Friday, 23 November 2012

Riding a PCX in Japan


His name is Rothbart

I was recently granted permission to drive to work, after an argument that lasted for just over three years. I don’t actually have a car license, but my Australian scooter license was converted into a Japanese all-class scooter license. The all-class license is very difficult to get in Japan; the test apparently includes riding along a narrow plank suspended in the air and biking up a steep and uneven concrete slope. Having one made me an instant bad arse (however undeserved). I’d like to say that I’m using my powers for good, but it is incredibly satisfying when some guy is raving to me about his oh-so-cool bike and how tough his and I innocently say “oh, you have an under 400 license? Mine is all-class… but yours is cute too.” I’m a bad person. Anyway. What I actually ride is a 125 cc Honda PCX , so not especially cool, but damn it is a pleasure to ride. I don’t steer so much as think briefly about the direction I want to go in. It corners like something that corners so well you would use it as an analogy for a motorbike that corners well. And it is so, SO pretty. Despite being a scooter and not particularly large, the combination of styling and my armoured jacket/very cool helmet caused quite a sensation at all of my schools. Coming after my recent newspaper appearance for naginata, the bike has helped to perpetuate a healthy reputation for being strong and “wild” among my students. The only downside is that my insurance doesn’t cover me for “300 teen-aged boys sitting on the vehicle at lunch time and making voom-voom noises”, which at the moment seems like the biggest danger Rothbart faces.
125 cc is the perfect size for Japan. It is small enough that I don’t have to pay for the expensive road-worthiness test (shaken), and I can usually park in bicycle parking for free, but it is just big enough to be allowed on the express-way (I think... the sign says "no bikes under 125 which I assume means 125 is OK, but I haven't confirmed that). Given that the maximum speed limit on all the highways in my area is 50 kmph I really don’t need any more power than 125cc. Although Japanese drivers are generally very very bad drivers with no respect for road rules or fear of death, Japan is a great place to ride on two wheels. Lane-splitting (driving down the center between two lanes of traffic, for example while stopped at traffic lights) is common practice and not only expected but encouraged (it is illegal in Australia). Many traffic lights have these spaces marked out on the road that are exclusively for two wheeled vehicles that have moved up to the front of the line.
It makes complete sense to do this given how much more quickly bikes can take off when the lights change. Drivers are tolerant or bikers zipping in and out of traffic and seem very ready to allow me to slip in front of them when I rejoin traffic (presumably because they expect me to zoom off again shortly and not slow them down). This is so different from Australia, where many bike riders feel that everyone on four wheels is actively trying to kill us. I’ve heard stories about cars opening their doors to block bikes from overtaking them, riders forced off the road completely by cars aggressively moving into their lane space and my personal experience was that cars never yielded to me, even when I clearly had right of way. It is terrifying to ride here because of the incompetence of other road users, but not because I am on two wheels.
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