Bikes > Ride

Discovering the joys of two-wheeled motoring

Scooters and motorcycles can be just as fun as sports cars

The BMW R 1250 GS fits the author like a proverbial glove. PHOTO BY BOTCHI SANTOS

I have been writing about cars for almost 17 years and have been driving and involved in local custom car culture for around 25 years. I’ve seen the entire mobility industry (two and four wheels) evolve and adapt to changes, its highs and lows, and how it has used lessons learnt in the past to adapt, survive, and thrive in these difficult times. However, not once did I ever consider trying out two-wheeled motoring. We had a scooter at home before: a single-speed, gasoline-powered one. I used it to putter around our village, but nothing more serious than that. I did drive it on public roads a few times, but the experience was less than savory because, well, I guess I was not prepared, experienced, and mature enough to appreciate it.

It takes skill and experience to handle these big bikes with finesse. PHOTOS BY BOTCHI SANTOS

Fast-forward to 2019, I accepted the invitation of BMW Philippines to go to BMW Motorrad Days in Garmisch, just outside Munich, Germany. It was there that my eyes were truly opened. Bikers seem to enjoy a deeper bond, mutual respect, appreciation, and adulation for one another—more so than the car scene which can be filled with envy and just plain negative vibes. The sight of a BMW R1250 GS with panniers (the side-mounted aluminum boxes) and its proud owner in full riding gear was awe-inspiring; the modern-day equivalent of adventure-seekers. I had also seen similar riders a few years earlier when I drove in the Sahara Desert in Morocco, when enthusiasts on KTM 1290 Adventure bikes stopped at the same resort we were billeted in.

A few weeks earlier, my friend Nico Ylanan dropped by to visit me in Tagaytay and brought with him a BMW R1250 GS Adventure—a fully loaded example of Munich’s finest adventure bike. Think cross-continental, around-the-world two-wheeled motoring and you get the idea of what this bike is made for. Obviously, I tried it out, and felt brave (and foolish) enough to ride it down the driveway. They say certain things are never forgotten in life once learned, like balancing on a bicycle, swimming, and making love. And that idea was perhaps why my desire to try it overtook me. It had the low-seat option, so Nico helped me clamber up, explain the basics, start the bike, and rev the engine. In hindsight, it was probably bad judgement on his part but hey, I was ticking off a bucket list item. What first got me was the sheer size of the GS, followed by the bike’s heft. The boxer engine hangs low, which helps with the center of gravity, but it also adds weight to either side which can make it feel extra heavy. But seeing how Nico—who literally weighs nothing—effortlessly balanced the enormous GS at crawling speeds gave me confidence.

Thankfully, the Vespa is a lot more forgiving for novice riders. PHOTOS BY BOTCHI SANTOS

So, I get on, kick up the stand, start the engine, blip the throttle, and engage first gear. The whole bike rumbles which fuels my excitement. I slowly release the clutch and feather the accelerator, and the gigantic GS starts crawling and I put my feet up. I was moving on a big, burly, macho-sized bike made for real men.

All that lasted for about 20m as I suddenly had to turn down the driveway, and I lost my nerve. I was overwhelmed. My brain could not wrap around figuring out the throttle, the independent front and rear brakes, the clutch, and balancing this behemoth of a bike. I almost fell but thankfully, Nico and some people helped out, saving me from embarrassment, an injured leg, and a very expensive repair bill. The GS demanded respect from its rider. I was nowhere near capable of handling it. That was stupid on my part and I was lucky to have gotten off it unscathed.

Most people would probably walk away, count their lucky stars, shrug it off, and let out a nervous chortle. Unfortunately, I was hooked. Like someone who finally met a real challenge they couldn’t back down from, an adversary I needed to conquer, a beast that I needed to earn its respect. I’d like to say I quickly got back on the saddle. But I am also a realist. Nico felt the same way too and decided to have me try something that better matched my riding experience: a Vespa.

Even though he had only 9hp to play with, he clearly had fun. PHOTOS BY BOTCHI SANTOS

The following weekend, he and his family dropped by and brought with them a latest Vespa Sprint 150. It features a 150cc motor making all of 9hp—definitely way down from the GS’s engine size and 136hp. It is air-cooled too, lessening its complexity. Crucially, it is also small–too small, in fact, that I looked like an elephant mounting a scooter. But the Sprint surprisingly had so much pep than the horsepower figure suggested. I was a bit shaken when I prodded the throttle, but I told myself to man up and take it around the parking lot we were at. After three rounds, I knew this was it. I took it onto the street, rode up and down, and was progressively giving it the beans when I realized I wasn’t wearing a helmet and the bike wasn’t mine. Two wheels gives you a sense of freedom a car will never give. That little scooter felt almost as thrilling as my 700hp Toyota Supra. Actually, it probably felt scarier because of the absence of metal around you.

I have newfound respect for people on motorcycles, and even cyclists. These two-wheeled road users have far more things to contend with, and wearing a helmet (admittedly for their own safety) can dull their senses. More than ever, we need to be extra mindful of them. They have far more things to worry about, unlike those in cars who absentmindedly fiddle with their smartphones or the infotainment system. Give them space. Yield to them. An accident is just a fender bender for four-wheeled motorists, but it could result to the loss of life or limb for people on two wheels.

It won't be long before we see our columnist puttering along EDSA on two wheels. PHOTO BY BOTCHI SANTOS

A few days after I tried the BMW, I got a message from BMW Philippines president Spencer Yu. It turns out that he has been thinking about learning to ride and has offered to get both of us professionally trained. I am looking forward to it. Even if I do not go the whole hog and buy a bike, riding motorcycles is an added skillset that might come in handy soon. Having that knowledge is also a constant reminder for me to always be responsible, courteous, and sensitive to the two-wheeled motorists and bicyclists I now share the road with.

Botchi Santos

Botchi is your friendly, walking car encyclopedia. He loves helping people choose the right vehicle for themselves as much as he enjoys picking the right one for himself. Expect him to write about car culture, test drives and car-shopping advice. His regular column is called ‘Car Life’.