Welcome

Hi and welcome to a blog mostly about motorcycle touring. Motorcycle Paradise started as a simple web page with a few photos when I taught myself HTML around 1995. Back then I was just another "jackass on a motorcycle" (thanks Fuzzy Galore) so some of the content ported over to here might sound as dated as the fluro graphics on my bike then. More recent information can be found in my ride reports. Currently I am based in Japan. Hope you enjoy your visit.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Thailand Tour 2015

This post is the first part of a recent trip riding 3 countries in SE Asia. The other areas I visited were the Philippines and Borneo, Malaysia which I will follow up on shortly. I have already toured the northern mountains of Thailand twice and was not initially planning to return this Christmas however a opportunity arose to meet up with my long time ride partner from Australia first in Thailand and then continuing into Philippines so I thought why not! My previous rides in Thailand can be found by following these links. 2013 Ride. 2014 Ride.

If you are tempted to try an overseas ride then in my opinion Thailand would be one of the best options to start with in Asia. You fly to Chiang Mai as your starting point. This is a easy place to explore and very simple to rent a bike from. You can do a ride from here just by paper map as it is easy to navigate but a GPS or offline map on a smart phone is always going to be handy. I use a GPS with a battery pack in a case that I velcro to the handlebars, (info here) this has worked for me around the world. As for motorcycles I have rented from the three most well known bike rental shops in Chiang Mai and here is my verdict on them.

No.1. Pops rental has so far been the best for me. Huge fleet of brand new or very late model bikes, all good condition. No need to book even high season as they have very large number of bikes (about 30 to 40) A smooth transaction, I was on the road quickly. Negatives are no insurance.

No 2. Mr Mechanic rental. The bikes are older Kawasaki ER6’s with high mileage and the tyres fitted are no name however I give 2nd spot to this shop as they do offer some limited insurance on their bikes which no one else does and they will reserve bikes if you give a deposit.

No.3 Tony’s Big Bikes. The bikes are perhaps similar age to Mr Mechanic but were much better maintained. I relegate this shop to 3rd as the insurance I was offered at this shop, from what I could understand after purchase, actually did not cover much at all … and despite having had a confirmed reservation on my 2nd visit I was told no bike available and when pointing to the bikes on the lot was told they were reserved the day before so I could not have them despite my reservation being 6 weeks prior.

Rental helmets at all these shops are total crap. It is a shame they cannot at least replace visors occasionally which are so badly scratched they cannot be seen out of. Tony’s had perhaps the best helmets and they also offer rental jackets however the one I rented had not been washed in some time and was very soiled. Best to bring your own gear and be comfortable. And of course YMMV with any of these shops.

Make sure you have a International Drivers Permit when you ride in Thailand. It is one of a couple of places where the police want to see this and not your drivers licence and will fine you for failure to produce it. Costs are very reasonable despite the exchange rate not being what it once was. The bike rental cost compared to western countries remains low. Hotels, food and drinks are all reasonably priced too.

The roads are mostly in excellent condition and the options for riding curvy mountain roads seem endless. Almost any road in any direction north of Chiang Mai will be good. The main thing is to time your ride well. The burn offs start around February and make the air quality poor and the roads slippery with ash. After this the rains begin and so late December early January seems to work good for me but check weather and you will be able to ride other times too.t gets cool in the mountains and in the mornings at year end and January so a wind breaker is needed.

Before the ride I was hanging around the beaches to the south of Thailand, escaping the freeze in Japan and waiting for my mate from northern NSW Australia to arrive and rented a scooter to ride around. 1000’s of scooters but not the best place for riding a big bike.

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Ride report

We rented from Mr Mechanic this trip having assumed being Christmas holidays the place would be packed and the bikes all booked but actually it was quiet and Pops rentals had a full lot but anyway we already had paid a deposit so just went with our original plan. My bike turned out to be a ER6n with 80,000 on the clock and not too much straight on it. It is a tribute to Kawasaki how very good these ER bikes are after such hard lives that mine still rode semi reasonable. My mate had the fairing version and not long into the ride we noticed his front tyre was bald. My bikes front tyre was only slightly better having low tread on a tyre called a ‘Road Winner’ which I decided soon into things was a product of the even less well known Slippery Tyre Company, China.

We had an extended lunch not far out of town while they brought another bike to replace my mates green machine. I probably should have looked mine over beforehand as I would have not taken it either but we got a very late start due to miscommunications and slow going at the shop so I just jumped on mine and went then realised it was in car terms a ‘beater’. But I have ridden worse so soon started to adjust to everything being slightly bent and the engine having a big flat spot at a certain point in the rev range which reminded me of my old 750 when the carbs would go out, but this was EFI so the poor things engine must have been in bad shape. Good thing I don’t use rev counters or needed to mind my speed as the dash on mine was illegible seeming to be affected from years of sitting in the hot Thai sun however the fuel gauge worked which was all that mattered.

Below, my mates first rental the green Er6 and my red P.O.S.

