Riding in Taiwan: How to Avoid Dying

I began riding in Taiwan back in 2008.  Well, actually, it was a motorcycle.  A sweet ride called a Yamaha RXZ (or RZX) 135cc two-stroke.

 

max

Its name was Max (because my friend said it looked like a rat-bike from Road Warrior).

A few weeks after getting Max, I got myself into an accident.  I had never ridden before I came to Taiwan and the principles of centrifugal force were very new to me – it turns out that, while on a motorcycle, suddenly turning your front wheel is never a good idea.  It creates an effect called “counter-steering” due, in part, to that centrifugal force I mentioned (along with the single-track of being on two wheels).

You see, once your speed increases to the point where the wheel creates that centrifugal force, if you turn the wheel to the right, it will make your bike lean to the left.  Usually, we do this without thinking, because when we lean left (thinking that’s what is making the bike lean left) we actually steer right, which is what causes the bike to lean to the left.

But if we jam that wheel in one direction quickly, the bike lays down.

Often, on top of us.

Essentially, your bike has one goal: keep both wheels in-line.  So, the bike only leans in an attempt to straighten out the single-track wheel system it’s riding on.  It all goes back to basic physics.

Anyway, the accident I got into mere weeks after buying the bike wouldn’t be my last.  A few months later, I was flying down the road way too fast and slammed into a BMW who decided to make a sudden right-hand-turn from the left-turn-lane.

 

injury 1

Oh, God! Why would you show us these pictures?

injury 2

Because this must serve as an example of why you need to listen to me!!!

 

Now, describing the pain of having one’s skin peeled from one’s hand from a pavement-based friction-burn is…well, it’s not describable.  Imagine if you pressed your hand into an electric coil stove.  That’s as close as I can give you to a metaphor.

And since I was a keyboard-based English materials creator, at the time, I was out of work for a month.  I actually came out of it fine – I was healed up after a month, my work paid me for my time off, and I got paid by the BMW despite the fact that I was cooking down a 50kph (30mph) road at around 120kph (75mph).

But that wasn’t my last accident, either.  Three months after that, a scooter ran a red light, as I was entering the intersection; I slammed in to the back of him and went down.  Actually, the whole incident was written about by his passenger, in Chinese: if you search for my name on Yahoo Taiwan, his blog is in the first search results (and is written in kind-of a lovesick way, so if you read Chinese, it’s worth reading).

I actually didn’t get cut up, at all, that time (so no fun pictures, this round): instead, I injured my left foot.  While the impact was enough to break my half-inch thick steel center-stand in half, it only mangled my foot.  For a better explanation, do me a favor: take your left hand, look at it, and slowly make a fist.  Now imagine your foot doing that.

Ah, the joy and the pain.  So, now you know that I’ve got experience in this sort of thing.  You should also know I’m like Weapon X in how I heal.  My foot didn’t break, that time (I’ve never broken a bone).  And that fucked-up hand up above?  Here’s what it looked like, after only a month:

 

heale

Seriously, with an adamantium skeleton, I could do anything.

 

Now that we’re 600 words in, it’s time for the advice.  Listen closely.

Rule Number One: Do not ride angry.  Riding angry will only make you drive like an idiot.

Rule Number Two: Do not ride happy.  Riding happy will only make you drive like an idiot.

Rule Number Three: When you ride, you must feel only one way about every other person on the planet: they all want to murder you.

Rule Number Four: When you ride, keep your hands/feet on your brakes at all times.

 

I can not make it any more clear than that.

Wearing sandals on a motorcycle isn’t exactly a smart thing to be doing, either.

 

Now, rule four is the most important rule, and not just because I took those pictures solely to illustrate it.  It’s important because it’s really seriously important.  If you don’t believe me, run the following experiment:

 

Step One: Get a bell/buzzer or something of the sort.

Step Two: Put your hand next to the buzzer.

Step Three: Ask your friend to suddenly slap you across the face.

Step Four: See if you can hit the buzzer before said friend slaps you.

Step Five: Put your hand directly over the buzzer.

Step Six: Ask your friend to suddenly slap you across the face.

Step Seven: See if you can hit the buzzer before said friend slaps you.

Step Eight: Slap your friend back for letting you run such an obvious experiment in the first place.

 

What have we learned here today?  We’ve learned that you don’t have the reaction time you once thought you did.  When something happens on the road, you don’t have time to process it and then move your hands/feet into position to react to it properly.  You are going to wind up contributing to the many red stains on the roads of Taiwan, except the ones you make won’t be from betel nut!

