5TH ANNUAL PHUKET BIKE WEEK IN SOUTHERN THAILAND
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The thunderous staccato of bikes firing up in the darkness must surely have disgruntled the guests trying to sleep in the hotel that morning. A predawn exodus, though, was deemed necessary to get through the metropolis of Bangkok before the sleeping dragon of a vehicular gridlock awakened and lay in wait.
Like a para-military operation, the rumbling procession wended through the ill-lit streets and obstacles of the seemingly endless road construction that changes the appearance of the route each year. By early light, our intent was to be far beyond the labyrinth and well down the highway ahead of the heat of the day. It is a good 500 klicks down the sole artery between the north and south plied by the convoys of trucks and buses (in the left-hand lane where motorcycles are supposed to be as well) before we can escape over the mountains to the west and the scenic coastal road.
The Annual Phuket Bike Week (pronounced Poo-ket) on the island of the same name in southern Thailand has been our premier road trip of the calendar for 5 years now: Typically a journey of, including exploratory forays, which will see us across 3000 kilometers of roads.
As usual our bikes have undergone a variety of cosmetic makeovers and performance upgrades months before in anticipation of this event. Though, seemingly every year, there is always someone who has to perform the frantic last minute wrenching and tweaking the previous night before he get his bike pointing down the road on that early morning.
This year we were 17, which included 15 evos, a fathead and an old shovel. We had two support vehicles, one for luggage and club stuff, and the other for tools, parts and hauling bikes in case of breakdowns. (Did I mention that we had an old shovel with us?)
The rule of the road trip was that if it couldn’t be fixed in 15 minutes, it went in the back of the pickup and taken to the night stop. Ultimately, indeed, the shovel trying to keep up with the evos, started clanging incessantly and drenching itself in oil, ended up in the back of the truck. The owner of the Fathead, on the other hand, attested that we were all out of his league and rode off into his own tropical sunset.
Phuket Bike Week has always been scheduled during the celebration of the old Thai new year (Songkran, or Water Festival), when ex-pats working in Thailand and locals can manage the week off, in conjunction with the official 3-day closing of all government offices and banks. Traditionally, the use of water at this time was for ritual dousing of Buddha figures and polite sprinkling of relatives and friends. However, in many of the urbanized areas and resorts, it has become conventional to wage nothing short of an all-out water war. Powerful water cannons and teeming buckets of water soak anybody who dares go out on the main day, the13th, whether it be a pedestrian, passenger, or a motorcyclist. Therefore the strategy for many riders is to arrive on the scene either before the water flies and hole up at hotel for the day, or come into town the day after the waterworks.
Phuket Bike Week is really a bit of a misnomer, as far as scheduled events are concerned. Besides, the club parties, there is only a one-day main event with bands, bike activities and shows with the usual melange of stalls selling biker-related stuff. However, we have always felt that the week is not necessarily about an agenda of scheduled events, but more about the camaraderie of riding and partying together with old friends and making new ones. There are many informal events that keep this thing fun and going each year. It is also been about charity.
Phuket Bike Week has always been organized by just a handful of people who in turn solicited sponsors to help fund the event. Originally, it was called Phurgis, more as a spoof, though it was aimed at being an Asian version of the Black Hills Classic. Indeed over the years the event has attracted riders from not only all over Thailand, but Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong with a scattering of bikers from Europe and North America. The numbers never exceeded more than several hundred, but for the region those figures are enough for a significant spectacle.
The organizers have always made it clear that PBW was not exclusively a Harley-Davidson event, but a Big Bike one, so that all brands of motorcycles, German, English, Japanese or whatever were welcome. For the last two years that reputation suffered a bit when some groups tried to bill the week as a Harley-only function. Though this caused some awkwardness, the open-door policy to all riders has prevailed.
This year the economic turndown affected the numbers of Thai and Malaysian riders making the scene. Also unlike past years, the official Harley-Davidson reps were inconspicuous. HD Thailand had virtually no presence, though the Malaysian people were on hand and provided an impromptu service center at a small guesthouse.
As aforementioned, charity has also been one of the emphases of Phuket Bike Week. Money targeted for worthy causes has chiefly been raised through the various club parties that occur during the rally, as well as proceeds from tickets sold at the gate of the main event. The last two years the main beneficiary has been the Phuket Special School for the learning impaired.
Being around and riding bikes for the two weeks gets ingrained in one’s soul and becomes a wonderful addiction. Moving, like a serpent in and out and around vehicles along the road in a fluid formation with fellow riders against a backdrop of jungles and limestone crags becomes a lifestyle that is hard to relinquish. Sometimes one feels like never going back home.
After going through all the pains (and money) of customizing my motorcycle so that it looks like a show bike, it doesn’t take too long to realize how impractical it is for the kind of journey I’m on. With lowered suspension, unpadded forward controls, non-dampened handlebars and hard billet grips, it is only a matter of time before I feel like I am directly bolted to the vibrating beast below. On the return trip after a couple of thousand klicks with a flat-profile seat, my ass is definitely telling me it is, indeed, time to go home.
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