Thursday, March 8, 2012
The Open Road - Clark to Subic Bay
I don't consider myself an unsafe rider. I try to apply common sense and prudent practices when riding. Which in the Philippines, means you need to slow down when you are going through populated areas, especially when you are in any sort of school area, be cautious when you are passing a trike or jeepney since you never know when they are going to pull off to the side of the road or make a quick left-hand turn, and at no time feel you have the right of way. Yield is the name to the game. People will pull out in front of you without looking or even when they are staring right at you. If your blood pressure rises every time someone cuts you off or does something stupid on the road, then riding or driving in the Philippines is not for you. Riding in the Philippines can be and is a gratifying experience most of the time, and I have ridden on some of the most enjoyable roads I have ever ridden here. Once you get used to it, your enjoyment level goes up, but you have to have the right attitude.
I find most drivers and riders in the Philippine are courteous, and they are fairly consistent in what they do, which to me means you can be safe. Motorcycles and trikes will pull out in front of you, but they will pull into the road using the side along the road until they get up to speed not unlike a ramp to an express way. Trike drivers will usually use hand signals by using their left hand and looking behind them if they are going to make a left turn. Buses will honk their horn every time they pass and so on. So once you understand the signals you just go with the flow.
There are some peculiarities but again once you get used to them; they are not an issue. One of the more peculiar things to me anyway is the unusual way of slowing traffic in front of schools, churches or at check points. The way they slow traffic is by barricading one lane on either side across the road about a 100 meters apart. This has the effect of slowing traffic since you have to zigzag from one lane to the other until you have passed the opposite barrier. It is truthfully no different than adding a chicane on a race track. Nevertheless, a chicane really has the effect of increasing the number of minor or low speed accidents while reducing the number of major or deadly high speed accidents. The big difference here is that there is also apposing traffic, and if you happen to be going by when the students are arriving or leaving, you have cars zigzagging with students all over the place. I am not sure if this is the safest combination, all though most drivers do slow down considerably when going through one of these obstacle courses, and you see them everywhere so they must be working right?
I am not opposed to "opening it up" so to speak, and I enjoy taking a bike at higher speeds now and again. I have done a little club racing in the US, and that is by far the safest place anyone can ride a motorcycle at high speed, and I don't believe the speeds achievable on a race track can ever safely be achieved on a public road. However, I don't see the harm in kicking it up a few notches if the only people you are putting in harm's way are willing participants, the higher speed can be achieved relatively cautiously considering the conditions you are riding in, and you're agreeable to paying the traffic fines or accept the consequences of getting caught by Johnny law.
We left Pampanga early in the morning and took one of the other three express ways here in the Philippines to Subic Bay. This is a relatively new express way and for those looking for a four-lane expressway with almost no traffic or impediments such as pesky traffic enforcers, people pulling out in front of you, or the errant water buffalo or dog in the road, this is your road. I had taken this road before on a Motorcycle, when I was here on Holiday. I rented a 400cc Honda and my then wife to be, and I made the trip on this road in a considerably shortened length of time. I was amazed at how little traffic was on this road, how nice and smooth the road was and the minimal number of on and off ramps. It is an express way with fencing to keep out stray animals or people, and it is reasonably straight with good visibility around any corners. This is definitely a road where you can relax a bit and hit the higher gears on a big bike.
There are, however, certain requirements before you are allowed on any express way here in the Philippines, but they are not unreasonable and really are there for your safety and the safety of anyone else on the express way. First, you have to have a 400cc bike or above, which makes sense, since allowing small displacement bikes or trikes would take the word express out of the description. You also need a helmet. It can be almost any kind of helmet you choose since there are no helmet specifications that I know of in the Philippines, and you need to be wearing long pants and shoes that cover your ankle. Flip-Flops or open-toed shoes are not allowed.
If you meet all the above requirements, you can and will be able to have a nice little nearly empty express way ride from Pampanga to Subic Bay, or from Tarlac to Subic bay, for that matter. The determined velocity for a said trip is entirely up to you and what you feel comfortable with. The posted speed limit is 100kph so you will need to keep that in mind.
On this particular journey, we did not make it as quickly as we made it before, but we did blow any cob webs out of the engine that happen to be there. The 690 was running great other than the stalling issue, but since I had figured out how to ride around it most of the time, and we were no longer in stop and go traffic it was only a minor irritant.