Friday, December 01, 2006

Biker Heaven

Last weekend, I toddled off to the Jakarta Convention Centre for another one of their lovely motor shows. This one mainly featured motorcycles although there were also a few luxury cars on display for petrol heads to salivate over. An import tax of 100% doesn't seem to deter Jakarta's superrich from their long-term love affair with the supreme German efficiency of the BMW and the Mercedes Benz. In this country, as in any other, such cars are all about ostentation and showing off as much as anything else. As a status symbol they rank several levels above having a maid from central Java put on a little white, starched nurse’s uniform and run around the shopping mall food court trying to administer a fix of ice cream to your kids.

I actually saw someone driving a Ferrari down in Kemang last week. To own such a vehicle in this country is not a very practical idea though. For starters, your left leg will soon go numb as you continually pump the clutch of it’s high performance engine between first and second gear in the city's gridlock. Not only that, as soon as you get off the main road, there's going to be a whole lot of scraping going on as you negotiate the sports car's low-slung body over countless sleeping policeman. No, to own such a car is all about status, testosterone and boy racer √©lan. It's a Tommy Suharto/James Bond fantasy that symbolizes what you're packing in your trousers. Personally though, I like to reverse the process: basically I use my penis as a car substitute.

I digress, but this is the underlying vibe at motor shows. On the one hand there are the vehicles you may actually have enough money to buy and which are practical. On the other hand there are the male fantasy rides to drool over. Last week's motor show, although mainly featuring bikes and not cars, followed this formula to a tee.

On the practical side, all of the familiar Yamahas, Hondas and Suzukis that plough the city's streets like kamikaze hellcats were present and correct. I admit that I felt a slight sense of unease as I remembered my apocalyptic motorbike crash of a few months ago but this was soon dispelled as I wandered around the convention centre. The beautiful girls on the display stands certainly helped in this respect. Sexist? Perhaps. Sexy? Certainly. You will hear no complaints from me, although maybe to balance things out they should have strapping, macho men at the Ideal Home Exhibition, demonstrating food processors or something. I’ll stick with the motor shows though.

Bike-wise, there was a very handsome, high-tech and reasonably priced Bajaj motorcycle on prominent display. It was slightly more advanced than the Bajajs we know and love and definitely not available in orange. Non-bikers may be interested in the new Yamaha RX King. The King has long been one of the most popular bikes here but as it's an old-fashioned, two-stroke machine, the pollution and noise are appalling. When local lads customize them and race them down the road, thick plumes of white smoke belch out of the back and they sound like a swarm of mosquitoes the size of 747s. Not just the loudest bike in Indonesia but the loudest sound of any kind whatsoever. The new version is supposedly cleaner and quieter, something which all of Jakarta’s citizens may wish to say a silent prayer of thanks for.

On the luxury side of things, there were also plenty of massively overpowered fantasy/suicide machines on display. However, like our old friend the Ferrari, it's just not very practical to go tooling around Jakarta on a 1000cc Suzuki race bike, not if you want to live to see your grandchildren’s faces at any rate. You never know who will be wheeling his Baso trolley across the road as you round the corner at 150 clicks per hour.

Mind you, on the safety side of things, there was a computerized motorcycle safety simulator in action that people were queuing up to have a go on. I also spotted a jacket on sale with electric fans built in to keep you cool in the hot sun. Just the ticket until it rains and the whole ludicrous contraption packs up. There were also plenty of kiddy motorbikes available for rich parents to buy. Get them used to hospital food at a young age ay, that’ll toughen ‘em up. “Our little Bambang is only 10 but he's already broken both legs and fractured his wrist. We're so proud."

Madness. They should ban all bikes. Roller skates for all I say.

Simon Pitchforth