Bikes and roads and things in Colombia (long)

Discussion in 'UK Motorcycles' started by TOG, Jun 18, 2005.

  1. TOG

    TOG Guest

    OK, I'm sitting at a nice high-speed terminal here in Bogota, and I
    thought I'd drop in on ukrm. As you do.

    This has been an incredible week. Bleeding knackering. Up at 4 or 5
    every morning, catching all sorts of planes to places that are only a
    couple of hundred miles away, but in Colombia you fly (a) because it is
    cheap and (b) because of the roads.... And the traffic...

    Bikes are everywhere. Almost all are 125cc and under, and many are
    obsolete models obviously still in production somewhere. Yamaha's
    RXS100 is popular, except that it's a 115cc here, for some odd reason.
    Air-cooled two-stroke Suzuki roadsters abound. Stepthrus, obviously.
    Plenty of those Korean or Taiwanese clones. Honda 125s, but not the
    CG125, nation of heathens.

    One of the niftiest little bikes is a Suzuki TS125 dirt bike, using
    decent kit like a rising rate rear end and a front disc brake, and some
    rather rooty-tooty styling, but equipped with the old air-cooled TS125
    lump, presumably for cost reasons. Can't help thinking it would be
    rather appealing over here.

    I have seen one Suzuki GS500, whose rider must have felt like God, one
    883 Sportster, who pretended to be God, and a brace of big BMW GSs,
    which other road users treated like God.

    Plod uses 650cc Suzuki dirt bikes. You might think that Plod therefore
    couldn't outrun anything, but the congestion in Bogota is awesome. To
    try and relieve it, they allow vehicles on the roads only on alternate
    days. If your number plate ends in (whatever) digits, you're off the
    road for Monday, Wednesday and Friday and (other) digits are barred on
    Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. So people just borrow each other's cars
    all the time.

    Number plates: if you ride a bike, not only must it have a rear number
    plate, but the registration number must also be emblazoned in
    reflective characters on the back of a FOAD orange jacket, which must
    be worn at all times, and also (get this) stencilled on the back of
    your helmet.

    Officially this is so cops can easily identify stolen bikes, but it
    also has more to do with the fact that a rider-and-armed-pillion
    passenger is the assassination combination of choice. So if your lid
    and jacket don't match the number plate, expect a tug.

    Then there are the road obstacles. The potholes are so huge they
    feature them on TV, in a kind of "spot the deepest" competition
    aparently intended to shame the city fathers into filling them in. It
    doesn't work. Roads also often sport piles of rubble and/or bricks in
    the middle of them, for some totally obscure reason. The hoot is that
    the Colombians still feel it necessary to install road humps.

    My taxi driver in Barranquilla (on the coast) earlier this week,
    cautiously skirted round a huge puddle in the middle of the road. You
    do this because it rains hard and often there and you never know
    whether the puddle hides a hole deep enough to swallow a truck. Anyway,
    there was a ****-almighty bang and the left front corner of the car
    nose-dived. He'd let the wheel run over the small puddle, which turned
    out to be a manhole without a cover. That trashed his left wheel arch,
    that did.

    And then there was the taxi ride from Pereira to Cali. I saw God. I
    swear. It's a run of a couple of hours, maybe, and I was in some
    indeterminate horrible Hyundai with 630,000 km on the clock. The
    lunatic behind the wheel just nailed it. I saw 180kph on the speedo,
    and just stared out of the side window where I couldn't see the
    oncoming traffic.

    I was being thrown around as he dived in and out of the huge trucks
    that are everywhere, and the brightly coloured peasant buses (ditto).
    And then, on an uphill mountain hairpin section (and there are a lot of
    those, a hell of a lot) he went for the Overtake From Hell.

    The corner was utterly blind, and I didn't think even this lunatic
    would try getting past the bus here, but he did. And right on cue, the
    oncoming truck came round the corner. The air was filled with the sound
    of a truck horn that must have been nicked from the QE2. The windscreen
    was filled with the sight of acres of headlights and a radiator topped
    with a chrome Virgin Mary (I kid you not) and the letters D O D G E.
    The taxi driver locked up all four wheels, and somehow got back behind
    the bus.

