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A two-wheeled perspective

Posted on 14 February 2017

Here I am, living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (KL, as it’s more popularly called). Despite what the authorities want us to believe, public transportation in the Klang Valley is nowhere near as convenient as they purport it to be. True, the train and bus systems have been upgraded to cover a wider area now, but haphazardly planned development will outgrow the public transportation infrastructure currently under construction by the time it’s completed.

Commuting by public transportation doesn’t make life any easier unless your residence and workplace are right beside the train’s stops. It’s not uncommon for someone having to take up to three times longer to get to work by public transport than by driving. For example, it takes me 45 minutes to drive the 22.5 km to work in the morning rush hour, compared to an average of nearly 2 hours if I used the light rail transit system.

Sure, there’s Uber and and other ride sharing services but those are economically unviable for any middle income earner.

This makes commuting by motorcycle the most practical choice.

I used to ride daily, rain or shine, with my wife. We have no patience in getting bogged down by traffic. We could leave for anywhere at a moment’s notice and get there before the place closed.

Then in June 2016, we found out we were expecting our first child. Next to getting married, it was the happiest day of my life. Although, being able to afford the 1290 Super Duke GT would supplant that.

There were going to be some big changes to our daily commute and it would involve a car.

Oh, the horror.

One only needs to drive for a full, solid day around Kuala Lumpur to get a taste of Malaysian road “ethics”. Chopping across lanes without signalling, swinging past all three lanes when negotiating a curve (it doesn’t even qualify as a corner), crawling in the overtaking lane, texting and talking on the phone while driving, speeding up to cut you off from switching lanes although you’ve signalled way ahead of time, tailgating, running the red light, stopping in the yellow box and causing massive congestion at intersections. And of course: hogging the emergency lane.

Not every driver is bad, of course. There are many courteous ones and they’re happy to compromise. But it’s the dangerous ones we bikers have to keep an eye out for. If they’re evident from a car driver’s point-of-view while crawling in traffic, we as bikers should be even more vigilant.

Still, nothing could beat riding to work. The freedom of zipping through traffic like they’re traffic cones on a slalom course (Malaysia allows lane splitting and filtering); not needing to pay toll yet still getting caught in the traffic jam; ease in finding parking (and free if you parked in the designated zones at the road side); saving time.

A sub-7 litre fuel capacity (scooter or moped) typically returns a mileage of 160 to 200-odd kilometres, equating to approximately 28 km/liter (3.6 litres/100 km or 65.3 mpg). Bigger bikes, in the likes of the Triumph Street Triple or any of the Bonnevilles, Aprilia Shiver, Kawasaki Versys 650, Yamaha MT-07 (FZ-07) or MT-09 (FZ- and FJ-09), etc. averages 15 to 20 km/liter (5.0 l/100 km or 47 mpg). The 1300cc Perodua Myvi compact that I drive now could only average 14 km/l (7.1 l/100 km or 33 mpg), driven at average speeds twice slower than on my bike. Plus, getting stuck in traffic still means I’m burning more fuel than getting there faster on the motorcycle.

Also, since Malaysia’s fuel prices are pegged to the US Dollar, and with the Ringgit Malaysia now at 4.40 to the Dollar, prices have soared, despite the world’s lower crude prices. It’s now RM 2.30 ($ 1.96/US gallon) per liter for RON 95, ($ 2.23/US gallon) for RON 97 and RM 2.15 ($ 1.85/US gallon) for diesel. That’s not all - RON 97 is subject to 6% GST.

Besides the obvious fuel saving benefits, one doesn’t need to pay toll when riding. Those dreaded toll plazas are everywhere around the Klang Valley. In the car, a round trip to Genting Highlands costs RM14.00 ($3.18). Commuting to work alone costs RM8.20 ($1.86) daily. Ironically, we still get stuck in traffic.

Adding more insult, public parking fees have just been raised by 150% around KL. It’s now RM2.00 ($0.45) for the first hour, RM3.00 ($0.68) for each subsequent hour. That’s RM 17.00 ($3.86) to park for the 8 hours of working time. No parking fees for bikes, conversely, unless you park in the malls.

That doesn’t sound like much in good ol’ American greenbacks but hey, the Malaysian middle class typically earns RM1500 ($340.91, at 1USD to RM4.40) per month!

The biggest loss, of course, is time. It usually takes 20 minutes to ride the 22.5 kilometres to work (75 km/h or 46.6 mph average speed) by motorcycle, but slows down to 45 minutes (30 km/h or 18.6 mph average speed) in the car. And it’s getting worse by the day. Any slower and it might as well be h/km – hours per kilometer. That extra time would’ve been ample for me to quaff a large cup of macchiato and hearty breakfast of fluffy pancakes topped with strawberries, drowned in warm maple syrup.

It’s high time that more commuters switch to motorcycles, of any size. For those of you reading this in Malaysia, get a scooter, install a GIVI top box and you’re good to go. If you’re considering a bigger bike, get yourself a GIVI tankbag or install a top box or panniers or all of them. Done!

However, there’s something even more sinister we bikers have to remember, and that’s the psyche of drivers who’ve never ridden a motorcycle. They’ve had their minds made up about looking out for other cars, so when they look in their mirrors and don’t see a car, they’d pull out into you, because a motorcycle never registered in their minds. Similarly, research has found that most of us humans could not distinguish the closure rate of a motorcycle correctly, compared to a larger vehicle due to the former’s headlights being closer together. I’ve personally experienced this phenomenon, when I reviewed bikes with single headlamps, compared to those with twin headlights or extra spotlights.

Remember to keep a finger or two over the front brake lever. Keep a wide view ahead, scan for trouble spots and signs. Watch for the body language of the drivers - a twitch of his head or shoulders should signal his intention of doing something. Leave nothing to chance and trust no one.

But most of all, start riding and use that extra time to enjoy a cup of steaming hot macchiato.

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