Monday, December 27, 2010

Random Asianess: Valentino Rossi...Baby!

Check this…. Centrifugal clutch, front and rear disc brakes, 150ccs of raw rice-burning power, the Valentino Rossi design complete with #46. Okay, so it isn’t a Harley, but I bet your Harley doesn’t cost $5.00 USD to fill up and give you about 100 miles to the gallon.

Scooters are by far the best way to get anywhere in Taiwan. You can go around traffic jams; you can travel at the speed limit when all the cars have to go much slower. In Taiwan, in order to get a license to drive a car you have to already have a license to drive a small motorcycle. A small motorcycle is 50cc to 150cc anything bigger than that is considered a heavy motorcycle.

Scooters come in many varieties and sizes. They range from 50cc two stroke engines to 650cc four strokers. Of course, price and gas mileage are as variable as the size. A 100cc Yamaha scooter is around $60,000 NTD that equates about $2,000.00 USD. Before coming to Taiwan I was looking at scooters in the US, just to get an idea of what they run. Of course, most of the ones you see there are European. They ran around $2,900.00 USD for a 100cc. I paid about $2600.00 USD for mine but it needed some modification so that I could ride it.

The mods aren’t what you’d think. I wasn’t looking for a custom high performance looking scooter. I wasn’t trying to impress anyone. I didn’t think I’d have the strength to use the rear handbrake, so I added a foot brake. I also added some side wheels so the bike would be a steady platform for me to dismount. The problem is that I can’t just stand up, I have to use my arm muscles to compensate for the weak back muscles because of the Muscular Dystrophy. Once on I could ride without the outriggers, but I wouldn’t be able to get off the bike. So the mods added about $600.00 to the cost.

My scooter is the Valentino Rossi signature version. It is designed to look like the Yamaha racing bike with which he won the World Championship most recently. I felt kind of stupid at first, here I am this old fart riding a bike designed to appeal to kids. I mean really, it’s like buying a car with the same paint job as the Dukes of Hazzard car. For those of you under 45, please check Google to find out what I’m talking about. It somehow seems undignified; you know what I’m talking about. But I have gotten amazingly positive remarks from everyone. “Hěn Kù!” (very cool) being the most common.

It is amazingly powerful for such a small bike; and very fun to drive. Rain or shine I’d rather take the bike than the car. That kind of drives the kids nuts, they’re a little embarrassed, I think, to be seen on it.

The rules for driving a scooter are different in Taiwan than in the US. In the US, all laws that apply to motorcycles apply to scooters. But it’s different in Taiwan, that’s why they have the designation between small and heavy motorcycles. Most major roads have a designated scooter lane. (If there’s room, that is. Taiwan’s houses are built pretty close to the street.) It is illegal to go over a bridge if there is no scooter lane that is separated from the other traffic. And you can pass on the right. Every intersection has a designated area for scooters to wait for stoplights and because of that on most intersections do not allow a right turn on a red light. Some will have a green right turn arrow but then you can only turn right after a stop. Neither scooters nor heavy motorcycles are allowed on the freeway. You must be 18 years of age to ride a motorcycle of any kind.

There is one problem and that is that scooters have a tendency to get squished. The biggest problem lies with the fact that scooters are everywhere. If you signal to make a turn in your car, you have to look in every direction to make sure no scooters are darting around you on the side that you are turning towards. The scooters are very agile and easily maneuvered and many times scooter drivers have a tendency to depend on those things to keep hem safe. This is a flawed hypothesis: it is only an illusion of safety. Safety comes from driving defensively and expecting the unexpected.

Driving in Taiwan is complicated. There are a lot of driving laws; in fact, Taiwan’s vehicle code is much the same as California’s. The difference is that enforcement is minimal. The cops have a strategy of focusing on one particular type of violation a month. If you don’t do that, then you’re home free. So, driving here is a lot like anarchy, minus the bombs and guys with long beards. Nobody follows any rules.

(Part 1 of a three part series on Scootering in Taiwan.)

Photos by Emily Banducci:  Thanks to our companion blog, "Glimpses of Taiwan" for Video

Other posts you may be interested in:

Scootering in Taiwan:  New Helmet Technology
Traveling with M13:  Custom Scooters of Taiwan

No comments:

Post a Comment