Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Black Duke - The KTM 640

The 640 was black if you did not already guess from the title of this post, and it was a rather pleasant bike to ride. Although I think most big bore singles are agreeable to ride. There is something about that deep throated thump the engine makes when you get on the gas at low revs. Just when you think, you need to shift down a gear the torque of the engine kicks in, and you can feel the power underneath. I also liked the look of it with flat black plastic and big silver letters spelling out Duke on either side. It had a few drawbacks, the main one being the rear sub frame and the lack of any easily accessible locations to mount a rack. We needed some kind of rack or way to carry our baggage if we were going to be touring around the Philippines. However, I figured I could use a little ingenuity and come up with some kind of way to mount a rack. I did come up with what I think would have been a pretty decent rack design, but as it turned out. I never got to see if it would have worked.

After I picked up the bike, we decided to take it for a short two or three-day trip down the West coast of Luzon South of Manila. I had picked up a road atlas of the Philippines a few weeks back and had been studying it for possible routes and locations that looked interesting. I read a bit about some nice beaches by Nasugbu, which is on the West coast of Luzon just north of Batangas. According to the atlas, we could ride down the coast from Manila past Cavite to Naic then continue following the coast all the way to Nasugbu.

It looked like the perfect little test run for the bike. I had completed my cursory design for the rack but did not have time to get it fabricated, so I bought some bungee cords and used them to strap a bag on the back fender plastic behind the seat. For a two-day ride, this should work just fine, since we did not really need to pack all that much. I also had a tank bag in between me and the handle bars to put some stuff in, and my wife had a small back pack.

We left our apartment early in the morning to try to get out of Manila before the traffic started to get to its usual nightmarish state. It was a cloudy day, but it did not look like it was going to rain, so down the coast we headed. As you start to get out of Manila heading toward Cavite, there is a toll road so you can make good time for a short while, but after the toll road you are on the typical Philippine two-lane highway which is usually chock-full of three-wheel motorcycle tricycles (trikes) and jeepneys until you start to get into the country side. I was not looking forward to the trike and jeepney infested road after the toll road but what can you do?

Now for those who are not familiar with Philippine traffic, let me provide a small description. Like most Asian countries, it is absolute mayhem on the roads in the bigger cities. There are large numbers of small scooters and motorcycles, which are, for the most part, not much of an issue. Then there are the trikes, which are basically a smaller displacement motorcycle with a side car attached. The side car is usually designed to carry two people in the side car, some luggage on a small rack in back, and one passenger on the back seat of the motorcycle. Now just because it is designed for three passengers certainly does not preclude the addition of a few more. The golden rule as far as vehicle capacity is that if you can hang on, you can get on. If you can squeeze more people in the side car or off the outside of a grab rail, then there is still room. It is quite a sight seeing a trike go by with three people in the two-person side car, two sitting in the rear luggage compartment, two on the back seat of the motorcycle and another two hanging off the railing with their flip flop covered toes clinging to whatever little lip of steel they can find.

These trikes are geared down so low to carry all that extra weight that I doubt the maximum speed can be much more than 20mph (30kph) going downhill. This trike self-imposed speed limit might make the ride safer for the guys hanging off the rail, but it sure is a pain in the back side when you're on a narrow highway, and you can't get around the overloaded trikes moving at a snail's pace.

Then there are the jeepneys. Unlike most other Asian countries, the roadways in the Philippines are populated by one unique item that is, as far as I know, only found in the Philippines, and that is the jeepney. The jeepney originates from the old army jeeps brought here by the US soldiers during world war II. When the soldiers left, they either sold them cheap or gave them away to the local Philippinos. The US army jeeps most would recognize everywhere else in the word have undergone a few modifications after being taken over by their new owners. They have the same basic front end look of a jeep, but the frame as been extended and the rear wheels have been moved back about six feet so you end up with something that looks more like a stretch limo.

Now these are not your everyday looking stretched limo either. These jeeps are pimped out; They chrome everything, airbrush pictures of anything from a Ferrari emblem, to sports team logos, to every kind of religious figure and biblical quote you can think of. They have massive front and rear bumpers with all sorts of intricate steel artwork running from the front to back. The rear of the jeep has been converted to a long bed with benches running down each side with a chrome roof top and no rear door or tailgate on the back. The purpose of the open rear end is so people can hop on and off them as they meander through the streets. It is a bit similar to riding an old trolley car in San Francisco but without the tracks and there is no door on the side. You just hop in the back, pass your five pesos up to the diver or his assistant/conductor and then jump out when you get to where you want to be.

For getting around the city and country side cheaply they are a great form of transportation. However, there are some drawbacks for the other vehicles on the road. If your business is picking up as many people as possible along your designated route you don't want to miss any fares. So they are constantly slowing down and swerving to the side of the road to pick up passengers and then swerving back into the flow of traffic. This has the nasty habit of slowing the flow of all traffic and for taking out the occasional scooter, motorbike, trike or whatever else happens to be in their way.