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So much for the easy day one. The GPS was saying ETA 7.30pm and you always have to add an hour to any Garmin ETA since they are as reliable as a Thai fake Rolex. I decided to cut down our original route taking a short cut to Mai Hong Son via the 1088 and 1263 roads. The 1088 I had visited previously and it had some mixed surface but this time it was fresh hot mix sealed and excellent. The 1263 was also mighty fine riding and being new to me I enjoyed it very much. So despite missing out on much of the famed 108 we had a great ride on these back roads. Alas even with just brief stops and a quicker pace set by my mate up front who is a master of back road riding, we could not avoid being in darkness by the time we got back onto the 108 for the last 60 km into MHS. Surprisingly we managed to get into town a bit after 7.00pm which was a excellent recovery but something I do not wish to have to do again. 

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Above 1088. Below 1263. (these photos sourced from the web as no time on day one)

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There is at least as many curves on the roads surrounding MHS as the 1864 figure claimed for the famous 108. You get fatigued riding this area from the corners, they never let up. By the time you are back to Chiang Mai or north to Pai you want to get out of 2nd or 3rd gear and long to see a bit of straight road. Ha-ha, not too many places like this where you can ride a couple hundred km of non stop curves. Personally I like the open flowing roads these days more. I used to prefer technical roads when younger. The 108 on the south is slightly more flowing and also the road surface on the south of MHS is excellent where as the road to Pai has some mixed surfaces.

Part of the enjoyment when riding in SE Asia is the notion that there is less rules and you can do as you want. To a certain extent this it true. The rules are still there but mostly not enforced which can be a double edged knife and riding a bike you must assume that the other vehicles always have right of way and if something happens you will be at fault no matter what. Still it is uplifting to ride there and if you live in a police state like Australia you will feel a real sense of freedom. Personally I no longer have the desire to ride that fast but I enjoy not having to think about the speedo just the same. Thailand has a nice balance of freedom without lawlessness.

Day two was going to be the longest ride day and it turned out even longer thanks to heavy traffic on the 1095 road to Pai with many Thai people enjoying a day out on the Saturday along with tourists galore. I had plotted a route with some new roads rather than riding the busy 107 north but the Garmin was playing up big time on this day and completely dropped the route I wanted via the 1001, 1150 then the 118 and instead took us north via the 107 for a good distance before crashing and by the time I realised we should have turned off it was too far to turn back. So we continued north to take the 109 over the mountains to Chiang Rai. As luck would have it this road which I had ridden previously and wanted to avoid due to poor surface had just been freshly resurfaced and turned out to be one of the best bits of tar of the trip. (below a typical sort of road ridden today, see my previous posts for more)

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Thai buses are all elaborately customised with blinged engines out back with lots of lighting etc. Chiang Rai clock. And a rare photo for my ride reports of not only myself but also my friend from many ride reports in Australia on the right.

Day three and another day of fairly clear skies which I have not yet mentioned. This trip was the first for me where views were not totally obscured by smoke haze. This was especially good news since today I wanted to visit a view point on the border with Laos at a place called Phu Chi Fa. The ride there from Chiang Rai included a lovely road sweeping through the valley before a very steep climb on the final section. The border lookout itself was unfortunately a long walk from the car park and with no way to secure our bags we just just stayed on the Thai side which I now regret and make a mental note to bring something to secure my bag to the bike next time like a small cable lock.

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Above, examples of the roads on the way to and around Phu Chi Fa. The replacement ER6 my friend got seemed to be pretty good. I was getting used to the Road Winner front tyre and had more or less established its grip limit and kept just below where it would want to slide which is always such fun with a motorcycle front end.

After this was the fabulous 1148. Rated the best ride in Thailand I really cannot say enough good things about this road, it is just a wonderful bit of surveying that any rider coming to Thailand should enjoy. Actually it is worth the trip there just to ride this road. Todays route.

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Who let these two idiots into the country, might be what some of the local riders were wondering as we passed them.

Day four was a loop ride from Nan, an easy short ride but the GPS got bamboozled again and so we did not complete it exactly as planned but had a nice ride all the same in the high mountains north of Nan where I finally got around to taking a few road photos Smile. Riding up very high today on the 1256 road which climbs to about 1900m. Unfortunately some low clouds made for chilly temperatures and I was really cold in summer riding gear. Additionally we could not see anything much of the views from the top as the clouds were swirling around but the riding was still excellent and most of the photos below are the 1081.

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Great day of riding but sadly not without incident. The 4th photo above was taken moments before my bike fell off it’s stand. My own fault as it was downhill and besides that the gear shift was wonky and the gear box very well worn so either gravity overcome it being in gear or the bike jumped out of gear. Lesson leant and fortunately the fall was onto one of the roadside concrete posts which stopped damage to the usual external parts but did put a big dent in the tank. Still that is better than needing repairs to be able to ride but I fretted about what the damage bill would run to as the insurance that was provided had a very high excess but in the end it was a couple of hundred dollars and they did not charge us the balance of extra rental time so I was happy enough with the result. Todays route was a variation of my loop last time in Nan.

