longtime passion for riding a motorcycle took a twenty year
hiatus until taking up residency in Oaxaca. I ignored the
foreshadowing and warnings. While my story pales compared
to the epic journey of Ché Guevara popularized in the
film Motorcycle Diaries, there is a tale to be told,
with observations and advice for those with such suicidal
For Oaxacans, its part economic necessity and part climactic
permissiveness, with street logjams and a parking crisis factored
in, as well as, dare I opine, a somewhat different attitude
towards life and living amongst those at and below a certain
fatalistic. Whats striking
is the paucity of helmeted riders, and prevalence of entire
families (the record number of family members seen on one
bike is currently five) who take to negotiating the jammed
streets on a single motorbike often mechanically unfit, each
member including young children bare-headed and unsafely dressed
(no gloves, leathers, jeans, etc.). A helmet law and mandatory
education might help. Educators must remember to teach that
the helmet is to be worn on the head, not simply slung over
an arm. Additionally, owners of deliver services such as and
by example, Chuchos Tortas y Mas, should watch their couriers
leaving the premises to ensure helmets are worn and not carried.
For my part, Ive been accused of having yet another
mid-life crisis at 55, having recently purchased a 150 cc.
Honda Bros, off road moto for use on
the streets, complementing our car and pick-up. Perhaps each
above-noted reason applies to me, despite leading a middle
I sold my Suzuki 550 in the mid 1980s when my wife became
pregnant. But now, in quasi-retirement, family grown, life
insurance policies kept current, I was only minimally fazed
when Canadian Consul Frances May warned that shes lost
three friends to motorcycle accidents. And compadre
Pancho was in three accidents within about 2 years. He once
took me on a trip with some of his motorcycle buddies through
the mountains to the town of Sola de Vega. It was the first
time in 15 years that Id been on a bike. I forgot a
cardinal rule: never brake while negotiating a turn on gravel.
I recall regaining consciousness, covered in blood, with severe
knee pain, in the back room of some pharmacy, to teary-eyed
Pancho, shaking me with hands on my shoulders while screaming
But by adopting and adhering to a number of simple riding
guidelines, some of which are admittedly difficult to follow,
Ill hopefully stay out of the hospital and my 20-year-old
daughter will never benefit from my being over-insured.
My less-impetuous and more level-headed wife surprisingly
enough enjoys riding with me despite serious reservations.
For those unattached and in their 20s and 30s, Ill indicate
which of the following rules Ive set for myself youll
likely want to break and how to minimize the adverse implications
of so doing:
1) Dont ride at night unless absolutely necessary. Alcohol-related
and other driving deaths increase when road conditions are
less than perfect. Lighting and highway markings are often
2) If you know that its likely the weather will become
inclement (i.e. during the rainy season) consider another
means of transportation, or at minimum dress appropriately
and check your tires.
3) Try to follow the rules of the road to the extent
you can discern them, and when in doubt fall back on the highway
traffic laws with which you grew up.
4) Try to resist the temptation to weave, as difficult
as it will be. Once youre in your fifties youve
likely lost much of your neck range-of-motion, so if you must
weave, rely on your peripheral vision and mirrors.
5) Always use full-face helmets, appropriate footwear and
leathers, gloves and jacket at minimum. Its better to
be hot and uncomfortable than require jaw surgery and extensive
skin grafting. Leather provides that first layer of defence
and it gives
cotton, wool and polyester each will simply
rip, along with your skin.
6) Never permit an unhelmeted passenger to ride with you.
7) If youre a tourist and have an opportunity to rent
a motorcycle, unless itll be used strictly for cross-country,
or you have a great deal of experience driving in third world
congested cities and are certain of the condition of
the bike, resist the temptation. As my father often said,
dont be an idiot. Its not worth the
8) When buying, make it a new cycle, and keep it in
9) Dont buy a small scooter or anything under 125
150 cc. You may need power to extricate yourself from danger
caused by other drivers. The most popular bike in Oaxaca is
the Honda 125, used by a plethora of businesses. If you can
afford a Japanese make, or better, go for it. Many Oaxacan
friends have cautioned against, for example, the Chinese models.
My off-road Honda 150 was carefully selected, even though
its smaller than those that Id been accustomed
to riding in my former life. Its an off-road model given
the numerous topes and state of disrepair of the streets.
Motor size is 150 because its the smallest engine I
feel comfortable gets my wife and I up the steep hill to our
home, is light and has sufficient power for defensive maneuvers.
Its small enough so that it helps me resist the temptation
to do highway touring.
10) Think twice before opting for a larger bike that you may
use on the carreteras. Theres nothing like open
highway touring, but the danger increases exponentially the
higher the speed of vehicles. By contrast, while living in
Toronto I always felt safer riding on the highways than in
more control, drivers more vigilant and experienced,
and easier to avoid potential dangers. By contrast, in Oaxaca
the highways arent as good, many motorists drive under
the influence, and vehicle mechanical condition is generally
questionable, leading to less control by drivers. If you are
set on touring, make it at least a 550 cc. model, the minimum
power with which I felt comfortable and safe on the open roads
with a passenger.
Apart from organized cycling groups that meet periodically
for generally weekend off-road challenges, there is at least
one traditional motorcycle club in Oaxaca, Los Caballeros
Templarios. These riders are the exception to most of what
Ive indicated. The individuals, at least when touring
outside of the city, follow virtually all of the rules Ive
set out. The group is comprised of mainly shopkeepers, tradesmen,
restauranteurs, and professionals such as doctors and accountants,
average age being 40 something. Their bikes are kept in excellent
condition, they dress appropriately, complete with leathers
embossed with club and rider name and logo, and they host
and attend national conferences as well as enjoy frequent
local get-togethers and regional excursions of one to several
days. The camaraderie is strong, warm and welcoming. And thus
with my little Honda 150, I continue to resist invitations
to fulfill the initiation requirement and join
the purchase of a larger bike, and with that a divorce..
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