Whereas my primary mission at Phi Phi was
to rediscover Maya Bay, my absolute number one reason for going to Ao
Nang Beach was to drive motorbikes. During my last trip to Krabi I
rented a Honda Air Blade, which had just come onto the Thailand market,
put my girlfriend behind me, and took off to explore Krabi's back roads.
Surrounded by steep hills with some of Thailand's most sensational
scenery all around me, driving a bike in Krabi was refreshingly
completely different from driving in Pattaya which is a minute by
minute battle for survival. I already own a motorbike which I keep
at my Naklua condo and use almost everyday. It's a Nouvo 135
c.c. Elegance. I believe it's the best two wheeled transport
mechanism for such cities as Pattaya bar none. However,
there's a lot of good two lane roads throughout Thailand and a lot of
great scenery to take in with Krabi being an exceptional example of a
different type of motorcycling--one that is to be enjoyed rather than
survived. I had read so many good things about the Honda CB
150 R, but the boy racer look, the bike's small overall size, and
crouched down riding position had put me off. And what would I
look like driving something that looked as if it were meant more for the
race track than for everyday driving?
At six feet tall and 62
years old, I'm just too large and too old for such crotch rockets.
It was time to find out, and what I'd find it that
just as the Yamaha Nouvo is the finest city driving bike in Thailand the Honda 150 CBR is
the best bike available today for all around Thailand driving.
Although there is something to be said
about owning and driving a motorcycle that makes one feel good
regardless of whether it's practical or not, too many Western bike
owners living in Thailand simply can't think straight. I might
like the looks of and the performance of a BMW 1300 K S with its 175
horsepower, scintillating good looks, and 170 miles per hour top speed,
it's not the right bike for Pattaya and it's not the right bike for
Thailand's country roads either. Driving anywhere near the
speeds this bike is capable of is a suicide mission in Thailand.
And just where would you get it serviced anyway? I don't
even have to take my Nouvo Elegance to a Yamaha dealer to get parts or
service. When its predecessor, a Yamaha MX needed new tires I
simply drove it to the nearest dealer which had the name Honda on it.
And when I finally decided that the rear brake pads needed replacement I
took it to the same Honda dealership and got it done for only 200 baht.
And as to the power equation, how much power is really enough?
Back in the U.S. I once owned a BMW 100 KS, which could do zero to 100
miles an hour in 7 seconds flat and top out at 140 miles an hour.
But after awhile going to 100 miles an hour in 7 seconds really didn't
seem to be all that fast. So I turned to jumping out of airplanes
to getting that in the gut excitement that I craved. But just try
doing zero to 100 miles an hour in seven seconds on a BMW or large
displacement Honda or Yamaha sport bike here in Thailand. Do it once a
day and just see how long you will live. For you there will be no
escape because some nitwit is going to pull right out in front of you at
the last minute and the next time we will be seeing you is in your
coffin. So, in choosing a motorbike that is capable of cruising
Thailand's roads you have to ask yourself this---how much power and
speed do I really need as well as can this bike be easily serviced
throughout Thailand and have good parts availability? But that's
just for starters since other considerations come into play that can be
shortened to one more fundamental question---Exactly what am I going to
be using this bike for?
For example, can the bike I'm considering
comfortably get me around? For me, the Honda CBR 150 was a
big question mark. For one thing the seat appears to be
uncomfortable--more for show than real world comfort. And after
having that BMW K 100 RS many years ago in the U.S. I was put off by its
forward position riding style. The BMW was good on the highway,
especially once you were going past 80 miles an hour, but its narrow
bars and 504 pound dry weight made it cumbersome about town. My
questions would soon be answered at Ao Nang Beach because right off
within two blocks of the Somkiet Buri I found three bright blue CBR
150's to choose from. The first was the cheapest but it showed
signs of having been wrecked and it had too many kilometers on it to be
a fair sampling of what CBR's are really like. Although the
rent was higher I settled on a very low mileage bright blue CBR that
didn't have a scratch or speck of dirt on it.
