10 Tips to avoid breaking your neck or your budget on a moped

On my second day cruising around the stunning interior of the Greek island of Naxos on a moped, I got a little cocky. My wife and I had never rented mopeds before and the caution I exercised on my first day out gradually disintegrated until I was leaning into hairpin turns and passing old jalopies with impunity.

My wife was seated behind me, arms wrapped around my waist. The sun was out and there wasn’t a cloud in the dazzling blue sky. An invigorating breeze embraced us and the view of the Aegean in the distance made us feel indestructible. And then we crashed.

Easy on the curves, tiger.

I guess we’d taken a curve a bit too fast, or had leaned in a bit too much. I flew off the moped, landing awkwardly on my right leg, and Jen, my wife, sort of toppled onto me. My leg hurt and the impact of the collision blew a whole through my sweater and jacket. But we were OK. The moped, however, was another matter. It had a cracked mirror and wouldn’t start.

Don’t ride two to a moped. It’s safer and if your significant other crashes, they won’t be able to blame you.

We coasted downhill to the nearest village and argued over who should use the phone in the village’s only taverna to call the guy who’d rented us the moped.

“You crashed us, you deal with him,” Jen said.

I made a lame, disregarded assertion that that the bike was to blame but grudgingly agreed to make the call.

When the rental agent shows you how to drive the moped, listen!The Greek Moped Guy (GMG) said he wasn’t surprised that we’d crashed.

“You weren’t listening when I was trying to show you how to drive it,” he said.

And he was right. I wasn’t listening. Whenever we’re getting directions or instructions of any kind, I will nod as though I’m paying attention, but I tend to tune out and assume my wife will absorb the most important bits of what we’re being told.

“You got that, right?” I’ll say to her.

And in fairness, she had been telling me to slow down. But what self-respecting husband listens to driving instructions from their wife? Certainly, not me.

Don’t expect feel-good, American style customer service in other countries.

“I watched you when you left my place,” the GMG continued. “I could tell you didn’t know how to drive. I never should have rented you the moped to begin with.”

He was probably right but this kind of candor is unheard of in the U.S., where, even if you are a complete bonehead, you’re normally treated cordially. The GMG didn’t ask if we were OK. but he wanted to know what was wrong with the bike.

Take a few photos of the moped before you leave with it, especially if it’s already pretty banged up.

“Oh, it’s not too bad,” I said, lying through my teeth. “Probably just something very minor.”

This was wishful thinking on my part. He had our credit card and the bike was already a banged up, old mess when we got it. Was he going to use this opportunity to retire this one from the fleet and charge me for the price of a whole new moped?

Get the details on roadside assistance.

The GMG told us that he’d pick us up but warned that it would take a few hours and would cost 1 euro per kilometer. Not a bad deal, in retrospect, as we were only about 15 kilometers from town, but I thought we might be able to coast back into town for free. Luckily, my wife was having none of this idea.

“We are NOT going to coast for 15 kilometers,” she said, as I kept the GMG on hold.

“Fine,” I said, handing her the phone. “You talk to him.”

It was a good deal but after absorbing his insults I was done with him.

Wait till after you crash, rendering your bike inoperable, to hit the bar.

We sat outside in the sun and drank a few bottles of Mythos, a Greek beer, while I tried to dress the wounds on my leg with a little help from the waiter.

Never let them see you sweat. (Or limp near the scene of an accident.)

When the GMG arrived in a big pick-up truck a couple hours later, I got up from my seat and immediately felt a sharp pain in my right leg. But as we walked toward him I concealed my grimace and used all of my strength to avoid limping. I was trying to downplay the severity of the incident and didn’t want him to see that I was hurt.

He surveyed the damage to the bike, shook his head dismissively and said to me, “You’re a very bad driver.”

Be careful what credit card you give them.

We drove back to town in silence as the splendor of this magical Cycladic island unfolded outside the pickup truck’s dirty windows. When we returned to his office, I braced myself for an astronomical bill and fretted about the large credit limit on our Visa card. But he wasn’t about to immediately kill the suspense.

“I need to get the bike repaired, come back at the end of the day and I’ll give you the bill,” he said.

Consider walking instead.

We briefly considered renting a moped from another company before eventually electing to walk to the beach we wanted to visit. But my leg was killing me and by the end of the day, I could barely walk. I didn’t want to hobble back to his office so I briefly considered sending Jen back in to see him, before realizing that she would make a very poor Greek moped-guy-emissary. She’s way too nice.

So I hobbled back into the GMG’s office and braced myself as he pulled out his calculator. It was one of those big ones that have scientific notation features — not a good sign. I was expecting him to ask for our first-born child or perhaps a kidney, but was delighted when he handed me a bill for just 45 euros — 15 for the broken mirror and 30 for the tow into town.

Still, I didn’t act too grateful for fear that he would change his mind or begin a new lecture focusing on the shortcomings of my moped driving skills. I just limped out of the shop, wallet and pride still marginally intact.

