Martin Chappell’s journey from pedestrian to (probationary) biker.
Had enough of traffic jams, gas-guzzlers and looking for a parking space? I had.
A move to the outer reaches of Sai Kung was my motivation to climb on to something more exciting than the gym’s Kettler – and, to be honest, the “gym” was in the spare room. I wasn’t getting out much.
A trip to Thailand convinced me that the answer was a motorcycle. It ticked all the right boxes: cheap, jam-resistant, easy to park and my passport to Sai Kung’s backwaters. Even better, the Kwun Tong Driving School, just around the corner from my office, turned out to be cheaper than the Hong Kong School of Motoring with spaces available.
In Hong Kong, the motorcycle test is divided into three parts (A, B and C), followed by a year of driving with “P” (probationary) plates. I was delighted to learn my UK driver’s license exempted me from the written part (A) of the test; I simply filled out a form and handed over $1,000 to get my Hong Kong car driving license. (For more details on converting a foreign driving license call 2804 2647).
So I breezed straight to Part B – basic motorcycle control. This requires drivers to navigate a course of cones and perform an emergency stop. To prepare, you are mandated to take 12 hours of instruction. As my Cantonese is limited, I had an English-speaking instructor all to myself.
Despite plenty of previous experience on scooters (I subsidized a year of university with an evening job delivering pizzas by scooter), I was nervous on the day of the test. But it was a piece of cake. (Check out the course on YouTube, search for ktds.)
A week later I picked up my motorcycle learners license, which on closer inspection only allowed me to ride alone on the streets from 9.30am to 4.30pm and 7.30pm to midnight.
Time for Part C: on-street training. After an hour of chat, we were on real bikes on real roads. Surprisingly, the Transport Department publishes its three test routes, randomly drawing one on the day, all of which use the same site for the dreaded “figure of 8” on a slope. However, that’s off limits for practise, thanks to one of the city’s seemingly random “no learners” signs.
We followed the instructor to learn road positions and the routes, then we were allowed out to practice on our own on the school’s bikes; the package included so many free hours, after which they could be hired for $250 an hour. It didn’t take long to memorize the three routes and learn to anticipate traffic hotspots. Back to the office for a bacon sandwich and a few questions. Question one, could I get my own bike? The answer was yes, as long as I could get insurance. I did the maths: I was spending about $3,000 a month on taxis and buses (okay, mainly taxis). The insurance would be slightly more than double the normal cost at $4,000 for the two-three months before my test – but what price freedom?
I plumped for a Suzuki GN250, using it for my daily commute and to practice figures of 8 on a convenient slope every night – sorry, residents of Razor Hill. I also rode it for my test, which added to my confidence on the day. So, yes, I passed.
I am now 10 months into my P plate, which means I shouldn’t go faster than 70km/h or get caught doing anything naughty – or it’s another six months of probation plates. If you re-offend, you must re-sit the test.
My bike has really opened up Hong Kong for me. I have been to places I never knew existed. I drive down leafy lanes filled with the scent of mowed grass, nip out for a swim on summer mornings, or pop home to feed the cats. I feel more awake these days – no more catching yawns and old ladies’ elbows on the MTR for me.
Kwun Tong Driving School, Kwun Tong Vehicular Ferry Pier, Hoi Bun Road, Kwun Tong, 2411-1906.