    And then he broke fifth gear. He drove the remaining 20 miles jammed in
    top, and on the rare occasions when he had to stop, his clutch slipping
    was awesome to behold.

    As for cars, everyone drives nondescript four-door saloons (not
    hatchbacks) or cheapish 4x4s and pick-ups. Apparently you just don't
    drive a flash car as (a) it will get broken and (b) it marks you out as
    someone with money and here, in the kidnap capital of the world, that
    is not good. So people use cars as a sort of adaptive colouring.

    On the roads where the guerrillas are active, cars travel in convoy,
    and only in daytime. Driving between the towns at night, alone, is not
    smart. Apparently the FARC, the guerrillas, are presently holding over
    1000 people hostage......

    You see how seriously people take security. Plod is nowhere to be seen,
    except as TrafPol. The military have checkpoints between the towns, and
    also in them. Everyone travels with the windows rolled up and the doors
    locked, so air-con, even in Bogota where the 2500m altitude means it's
    pleasantly cool, is a must-have. Every house has iron grilles over its

    And the plus points. It is a stunningly beautiful country. The people
    are wonderful. The colours soak the optic nerve in an intravenous
    psychedelic drip-feed. The food is to die for.

    End of bulletin. Back in the UK lunchtime Monday, if I don't get killed
    or kidnapped before then.
    TOG, Jun 18, 2005
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  2. TOG

    dwb Guest

    <Ewan McGregor - sort of>

    Sounds just like South Africa.

    dwb, Jun 18, 2005
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  3. TOG

    BGN Guest

    <em>It looks just like Scotland!</em>
    BGN, Jun 18, 2005
  4. TOG

    dwb Guest

    The point, perhaps missed by you or completely whoosed by me (also likely),
    was that EM thnks evertying looks like Scotland.

    Continuing that theme I think everything sounds like South Africa (though in
    this case, it really does).
    dwb, Jun 19, 2005
  5. TOG

    BGN Guest

    That's because the Scotts made the world in their image.
    BGN, Jun 19, 2005
  6. TOG

    Monkey Guest


    Are we going to see a 'TOG does Dan Walsh-style article in Bike on your
    Monkey, Jun 19, 2005
  7. TOG

    TOG Guest


    I've been on a whistle-stop tour of the country, visiting 18 or 19
    companies in a week. Bogota, Barranquilla, Medellin, Manizales,
    Pereira, Cali and back to Bogota, and all by air except for the Taxi
    Ride From Hell.

    Some of the roads would be absolute heaven on a bike: smooth, well
    surfaced, and twisty beyond belief. Trouble is that most are badly
    surfaced and infested with suicide taxis, trucks and buses.
    TOG, Jun 19, 2005
  8. TOG

    TOG Guest

    Apparently they really, really frown on them. That is, the authorities
    that arenĀ“t bent do. The President has stepped up the war against the
    "narcos" and if you're caught with the stuff, if you can't bribe your
    way past the police (which is always a possibility) then you are
    looking at the inside of a Colombian jail for several years. Not fun.

    I have to check in for my flight this evening something like three
    hours ahead because they search a lot of passengers' main and hand
    baggage before they embark, checking for drugs. Soft cases get probed
    with a sort of long hypodermic needle which they thrust into the centre
    of the bag, a bit like all those films where they thrust pitchforks
    into the hay wagon in which the escaped POW is hiding. And then they
    check the needle for traces.

    This means that carrying condoms, or anything else that might get
    damaged by being stabbed, in your main luggage isn't a good idea.

    I have a couple of kilos of decent Colombian coffee in my case, and I
    have a feeling that this will be very closely inspected....
    TOG, Jun 19, 2005
  9. Using the patented Mavis Beacon "Hunt&Peck" Technique, Champ
    Cool. When you go[1], if you die: can I have the Turbo?

    [1] And you will...
    Wicked Uncle Nigel - Manufacturer of the "Champion-105" range of rearsets
    and Ducati Race Engineer.

    ZZR1100, Enfield 500 Curry House Racer "The Basmati Rice Burner",
    Honda GL1000K2 (On its hols) Kawasaki ZN1300 Voyager "Oh, Oh, It's so big"
    Wicked Uncle Nigel, Jun 20, 2005
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