as far as Finland and to more than 13 countries before ending the trip in Iran. His motorcycle was then shipped back to Singapore. The trip cost him about $13,000.


He laughs as he lists the countries and routes of all his travels and says: "When you go with tour groups, you see only the major 'must-see' places. You miss out on the less popular sites and contact with the locals.


"A lot of times, I go on unplanned homestays and have to ask for help with directions and even a place to stay overnight, and local people are always so helpful."


The owner of three motorcycles recalls a particular incident in Mongolia, where his group had to find a place to stay before nightfall.


"We were in the middle of nowhere and, luckily, we found a herdsman who, of course, didn't speak English, so we used sign language to ask him for a place to stay."


The herdsman led the group to his employers, who not only agreed to let them stay, but also showed them how they slaughter sheep "with the sheep facing the sky" .


It is cultural experiences such as these that Mr Liu argues are exclusive to motorcycle riders.


He learnt to ride when he was 16 and his first short trip was to Thailand in 1990.


"Without travelling on bikes, we wouldn't even have ended up in places like those," says the married father of three. "I don't know why but, with the motorbike, you are very visible. And whenever you're having trouble, especially in Europe, people stop to ask you if you need directions or help."




A mutual friend introduced them at a party because of their shared interest in motorbikes.


Twenty-two years later, Mr Poh Yu Seung, 47, and Ms Rosalind Ng, 44, are married and have travelled to more than 10 countries together on their motorcycles.


Ms Ng says: "It's nice to have a partner with common interests. We can go places and do whatever we like together."


The business executive recalls their dating days: "The introduction was 'this guy rides motorbikes and this girl is very interested in motorbikes', so I thought to myself, wow, that's very interesting, I could learn something from him.


"My first ride was as a pillion passenger on the back of his scooter. He was giving me a lift home after our first official date and that sparked off an interest to learn to ride on my own, so I started taking lessons."


Since getting her licence in 1997, she has enjoyed riding her motorbike. "I like the control I have and the whole sensation of riding the bike. It's very different from being a pillion rider. (Being a pillion rider) is fine for transportation, but in terms of enjoyment, I prefer riding my own bike," she says.


The couple, who have no children, took three months off work between May and July, with about 11/2 months of no-pay leave, to embark on a two-month-long trip.


From Singapore, they rode to six countries: Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, China, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan before having to cut short the trip as Ms Ng's motorcycle faced mechanical issues - the rear shock absorber broke - and there were no repair shops in close proximity.


Their entire trip cost them about $15,000 each.


The couple agree that risks are inevitable when it comes to these long rides, but this should not deter Singaporeans.


Mr Poh, a corporate communications manager, says: "Work and jobs are transient in your life, so the things you want to do as a person should always be growing.


"We're always straddling the two areas of our lives.


"We need routine for the stability, whether it's income, family or friends, but then once in a while, you want to do something outside your comfort zone and try something new."


His advice for others contemplating the same kind of ride is this: "You can do it. It's doable and surprisingly easy to unplug from routine."


The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.


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