Motorbike in Penang
Scenic. Quick. Easy. Adventurous. Edgy. Stimulating. Convenient. These are the words that
come to mind when thinking about riding my motorcycle or motorbike in Penang. Whether it’s winding up the narrow, two lane, hairpin turns to Batu Ferringhi,
cruising through the flat patty fields of Balik Pulau, or weaving through the traffic in Gelugor, doing it on
a motorbike is much more enjoyable than in a car with dirty windows. And for those of you who despise
paying to park, most places don’t charge motorbikes to park, and if they do it’s less than pocket change.
If there’s one thing that influences the experience you have riding a motorbike, it is undoubtedly
the traffic. And depending on where you come from, you may find some of the following thoughts to be
self-evident or on the flip side, highly insightful. I write this as a 23-year-old American, having been here
for 3 months. I don’t come from an extremely large city, but I’m no stranger to traffic and city life. I’ve
tasted the chaos of the New Delhi streets, so I’ve seen the kind of traffic that forces you to close your
eyes, pray, and open them feeling like you just witnessed a miracle because you didn’t hit the cargo truck
heading directly for your front bumper.
Penang’s traffic could be considered a younger cousin to that of New Delhi’s. It can get
congested, and three lanes can quickly turn into four. But even friends from nearby Indonesia say it’s not
as bad as Jakarta. And if you’ve ever been to KL you need not fear, Penang is certainly more mild. Not
to mention that some areas are much less jammed than others. For some people, the same traffic that may
prevent you from wanting to drive a motorbike in Penang may be the same traffic that makes you desirous of one.
When traffic gets congested, or you’re on a trip through an area with endless stoplights, a motorbike can
be your best friend. All the traffic halts, and all the motorbikes squeeze through the lines of parked cars
on the way to the front of the backup. The result, I rarely have had to wait in traffic. I simply maneuver
my way through the stopped or creeping vehicles, which usually translates into arriving at my destination
a few ticks of the minute hand earlier.
It’s not merely the volume of traffic that you should be aware of, but the nature of that traffic.
You need to understand its attitude, and quite frankly its not very user friendly. When I began driving my
motorbike in Penang, I learned quickly that the safest place to drive was on the far left side of the road. The reason
being that most of the remaining automobiles on the road treat motorbikes like humans treat ants (this is
probably self-inflicted, as most people who drive motorbikes in Penang do so with reckless abandon). We generally
tend to ignore them, sometimes incidentally stepping on them. So take my advice and cruise in the left
lane where the traffic is a bit more tamed.
Aside from the traffic, you should know a little about the bikes you can rent. I am renting the
widely popular Honda dream ex5 from a local friend. Its dual clutch is pretty simple and I’ve grown to
like it more than an automatic (here’s the link if you’re curious http://tbsmotor.com.my/honda/ex5.html).
There are a few different types of motorcycles you can rent. Automatic. Dual clutch. Electric start. Kick
start. But for a tourist who is unfamiliar with the traffic patterns, the less attention you have to give to
operating the bike the better. The average price for a rental motorbike in Penang is 20RM per day, but you may need to
bargain a bit.
In light of the fact that traffic can be slightly hectic, renting a motorbike is best left to the people
with a bent for adrenaline, or with some experience riding motorized bikes in congestion. Possessing
some coordination is advisable as well. That’s not to say it can’t or shouldn’t be done by most, but realize
that initially you have to get a feel for the bike all the while driving on the opposite side of the road
(depending on where you come from; it’s the left side), navigating heavy traffic, and keeping yourself
from getting lost.
Overview, tips, regulations:
-You must wear a helmet at all times when operating a motorbike in Penang. First, for your safety. Second, for your
bank account as you can receive a ticket from the police.
-You should only have two people on the bike at once. You will likely see many locals with 3 or 4, but
this is illegal.