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Ride Like a Local: How to not crash a motorbike and ruin your trip

Wherever you go you will notice backpackers wrapped in bandages. Unfortunately, not all of those wraps are concealing brand new holiday tattoos. In fact, most are the result of injuries suffered from scooter/motorbike crashes. (Since I’ve mentioned it, don’t get a tattoo. Tattoos heal best out of water and direct sunlight.) If you’re considering a bike rental here’s what you need to know:

  • Only attempt to operate a bike if you are an experienced automobile driver.
  • Save motorbike rentals for the Thai islands or smaller northern cities (Chiang Mai, Pai, etcetera). PS – they drive on ‘the other side of the street’ in Thailand.
  • Most rentals shops require you to surrender your passport as collateral. Ask other backpackers with bike rentals about reputable shops. Some people will tell you never to leave your passport as a damage deposit. This is one of those decisions you’ll have to cut your backpacker teeth on, so to speak.
  • Bikes come in automatic or manual transmission. If you’re taking one on a multi-day road trip (say from Chiang Mai to Pai) vendors will only rent you a manual. Nervous about a manual transmission? Practice, practice, practice. The upside? You only shift up, not down. If you can operate a bicycle with gears, you can drive a manual scooter.
  • ALWAYS wear a helmet.
  • Rule #1: Move like water, navigate predictably. In Canada we’re used to seeing bikes in the warmer months and because there are so few of them (all things relative) we’re less likely to keep them top-of-mind while driving. Conversely, Thai drivers are typically very conscious of motorbikes. When you’re navigating, maintain good lane position and don’t steer erratically.
  • Rule #2: Don’t get cocky. Overconfidence is not a virtue and in a car-meets-scooter scenario, scooter always loses.


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