Centopassi

I woke up this morning, all pumped up about writing about the Centopassi, a motorcycle rally we participated to a few years back, only to discover that the Centopassi does not longer exist… And that’s a real shame.

So how was it? In a nutshell: mental. Basically it was 3 days’ worth of 10 hours of non-stop, high paced riding amongst the twistiest open roads we’ve ever laid our tires on. Oh and some passages off-road too, didn’t matter if you had a sportsbike or not. The police would lead / trail the groups but aside from this, the roads were left untouched, cars, camping vans and all.

Riders were divided in three ability groups: fast, fast and very fast. We saw people quitting on the first day after 16 hours on the saddle trying to keep up. Crashes left, right and center (especially one afternoon when the rain showed up). I came across a 916 perched in a tree at one turn. Mechanical failures, human failures, wrists failure. And one the best ride we’ve ever done. Doing hundreds of hairpins everyday was like compressing what an average rider would go through over a 10 year period in just a few days. Full throttle, spot breaking zone, compress suspension, brake hard, downshift, throw the bike into the turn whilst letting go of the brakes, engage back brake whilst accelerating and full throttle again. Braking changes the geometry of the bike so you learn how to use that. You learn how to accelerate in a turn and use the back brake to balance the bike. You learn the line for different types of corners. You learn how to read the road, its grip, it’s surface. You learn how to ride on gravel. And you learn of your mistakes like double downshifting and locking the back wheel. All this on normal roads.

Yes, it’s a shame the Centopassi no longer exists.

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The Land of the Lost

And it is time for another of our “let’s remember” memory trip, with today… Malaysia. Oh yes, didn’t see that one coming did you. Yep, me neither.

I was based in Singapore for a few months in 2009. With the motorcycle kept dormant in its London storage, it wasn’t long before I was looking for rentals. Ideally the choice would have been a big trailie like, I dunno, a R1200GS for instance. But that wasn’t coming up on the computer. What was coming up however was Harley Davidson, well implanted as ever. So I called up the local dealer, no Road Kings available but they did have a Heritage Softail which, in my simple mind, was pretty much the same. How wrong can one be? Very. This “thing” should not be allowed on the roads. Honestly. Once you finally manage to get it going, by pushing with your feet coz the engine is from 1756, there is no way to stop it. Try the front brake, it’s got the same effect on speed as spreading your arms in an attempt to air brake. The back brake, on the contrary, has been taken from one of those little trucks that tow Boeing 747s on the tarmac. It’s not so much a lever as a large pedal. Brakes well too. Oooh you should see the skid marks.

Anyways, the tractor and I got going in the end. Admiring the landscape… made solely of palm trees. That’s because the entire endemic flora has been “replaced” with a no-nonsense attitude that some have, at times, labelled “environmentally unfriendly” (see pictures below). This is, of course, to satisfy the world’s demand in palm oil. I met a plant manager there as I was treating my sun burns on the side of the road. Good chap. The local production of oil runs at around 18 million tons a year, so it’s also fair to say that the main economy of Malaysia is an important one. And yes, I got sun burns. Riding in T-Shirt is great but one shall not forget the sun cream in this part of the world. I basically looked like a giant lobster which prompted said plant manager to approach me in the first place.

Talking about gigantism was also the episode of the “dog” crossing the road ahead of me. There I was, riding peaceful, counting palm tree number 7308 when all of a sudden a “dog” came out of the forest and headed straight for the road. Immediate application of the large aforementioned pedal, skid mark and… WTF!! This, my friends, is not a dog. This is one big freakin’ lizard. A Varan to be more exact of the same specie as the Komodo dragon (featured in the last James Bond). That thing is huge, runs fast and for the rather inoffensive European that I am, sends a chill down my back. Hunting it must be the closest thing to being Schwarzenegger in Predator (all proportions kept).

So yes, after that, I got the tractor going faster, and found home in Mersing. Not without taking the 16:09 tropical shower of course. 6 months in the region gave me the time to study the local rain patterns: it starts at 16:09 exactly, feels just like a domestic shower, warm and very dense, lasts for about an hour and everything dries in minutes after that. If you’ve got shower gel (made with palm oil), all the better.

I picked Mersing as a stopover because it is the gateway to a few idyllic islands nearby. I was expecting a nice beach but that did not materialise itself. I was off season too so not much in the way of B&Bs. So fell back on the local “premium” hotel. If you want to know how it feels to be awaken in the early morning by the bat you have unknowingly spent the night with you should try it. I would have suggested a tent would have been better but, with Predator lurching around, the bat actually feels premium.

So nice and early. Like everyone else to be honest. This being a Muslim country and in the middle of the Ramadan period, everybody was awake anyway. I was glad to find that the tractor had not been stolen. Or maybe it did but the guys returned it after being humiliated when trying to drag race a local in Honda C50 and experiencing the subsequent near death experience when trying to stop the damned thing. By now it did not matter anyway because it was part of the adventure. I returned to Singapore after two days of a rather good little road trip. Recommended.