Is it important to be aware?  Yes.  People come flying through intersections all the time, without looking, at all.  Scooters do this.  Trucks do this.  There are no stop signs in Taiwan.  Lights get ignored.  And I can not stress enough how nobody is aware of anything: this goes for lane shifting, merging…almost everything.  Including shopping, but that’s a discussion for another blog!  People in Taiwan drive like idiots, but you can prevent problems if you are aware and are proactive instead of dismissive.

You don’t have to smash yourself up for a year until you learn what I have shared here.

Use my knowledge and save yourself from a world of pain!

You’ll notice I don’t have a rule about speed, because vehicle speed isn’t what’s important: reaction time is.  As long as you are aware of your surroundings by not being too emotional when riding, you will drive at a speed that you feel comfortable with that allows you to react quickly enough to respond to people trying to murder you.

That’s it.

That’s all I’ve got.

Since my last accident in 2008, I never had another accident on Max, nor the motorcycle I bought after that motorcycle

 

fzr

 

nor my current motorcycle

 

kai

 

nor the variety of scooters I’ve driven over the last few years.

I still drive fast.

But I drive smart.

Riding in Taiwan doesn’t have to be scary.

Learn from my former ignorance and current wisdom.

Live to ride another day.

And knock on wood with me, because writing this blog is really just tempting fate…

10 thoughts on “Riding in Taiwan: How to Avoid Dying

  1. wow, nice blog post, when i seen the pic of ur hand i automatically cringed and reminded myself to wear gloves more often when i ride, but i am so proud of my self, been in taiwan 2 years and never had a crash so fare, been driving car/bike the whole time.

  2. As someone who’s been on the island for eight years, I’d like to suggest a couple of additions to this handy guide.

    If you’re going to stop at a red light, make sure to pull well over to the right and stop at the shoulder as if the light were still green. Getting hit from behind by a taxi or blue truck whose driver feels entitled to run that light is something we’d all like to avoid.

    In addition to driving like everyone is trying to kill you, keep in mind the driving culture here embraces the idea that you are only responsible for what’s in front of you. Nobody honks when you cut them off, and hardly anyone signals (or when they do, it’s usually the opposite of the direction they actually swerve).

    Might makes right. If you can draft a blue truck and leave enough room to squeeze by on the right if it suddenly stops, you can make better time in urban centers and at least be able to choose what you collide with in the worst case. I can’t endorse shadowing it when it runs a light, but it’s sometimes easy to do without noticing if your vision of the light is blocked.

    Wear a full face helmet. Not only are teeth nice to keep if you ever faceplant, but there are areas/times where the density of bugs slamming into your visor sound like popcorn, and you probably don’t want to eat those… A summer weight bike jacket with a foam spine and joint pads is also worth getting, especially if you ride in the rain. Beware of painted lines when the roads are wet.

    There’s much to love about Taiwan, but when you live in one of the most densely populated places on the planet, driving can present special challenges. I will never own a car here.

    Things have gotten gradually more civilized in the last few years. I’ve noticed a lot more cameras at major intersections, and a lot less blatant running of “stale” reds. Here’s hoping the healing factor needs no further testing.

  3. I have a great reason for not riding a motorcycle. I believe everyone who rode motorcycle in Taiwan, they had at least 1 accident during the entire lifespan. I had an accident with my bike a couple of months ago. But, that was an intentional accident. I saw a fight during the traffic. I saw the truck driver beating a motorcycle guy because of traffic issues. The truck driver pulled off the guys helmet to beat on his head. He broke the guy’s nose. All I did was yelling to stop the fight. Then, the motorcycle guy had chance to escape. But, the truck driver got mad at me. He tried to ran the truck in front of me. He didn’t kill me, but the back of his truck hit my leg. It wasn’t broken, but I had to rush to Hospital. The police arrived. Nothing happened to the son of bitch truck driver because he was driving the company’s truck. His boss paid for the hospital bills. Lately, I heard people telling me if I see anyone being murder on street, then I should just ignore it. Otherwise, I would be killed too. Sometimes, I am ashamed to have my roots here. If people took more serious about the anger management, and the law reinforces the punishment. Less things like this would happen.

  4. Pingback: Joseph Fritz's BlogMoving to Taiwan: Avoiding Disaster

    • One, when a girl blew through a red light as I was traveling through on green. I was able to slow down significantly, because my hands were right on the brakes, but we still collided.

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