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Parking at the Nan hotel, inside the restaurant due to parking limits out front. Really a crap hotel compared to where I stayed last time but you win some, you lose some.

Last day and again I had planned a route that was a variation on my previous rides trying to add some new roads to each day of this ride. Leaving Nan we had good weather and great riding but as we progressed there was some rain clouds on the horizon and the route I had planned would have seen us most likely getting wet so we opted to make a few changes I did not get to ride any new roads on this day. Oh well always good to think that leaves something for next time. Most likely when I return here I will explore the roads to the south of Chiang Mai but that will be awhile off as I would like to ride Laos and Cambodia before that but you never know, it really is a superb riding destination. 

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Sunday, December 07, 2014

Keep your cool

It might be freezing here in Japan at the moment but it is summer in other parts of the world where I will soon be heading to and so I find myself examining my hot weather riding gear.

Some of the things I find help me stay cool are as follows:

Good helmet venting. I use a Nolan N43 helmet which has a lot more air venting than most helmets and in summer it makes a huge difference to how I feel since I am not hot and sweaty inside the helmet. When I first got it I used to swap occasionally to my Shark RSR2 helmet and wow the difference on a hot day is quite significant. Helmets that vent really well are going to also be more noisy but if you wear earplugs then it makes no difference. Web bike world have good reviews about helmet venting performance.

Lightweight mesh jacket. I’ve tried a few summer or 4 season jackets and results do vary depending on if you have a naked or full fairing bike. But in general if you are riding summer in your leather or textile jacket then a mesh jacket will make riding so much more comfortable that you will wonder how you did without one. And they are generally very affordable too so even if you only wear it on the very hottest days preferring your regular gear at other times then it won’t break the bank to have one in the cupboard.

Cooling neck scarf. This is something new for me. I used to always wear a summer Buff neck tube as jackets seem to move around exposing the back of my neck to the sun and even with sunblock after a long day I would end up with sunburn. Now I am using a neck tie that you put under the tap and soak, it has material which soaks up a lot of water and as you ride you are treated to evaporative cooling. It works brilliantly and stops your neck getting burnt at same time.

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Pants that circulate air. Kevlar lined jeans are very popular these days however some can feel quite hot in summer. I had Draggin jeans but now I use BMW City pants. I have come to quite dislike the elitism associated with the brand but am unable to find an alternative to these excellent pants. Fortunately they have no big label showing. They really are very cool and comfortable to wear yet also contain light weight armour which jeans mostly lack. A key feature is the inner comfort liner which keeps the pant material itself away from the skin and allows air to circulate.

Cool max socks. My full size boots get quite hot in summer. Waterproof ones would be unbearable. I find a pair of shorty boots allows the air up under the pants but perhaps more importantly I find quality (i.e.. genuine) cool max socks help considerably to keep my feet cooler and stop footwear from smelling like a swamp by end of day.

Summer gloves. Once hard to find, the market is full of shorty ventilated gloves now so I cannot imagine anyone with hot hands in summer.

Lastly then is the often forgotten, sunscreen, lip balm and hydrate. You face will still suffer from the sun even with tinted screen and the gap between your summer gloves and mesh jacket is often a source of sunburn. You do not notice how much fluid you lose in summer as the wind will whisk away perspiration as you ride then come mid afternoon if you have not made an effort to rehydrate even if not feeling thirsty then fatigue can arrive unexpectedly which can prove dangerous.

Enjoy summer!

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Australia’s Best Motorcycle Roads – East Coast

It has been a very long time since I first started writing about where the best riding was in Australia and I have not had the chance to revisit any of the roads that are further than a long weekend ride away so my original articles are looking rather dated and often lack information.

I have decided to relocate these articles here as they no longer belong on the front page anymore. All the roads mentioned here remain excellent riding and one day I will revisit them and update but until then you can easy find more info about any of these roads as now days the internet is full of motorcycle forums and riding blogs.

Alpine National Park, VIC

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Alpine Way, NSW

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Bells Line of Road, NSW

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Brown Mountain, VIC

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Bruxner Highway, NSW

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Bucketts Way, NSW

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Bulahdelah, NSW

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Bylong valley Way

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Clyde Mountain, NSW

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Delegate, VIC

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Falls Creek, VIC

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Bega, VIC

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Gillies Highway, QLD

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Grafton-Armidale Road, NSW

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Great Alpine Road, VIC

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Great Ocean Road, VIC

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Gwydir Highway, NSW

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Kangaroo Valley, NSW

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Kings Valley, VIC

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Lithgow-Harden, NSW

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Murray River Road, VIC

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Murray Valley Highway, VIC

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Oxley Highway, NSW

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Putty Highway, NSW

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Snowy Mountain Highway, NSW

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Tablelands Way, NSW

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Thunderbolts Way, NSW

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Victoria High Country roads, VIC

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Waterfall Way, NSW

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Wisemans Ferry and Wollombi, NSW

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