And I loved it. The CBR was every
bit as narrow as my Nouvo Elegance so it would be a terrific bike to
thread through traffic with. As expected, while mounted on the
bike, the chassis around me seemed very compact, but once I got underway
the bike didn't appear too small for me. There's a lot to be said
about a compact small feeling vehicle whether the vehicle is a car or
motorcycle. The CBR didn't feel like it was something
apart from me upon which I just happened to be riding. It felt and
looked like it was part of me. But the best part was I never felt
I was having to crouch way down low over the bars. If I
wanted to ride bolt upright I could. No doubt I was leaning
forward most of the time but if I was it felt natural. And come to
think of it when I used to snow ski I hardly ever stood bolt
upright--preferring to lean forward or even to crouch over my skis.
So no problems with the riding position at all.
Another reservation I had over the Honda
CB 150 R was that it wouldn't perform very well unless I got its rpms up
to some ungodly level. I ended up scaring the living hell
out of my girlfriend riding behind me before I even came close to
getting the bike up into its power band. So I took her back to the
Somkiet Buri and drove away to resume my test. Later I'd
learn that she had once been in a bad motorbike accident in which
her girlfriend was seriously injured. I suppose that's why she's
never asked to drive my Yamaha Nouvo and why her own motorbike is up in
Korat where a relative is driving it. So looking at the practical
side of things, even if I bought a CBR to drive instead of my Nouvo
Elegance, Considering most of the time I've got my girlfriend riding
behind me instead of my going solo, she's going to be squealing in
horror long before I get anywhere near the speeds of what the CBR is
capable of, which tells me I really don't need to have anything bigger.
The Honda CBR 150 has six speeds so if
because of its small displacement engine it's going to want to cruise at
much higher rpms many of us feel comfortable driving, that sixth gear is
going to take them down a notch. As a matter of fact, several
years ago when I was cruising around Krabi with the Air Blade I got the
feeling that the Air Blade was fast enough to handle all of Thailand's
two lane roads and that there really was no reason to want to be going
faster than forty or fifty miles an hour. The Air Blade only has
110 c.c's however and only 9 horsepower or so whereas the CBR puts out
nearly twice the horsepower while having substantially more CC's.
I next looked for vibration in the handle
bars. At first I never noticed for any, but once I started to pay
attention to it I started to feel it. But then I forgot about it
again and kept driving for another hour before returning the bike to the
Somkiet Buri where I asked my girlfriend to ride with me to an area of
shops I had never taken her to before. Before picking her up, I
headed out onto one or two country roads that had hardly any traffic on
them and tried out the bike's brakes as well as to see how she'd pull up
the hills and accelerate at higher rpms. Truth is I didn't find
the bike to be wanting in any department. It would easily outrun
all the cars I encountered on Krabi's two lanes so long as no one was
really racing but driving only at those speeds one felt comfortable
driving at. Several times I'd have to backtrack to go back to my
starting point. One can easily get lost on those roads near Ao
Nang Beach and since I didn't have a map with me or notebook and pen to
keep track of which roads I turned off on, I tried to keep things as
simple as possible. So I'd find myself making all these U turns.
The bike felt as light as a feather while I made them.
Did I mention getting lost? That
had happened to me before several years ago when I was out trying the
Air Blade. Which brings up perhaps the single most important
consideration of them all while traveling on a bike in Thailand's
boonies. Adequate driving range. Now consider this.
The Air Blades got only a 4 liter fuel tank whereas the 150 CBR has a
tank holding more than 10 liters. My Yamaha Nouvo has a 4.8
liter tank which means it's 20 better than the Air Blade. So
if they get the same fuel economy the Yamaha Nouvo's going to have 20 %
more range than the Air Blade which gives it a decisive advantage out in
the country. And as a matter of fact I never saw one Air Blade for
rent at Ao Nang Beach. Not one. But I did see a lot of Nouvo
Elegance's for rent. So now that I think about it, perhaps the
rental shops didn't want their customers out in the middle of nowhere
running out of gas.
My Nouvo Elegance would be perfectly fine
for traveling throughout the Krabi countryside or for that matter just
about anywhere in Thailand. It's very comfortable to ride and its
135 c.c. engine give it enough ommph to do the job. Its major
shortcoming is lack of range. When I'm out of the city where
the gas stations are fewer and farther between I'd feel a lot more
comfortable with the CBR's fuel tank which his more than double the size
of the Nouvo Elegance's.
