Travellers tend to rent scooters to explore new cities, remote islands and the scenic countryside to seek out secret waterfalls, hike the highest hills and visit sacred temples. In our experience, this is the best way to see a country and feel its culture.
During our travels through Asia, we have met many travellers who have or know someone who has been in a road traffic accident while riding a scooter, some ending up stuck in a coma or with a broken leg or arm.
We have also witnessed travellers casually walking around with bandages, plasters and dressings to cover up skid marks from coming off their bike.
All you need is a driving licence to rent in Asia. This doesn’t necessarily mean everyone has ridden a scooter or motorbike before and that’s why most road traffic accidents happen, because tourists and travellers are jumping on bikes without any lessons or safety tips!
Sam has been riding a motorbike since he passed his CBT training at 16 years old. Sam’s parents run a motorbike training school in Barnsley called ‘Ride On Motorcycle Training’, so motorbike safety comes first in the Ellis family and I feel completely safe as a pillion passenger!
I once had a three hour tutorial with Sam’s Dad because I wanted to learn how to ride before I turned 30. I soon realised I preferred chilling on the back taking photos to concentrating on the road in front of me, and I can tell you, learning to ride a bike is completely different from driving a car!
Please don’t be put off from renting a scooter during your travels. Our most epic adventures have been on two wheels and you will have experiences you wouldn’t normally get if you were travelling by bus or train to your next destination.
It’s best to have some lessons or have had riding experience prior to your trip, however, if not, fear not! We have put together some scooter safety tips for if you’re planning to rent a scooter or motorbike abroad but haven’t had any proper training.
1# Travel Insurance
First things first, book travel insurance for your trip. It’s important you’re insured for the highest travel coverage.
Travel insurance helps protect against the unexpected, yet this is overlooked by many and travellers tend not to take out travel insurance because of the expense, but trust me, we’ve witnessed too many horror stories and this expense is priceless! Your life is priceless right?
In case of injury, you may require urgent medical assistance such as urgent transportation to the nearest hospital or immediate operations in a foreign country.
2# Always wear a helmet
This might seem pretty obvious, but it isn’t so obvious in Asia for some reason!
You will notice a lot of scooter riders do not wear a helmet. You will also notice a family of five crammed onto one bike and extremely heavy loads strapped to the back of scooters for transportation. Talk about dangerous!
Wearing a helmet can save your life. Helmets are made from plastic on the outer shell with foam inside. If an accident was to occur and you are knocked off your bike, the strap will keep your helmet on as you fly through the air. A helmet will protect your head from serious damage by absorbing the force and protecting your head, which in turn protects your brain.
Bottom line, always wears a helmet, even if the rental shop doesn’t offer you one. Don’t rent without a helmet!
3# Do you know what a lifesaver is?
In the motorbike world, it’s called a ‘Lifesaver’, and it’s called a lifesaver for a reason! The first lesson is to look over your shoulder prior to any manoeuvre. A quick glance in your blind spot could save your life.
Take your time, don’t manoeuvre while doing your lifesaver, always perform the lifesaver before making any move on the road.
4# ‘Horn OK Please’
In Asia, you’ll notice horns honking all over the place and we chuckled at this saying on the back of many wagons in India; ‘HORN OK PLEASE’. This means honk away. Lorries and trucks like to know you are there or planning on overtaking.
It’s good to make your presence on the road known, regardless of motor size, to other road users or even pedestrians that might be thinking of crossing the road.
When do I use my horn? Whereas you might save your horn for exceptional circumstances back home, here, the rule of the road is to honk much more often. Literally, honk for every manoeuvre (as well as applying the lifesaver check before making your move).
5# Oncoming traffic
You expect people to drive on the correct side of the road right? In Asia, absolutely not! Throw away all your expectations right now.
Motorists (mainly scooters and Tuk Tuks) enjoy coming at you on your side of the road. They may be creeping along close to the curb, so if you’re thinking of taking it steady in the slow lane, be aware of oncoming traffic.
You may also experience motorists to cut straight across from the opposite side of the road to get to where they need to be. Just keep a keen eye out and don’t expect the same traffic obedience as back home!
6# Poor road conditions
Roads throughout Asia are often in poor conditions. You should always take note of what type of surface you are travelling on.
For example, if you see gravel up ahead, you should never turn your wheels on gravel because you will skid.
If the weather is searing hot and suddenly there is a downpour, the road surface will become slippy. You should take extra care, especially on corners.
7# ‘Give Way’ is none existent
Beware of motorists not giving way and automatically pulling out of a junction and turning right.
It’s common for other motorists not to give way, or even check to see if anything (ie. you) is coming. If you see someone approaching a junction, always expect them to pull out and prepare to deal with it in advance.
8# International driving permit
You should apply for this in advance of travelling to Asia. You may apply at the post office or online (we got ours through the AA).
Keep your international driving permit on you at all times and expect to be flagged down by the police.
It’s common to be stopped by police, often they stand to make a bit of a ‘bonus’ for catching and ‘fining’ foreign motorists without it. You may recall when Sam was stopped by the Thai Police in Chang Mai prior to our trip to Pai.
9# Sun protection
Pulling out the factor fifty and expecting this to protect you from the sun, well, you can think again!
No matter how much sun protection you layer on, the sun will still burn straight through you when riding in hot weather.
It’s best to cover up with a long thin shirt and trousers (yes, the sun will burn your knees). Gloves would also be a good idea but if you’re too hot, sun cream will certainly help.
If you fail to cover up, you can always pop into the nearest jazziest shirt depot as Sam did!
10# Sneaky potholes
Sneaky little buggers these are! After a monsoon, they may be filled with water and appear to be regular puddles. Be aware!
11# Classic coconuts for back pain
We met a friend in Lombok as we passed through in search of Komodo Dragons, and he advised us to stop and drink fresh coconuts along the way to help with any discomfort.
Coconuts replenish fluids and nutrients lost while travelling. Fresh coconuts are rich in potassium which reduces swelling and relieves muscle tension.
Maybe it was the placebo effect but we totally bought it and felt it worked!
I hope you found this article helpful and if you did, drop a comment below and let us know about your two-wheeled adventures!
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