Thinking of riding a motorbike during your student exchange or travels abroad? We at Asia Exchange believe that motorbikes are an excellent way to explore local areas in Asia, yet there are a few safety related things to remember. This article is worth reading not only for those students who have never ridden a motorbike, but also for anyone willing to ride a scooter when in Asia.

A man wearing a helmet shows thumbs up with one hand while sitting on a scooter in Indonesia.
Scooters make moving around a lot easier for students. Remember to always wear a helmet!

 

 

Adjusting to the student life in many Asian countries also involves learning the ways of the local traffic. Driving on the left hand side of the road, being ready for cars and bikes surprisingly over-taking you from either side, and often, also learning to ride a scooter are some of the aspects that are involved in acquiring the necessary skill to safely navigate through Asian cities and countryside.

Before moving into the tips for everyone, let’s first see what someone who has never tried riding a scooter or motorbike should remember:

Beginner tips:

  • Start learning somewhere with no traffic! A parking lot, a small back road, or a football field will do.
  • Always, ALWAYS, WEAR A HELMET!
  • Learn to go slow! Riding fast is actually pretty easy – but to master moving slow while holding your balance is the key to making motorbike riding in traffic enjoyable.
  • Get a bike that is light rather than heavy with a big engine. While the vintage motorbikes may look cool, they may not be the safest option for someone who has never ridden a motorbike. Scooters are easy and also petrol efficient, and a typical engine size in Asia, suitable for a first time rider is 110cc. Just make sure the bike you rent is fairly new and in good condition (breaks, horn, and all lights work, mirrors on both side, tires are in great shape..)
  • If you ever lose control of your bike when moving slowly, just let the bike fall and jump off! You are more important than the bike, and trying to protect the bike will often lead into you hurting yourself.
  • Exhaust pipe gets extremely hot after riding! It is a common mistake for the rider or one sitting on the back of the bike to burn their calf on to the exhaust pipe of the motorbike. This will result in a painful, serious burn, and in most cases also a trip to the nearest hospital. Avoid touching the exhaust pipe!
  • Find a friend or local who knows how to ride a bike to teach you how to use the controls. Automatic bikes are easy to learn on, and if you know how to ride a bicycle, you will most likely learn to ride a scooter on your first try.
  • It’s recommended to wear longer clothing while learning to ride a bike. Long sleeve shirts, proper shoes, and jeans provide good protection against very annoying and infection-prone asphalt rash.
  • Avoid riding during the rush hour at first, if possible.
  • At first it is a good idea to only stay on paved roads you already know. Driving on gravel or sand is harder, and it’s easy to lose grip when trying to break. No off-roading until you know how to ride the bike properly!
surfing_scooter_lombok
Accessing surfbreaks becomes a lot easier with a motorbike.

1st time riding on an automatic scooter:

  1. Hop on! Sit down and your both legs will be touching the ground if you are tall, if you are a little bit shorter, just lean on one foot to keep the balance
  2. Kick up the kick-stand with your left foot.
  3. Put the key in and set it to “ON” position.
  4. To ignite, just hold both break levers with your left and right hands, and press the starter button to start the engine. At the same time with most bikes you will also need to it a bit of gas too, so just slightly turn the gas handle with your right palm. You don’t need to give much gas, just enough for the engine to start running.
  5. Now you are ready to move! Release the breaks, and accelerate steadily by turning the gas handle slowly. You will notice some torque building up, and soon your bike will start moving. As soon as you feel the momentum, pick your feet up off the ground and place them on the foot platform on the bike.
  6. Turning the bike is easy: you just lean slightly to either side and the handle bar will turn almost automatically. If you know how to ride a bicycle, you already know how to turn on a scooter! When going very slow, to turn, you use your hands a little bit more, whereas when riding fast, practically all of the turning is done by just leaning on either side.
  7. Stopping and learning to stop confidently is equally important! The front brake (usually on the right hand side) is the more efficient break, as when your brake, all the weight of you and the bike will move on the front wheel. Learning to always use both breaks when breaking is the fastest and typically the safest way to stop. So hold a few of your fingers on both break levers at all times! If there is any sand on the road, using the front break can cause you to slide and fall on your bike. If you notice sand or gravel on the road, break slowly, using the back break more, and continue riding at a slower speed.
  8. Now that you know how to control the bike, gather your confidence and you are ready to join others in the traffic. Just remember that you’re not in a hurry! Start slowly, and you will become better at riding and more confident after every ride.
two people riding scooters in Indonesia
Scooters are very useful especially in Indonesia.

 

Although not 100% necessary, in many of our study destinations, to use a scooter or a motorbike as the main solution for daily transport is more than recommended. Especially in BaliPhuket, and Bangkok, having a scooter will make your student-life a lot easier. Not only will it make commuting to and from university a lot quicker, it will also make it easier and cheaper to visit your friends and explore the nearby areas on your past time! With a scooter it’s easy to weave through traffic, and a journey that might take 30 minutes of sitting in non-moving traffic inside a taxi, might be just a whim of 5 minutes, when riding a scooter!

Read more: 10 things to bring when studying in Southeast Asia

Two people riding motorbikes on a small unpaved road in Thailand.
Motorbikes are a great and inexpensive way for exploring the Asian countries. Photo: Vintage Rides.

We don’t want to make you frightened of riding a motorbike but just want to remind you that it is extremely important to prevent traffic accidents from happening. Traffic safety is a serious matter, and we at Asia Exchange don’t want our students forgetting this. Many serious accidents, even fatal ones happen to tourists in Asia, and in most serious cases, the rider may have been drunk or not wearing a proper helmet. Maybe the last thing you want to happen during your student exchange is a motorbike accident which may in the worst case not only end your fun time abroad but also your life.

By remembering a few safety tips, you will save yourself from unnecessary accidents and asphalt rash. Too often people get too confident, stop using a helmet, and then get into unexpected mishaps.

Many people stopped at traffic lights while on their scooters.
Scooters are easy to ride but remember: SAFETY FIRST! A street-scene from Bangkok. Photo: commons.wikimedia


Tips that every student riding a bike in Asia should remember!

  1. ALWAYS WEAR A HELMET! A full-face helmet is recommended for better head protection. (Girls: it saves your face from nasty scars and asphalt rash as well.) Helmet is your cheapest life insurance!
  2. DON’T DRINK AND DRIVE. Your reaction time is slow, you take unnecessary risks, and you are more likely to get into a serious accident. In Thailand, 26% of the road-deaths are to blame on drunk drivers (source:World Health Organization.) Grab a taxi or Uber instead, it’s cheap, and will save your life.
  3. International driver’s license! Make sure you have a proper driver’s license that allows you to ride a motorbike in your destination country. Your insurance will not cover for any motorbike accidents unless you can prove that you had the license needed to be legally entitled to riding the bike.
  4. Keep your bag under your seat. Especially for girls with purses and handbags,; there are criminals in Asia who ride a bike past you and will grab your bag. Often this will also lead to the victim crashing their bike. Avoid this from happening by keeping your bag in the space under the motorbike seat.

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