Cruising around Ao Nang itself I found
myself driving the 150 CBR to be a pretty thoughtless prospect.
The bike felt so much a part of me and was so light to turn that one
didn't give any more thought to it than riding a bicycle. The bike
puts out only 17 or 18 horsepower so it doesn't have all that
ungovernable torque and acceleration that one has to carefully control
doing low speed maneuvers, so what would seem to be a drawback----a lack
of power compared to much bigger bikes--is actually a God send because
the bike is so much of a pleasure to handle in normal driving.
When we drove past the bike rental place,
I looked at the remaining bright blue CBR they had there while making a
mental comparison between it and several much larger bikes they had
there---cruisers such as the Honda Shadow which probably had 400 c.c.
engines. For me the CBR I was looking at, which was a twin of the
one I was driving had style. And it had an intimacy about it which
the Shadow would never have. By comparison the Shadow looked like
a big lug. Its very girth would prove to be a serious liability
driving around Thailand. And if I should drive the CBR around in
Pattaya traffic, it would get through the narrowest gaps in the traffic
the same way my Nouvo Elegance does. The Shadow's wide handle bars
alone would prevent that. And although the CBR weighs another
twenty or thirty pounds more than my Nouvo Elegance does I really
couldn't tell any difference. Perhaps its in the balance of the
two bikes. In any case, if I wanted to get into or out of a
very narrow parking space I could easily pick up either the front or
back up of either machine.
And when it comes to gas mileage the
small displacement 150 c.c. engine of the CBR combined with its sixth
gear has got to give it a huge advantage of fuel economy over much
larger bikes as the 400 c.c. Shadow. And it's not just the
amount of baht I'm spending that worries me. It's how long I can
cruise before having to search for a gas station. Even if I were
comparing a CBR against other bikes in Pattaya, my logic goes like this.
If I typically fill up my Nouvo Elegance every five days or so if I were
driving the 150 CBR instead I'd be going over 10 days between fill-ups.
That's a lot less hassle.
The owner of a Honda shop once told my
Dad back in the late sixties or early seventies that the most fun he
ever had on a bike was on a 175 meaning that when it came to just plain
flat out having fun the larger bikes just didn't supply as much
enjoyment. I wound up thoroughly enjoying the Honda CBR 150 and
would love to own one. But then the practical side of me comes
out. My also love my Nouvo Elegance which does everything I could
possibly ask out of it. With its automatic transmission it's
ideally suited for all that slow speed Pattaya stop and go driving.
It's still got enough power and speed to scare my girlfriend to death.
It's got significant under the seat storage and it's got all kinds of
hooks all over it to which I can strap all kinds of things such as
desktop computers and it has that hook in front of my seat on which I
can hang two or three grocery bags. The killer is those times I
want to put three people on my bike at once. With the Nouvo
Elegance I can put my girlfriend behind me on its long ample seat and a
90 to 100 kilogram friend as well...at least for short distances on the
back streets where there are no cops around. So I think I
could do less with the Honda 150 CBR here in Pattaya than I already am
doing with my Nouvo Elegance, but if I lived in a lot of other places in
Thailand where I'd be cruising those two lane roads I'd probably be
buying the Honda CBR 150. At 60,000 baht or so, I really can't see
spending 140,000 or so for Kawasaki's 250 Ninja and the Kawasaki 6Rn 650
although it is probably a great bike for the U.S. is just too much
overkill for Thailand driving while costing nearly four times as much as
the CBR. And yes, I'll admit I do appear to be pretty large
on that bright blue 150 now that i'm reviewing the pictures my
girlfriend took of me, and perhaps people might think I'm trying to be
something I'm not by driving a racy looking thing like that or that I'm
driving a real bike wanna bee, but I could care less. It's
just too much fun driving it, it does so many things well, and who wants
to look like an old fat fart lounging around driving Phantoms and all
those V twin cruisers with their wide handle bars, excessive weight and
lay back driving positions that cannot possibly make a man feel at one
with his machine. I could care less what anyone thinks so long as
it feels good while I'm driving it.
Note---I wrote this before the Honda
250 CBR came out