Knock knock

The phone rang this afternoon. It was the importing agent letting me know that I should (should) be able to collect my Ten tomorrow.

I dropped it in North London on January 13. Tomorrow is April 23. That’s 3 months and 10 days.

I was going to write a lot in the meantime on this blog, about biking in Laos. Remarks on what they ride, how they ride etc.

But I just couldn’t. I guess it was too painful.

Yeah, I’ve been badly frustrated at not having a motorbike. I bought a scooter to fill the gap upon arriving, and don’t get me wrong it has done its job very well. In fact, in all honesty I can say that a scooter is the best form of transport here. Very light, enough power to overtake most drivers, and brakes so squidgy they wouldn’t pass even a bad MOT in the UK. But squidgy brakes are a good thing here: when the ground is not drenched in tropical downpours it is covered in dust and sand. All in all, things are slipperier here than on a wet bar of soap.

But it’s an automatic. It’s convenient and all, but interesting? Forget it. It’s boring, not involving, soulless. It’s a thing with an engine. You forget who you are on a scooter, and even why you ride one.

I didn’t think I’d miss my Ten so much. Well, I guess I’d have missed any motorbike, but the one coming is the Ten…

In fact I was starting to think that buying the Yam had been a mistake. Spending my time in Vientiane, and once or twice going to Vang Vieng, the naked option seemed like a much better choice: character, sound, all that.

A friend let me ride his 15+old Honda Super Four for 10-15 mins, and it was heaven. The Honda doesn’t exist in Europe: it’s a 400cc inline-4 engine! Sounds AWESOME, redlines at 12.000 rpm, creamy as cream. The bike was a wreck and yet I nearly wet his tank.

In 3 months here, I have also spotted a number of other yummy bikes: a Z1000 (latest gen), a Ducati Hypermotard, a Monster or two, plus quite a number of Harleys. There’s also a KTM 990 Adventure (with rally mudguard) and a hordes of 250/450off-roaders, including an Africa Twin.

At the border one day, an S1000 RR was crossing back into Thailand after touring Laos. An S1000 RR. Touring. Laos. Seeing that, I thought either everything I’ve read about the roads in Laos is BS, or the guy is nuts. But hey, some people walk around the world, so I guess you can tour whichever way you want.

Still…

250cc is the highest limit by law. All those I mentioned above are grey imports. So most bikes/scooters are in fact 125cc. There’s a number of 150cc ‘sportsbikes’, as well as 250cc. Lately, the Z250 has started appearing in ‘dealerships’, and I even saw one on the road a few days ago.

It really looks good, mimicking very closely the brand new Z800. But it’s a single cylinder engine, although it doesn’t sound too bad. For the market that is. Because that’s what happens when the bikes on the road are all small capacity. You start fantasising about the sound of a 250cc!

Things I’ve noticed about riding here:

– there IS a clear logic to rules (not like in China). Even if they are pretty different from those in Europe.

– cars are pretty conscious of two-wheelers.

– gear-shifting is done very early. The guy on the Z1000 seems to shift at 1500, it’s painful. He must be in 3rd gear at 40 km/h. To me, that’s an insult and cause enough to confiscate it.

Anyway. After riding the Honda Super Four, I thought maybe what I need is a naked. Like a Honda Super Four.

But first the price of bikes here is painful. I came across a 250cc Suzuki Bandit in a shop one day. It was between 15 and 20 years old, looked its age in all respects. And I was quoted 4700 USD! The Z250 I mentioned, new, is about 8000 USD.

Second, I drove to Luang Prabang for Lao New Year last week. And now I know buying the Ten was a very wise choice indeed. Even the best roads have ruts and bumps, all of which would be very uncomfortable on tight suspended bikes. The saggy Ten’s suspensions will love it here.

It’s a shame I won’t have ABS or TC though. I could have done with those, given how unpredictable the road surface can be: sand, gravel or dust in corners, rain and mud in the upcoming rainy season, all that.

The main avenue (rather: the only one) in Vientiane is not in asphalt, it’s a weird smooth surface that gets super slippery as soon as a drop hits it. Yesterday, I nearly lost the rear of my scooter after taking a very slight angle into a 15km/h turn just because someone had watered a plant a while back and there was residual water on the road.

Since arriving, I’ve also discovered something that bothers me: the Ten is not imported in Thailand. That means parts and servicing won’t be available there. I had bought the Ten partly for that. But they only import the Super Ten. That’s my luck.

On the plus-side bikes are so expensive here, if I decide to sell it when we leave, I should be in profit. And being ripped off over my R1200R won’t feel that raw anymore.

The way I tried to address my frustration was watching Youtube. I’m not sure there’s any film on the tube about my favorite bikes that I don’t know.

Also, I’ve planned the motorbike after-Laos. Kinda. Depends on where we’ll be of course, but first I’ll lobby for a country with good roads and proper dealerships and a wide range of bikes and no restriction on cc. Second it’s still a bloody toss-up between heart and mind.

If the heart spoke, it’d be either of those:

– Street triple

– Z800/1000

– any supermoto (Husky, Aprilia, Ducati)

If the mind spoke:

– Z1000sx

– KTM 990 SMT

I’m not sure I could ride a bike just in and around town. One of the great joys of motorbiking is in touring, and touring on a naked is hell. It was hell on my R1200R when it had a sports screen on. It only became great when I fitted the touring screen instead.

I could get another R1200R. I could. But I won’t. I want a bit more purpose, I want a different sound, a tad less mass. I’ll probably miss the supreme comfort.

I love twin engines. But riding the Honda Super Four made me realise that inline-4s are a joy. Very different, but lovely. I love the whistling up top.

Ideally, what I’d do is buy the KTM and a Honda Super Four. I’ve discovered 400cc isn’t bad at all when it sings that well. A grunty twin and a screeching 4? That wouldn’t be half bad.

If all else fails, why not the Austrian and an old Hornet?

Ok, I’m getting about 2 years ahead of myself. For now, let’s pick up the Ten tomorrow, get it working after its 3-month rest, and avoid accidents.

The future will take care of itself.

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