On the major roadways, they have tried to eliminate some of this by putting in Jeepney stops. However, the only thing that adding the jeepney stops has done is create massive bottle necks as all the Jeepneys are swerving in and out at the same place. Any traffic hoping to go by the Jeepney stops has to be extremely slow and cautious since you never know when a jeepney driver is going to pull out in front of you.

Another drawback of the jeepney is the diesel smoke that belches out every time they accelerate. I don't think there is any form of pollution control on them and the smoke concentrations are high enough that if you stay behind one for any length of time you will arrive at your destination with black soot all over your face. A full face helmet will help but I can't tell you how many times we arrived at our destination with me looking like a raccoon. Needless to say, riding a motorcycle anywhere near Manila is usually not the most enjoyable experience, and getting out of Manila's traffic is like a breath of fresh air, literally.

Once we got off the toll road, we started heading down the two-lane highway dodging Jeepneys and trikes until we finally made it to Naic, which is where the cutoff point from the main road to the smaller road that continues along the coast is. I was hoping there would be some kind of sign or something that indicated that there was an intersection. They were the only two roads shown on the map so I figured there had to be something. There was nothing that I could see, and we soon discovered what looks to be a major road in the atlas, can turn out to be what most would consider, a road the size of a small alley way.

We did eventually find the alleyway that led to the road we were looking for, and it turned into a great ride. There was no real traffic to speak of, as the road started winding its way up through mountains along the coast. The black Duke was finally going to be capable of stretching its legs. I could open it up and start to get the feel for what the bike was really able to do as we worked our way through the mountains. The views were getting stunning as you looked back along the coast all the way to Manila. It was hard to imagine all that traffic we had just been through. When you looked at it from up where we were, it looked quiet and peaceful.

The road continued to wind its way through the mountains until we came across what appeared to be some sort of resort development. I had read about a few resorts that were further south and was not expecting to see one here, but we decided to go, have a look and see what it was all about. There was a gate at the turn off, but the guard let us right through when we told him we just wanted to have a look and asked if they had a hotel.

We made our way down the mountains to the coast on what was quite a long road considering it was a private road intended for the access of this resort development only. When we got to the beach, there was a hotel, but it looked like it had seen better days. There was moss growing all over the walls, the parking lot was broken-up asphalt, and any exposed wood had been eaten away by termites. We continued on down the road which was now following the coast as it twisted its way around a cove up over a peninsula and back down the other side to another cove. In the other cove, there was another hotel. It was a bungalow type hotel and there was a very nice golf course winding its way through the jungle and next to the beach.

We stopped and asked if they had any rooms, which they said they did but when we went to have a look at them, the majority of the bungalows were all torn up and or falling apart from all the termite damage. The bungalows that were available had been reconstructed where the old wooden ones were previously and were wisely made of concrete. It was in such a mess I was surprised they were actually open for business. There were a few people staying there, but it appeared, they were only there for the golf. We decided to continue down the coast to see what else we could find.

The road continued on again making its way up over another peninsula and back down to another cove. However at the top of this peninsula ridge there were some condominium units, that from a distance looked quite nice with a spectacular view down the coast towards Manila. But when we got closer it was apparent they were in about as good of shape as the hotel. Moss on all the walls with crumbling concrete.

The next cove past the dilapidated condominiums was the end of road. There was a small park along the beach with some picnic benches and little huts. The park was quite nice with a beautiful beach tucked away into this cove. but It looked like it was rarely if ever used. The road from the condominium units was partially covered in moss and it was apparent there was not much traffic.

Keep in mind all of what we had just ridden through was all part of the same resort development. I don't know how many hectares this place was, but it was extensive. I stopped at a sign near the condominiums on our way out and there were lots for sale that had some magnificent views. If you were to buy one and build a place there you would have basically had the entire place to yourself other than the few golfers and what looked to be a few residents in the condominium units.

Someone had some grand ideas about what this place was going to be, and what it could have been. It did have all the elements to be a wonderful resort, condominium, housing development but for whatever reason, after they put in the roads, the one condominium development and the hotels and golf course it appears nothing much else has happened since then. All the buildings were slowly starting to fall apart, and the roads were on their way to being reclaimed by the jungle. The only thing that still looked to be in good shape was the golf course. Of course, I imagine keeping grass green in a jungle would not be that difficult, but someone had to maintain it, and they seemed to be doing a good job of that at least.

You see a lot of grand ideas here in the Philippines, that someone has put a lot of money into, but that never really came to fruition. I did not know it at the time, but this was to be one of many developments that seemed to be slowly returning to the jungle. My wife talked to one of the guards when we stopped at the cove with the golf course. He told her this development was owned by a Korean guy or a Korean company, that had come in with the idea of developing it into a world-class resort. Something tells me that they were sold a lot of BolaBola along with the property.

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