Photo by Bennorz and Graeme Newcomb on Flickr.

Big in Japan: The future of motorcycles is awesome

This week and next, Big in Japan will be bringing you scenes from the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show (???????????????????????) at Makuhari Messe in Chiba City. For an overview of this biennial event, see the previous posting Scenes from the Tokyo Motor Show.

Do you love motorcycles? So do I.

In case you’re wondering about the future of motorcycles, check out some of the latest Yamaha designs to come out of the Land of the Rising Sun.

One of the coolest concept bikes on display at the Tokyo Motor Show was a 4-wheeled hybrid motorcycle known as the Tesseract (??????????????????). This truly wicked looking quad features a unique dual scythe suspension system that allows the vehicle to turn like a motorcycle. The hybrid power comes from a liquid cooled V-Twin engine as well as an electric motor.

Have I peaked your interest yet? Keep reading because I’m just getting started.


The Gadget (ガジェット) is an electric moped with a collapsible design that can be easily stored with minimal fuss. Other unique features include a power source that can be turned on via your cell phone or through the internet.

A fierce-looking custom built street bike, the WR250X offers a revolutionary ultra-high rpm single-cylinder engine (10,000 revolutions per minute).

The entire frame is also constructed of aluminum, which makes for quick, aggressive handling and the perfect balance for busting out some truly sick tricks – just don’t wipe out!

The XS-V1 Sakura (XS-V1 桜) is aimed at mature riders looking for a blend of retro-design and modern efficiency.

Lightweight and slim, this deceptively simple looking chassis hides a 1,000cc V-Twin engine.

The chic racing machine straight out of the bizarre realm of Japanese anime, the LUXAIR is both a hybrid motorcycle and an incredible piece of eye candy.

The LUXAIR is powered by a liquid-cooled engine and an electric motor that are joined by a YIPU (Yamaha Integrated Power Unit).

During acceleration, the gas engine provides the bulk of the power, though idling and cruising is driven by the electric motor.

And finally, one of the most exciting products for the environmentally conscious consumer, the FC-Dii is an incredible fuel cell-powered motorcycle.

Featuring the Yamaha Direct Methanol Fuel Cell (DMFC), the FC-Dii is driven by a 54% methanol solution with an efficiency of over 30%.

The bike also features a removable second battery that can be recharged from an external power source.

Since all of these models are concept bikes, it is very unlikely that any of these products will be available for purchase.

However, there is a good chance that some of the design elements described above will start to appear on the market in the near future.

With that said, I think you will all agree with me in saying that the future of motorcycles is awesome.

For more scenes from the Tokyo Motor Show, tune in next Monday for another installment of Big in Japan.

And of course, to all of the riders out there in the world, here’s to open roads, blue skies, cool breezes and the journey ahead.

For photos of the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show, check out the gallery below:


A Canadian in Beijing: Hutongs & Mopeds

Beijing is famous for its hutongs. A hutong is the Mandarin word for “alley” and, at one time, most of the city was made of these narrow streets that housed residences and businesses alike. These days, there are many wide streets that have replaced them, but there is a movement to preserve the hutongs (rather than knocking them down and replacing them with more modern apartment complexes.)

Yesterday, I visited a very famous hutong called “Nan Luo Gu Xiang.”

The hutongs are so famous, in fact, that there are “hutong tours” here in which foreigners get into bicycle rickshaws with colourful awnings and are then taken with the rest of their tour group through the hutongs all in a row – rickshaws rolling like a giant snake, one after another, winding through Beijing.

Yesterday, I met with my new friend Will as he offered to take me to a restaurant for some vegan fare. (Musician rule #1 = never say no to food!) He picked me up from the subway on his moped and I hopped on the back (with a helmet, don’t worry!) and held on tight. The sun was bright – a beautiful spring day — and I couldn’t stop smiling.

Riding a moped in Beijing is the way to go! It’s like a video game. We were able to drive past cars, zigzag around bicycles and pedestrians, skip the queue for the lights and turn left in front of everyone, park on the sidewalk, etc. It was amazing and I laughed out loud with delight. I really can’t think of a better word than “delight” to describe it. I loved every second.

Apparently, you can get away without having a license for a moped in Beijing, especially if you’re a foreigner. Many license plates on mopeds here in Beijing appear to be upside down and this is the sign that it is not an officially licensed vehicle. The police may stop a driver, but the foreigners are hard to deal with when they don’t speak Chinese and so the likelihood of arrest or having your moped impounded is nil. I also heard that by 2008 and the Olympic games, they will start cracking down on these and other illegal two-wheeled vehicles. Until then, I’ve seen plenty “unofficial” mopeds and motorcycles, especially in Wudaokou where there are so many foreigners.

Will introduced me to a great restaurant in “Nan Luo Gu Xiang” called “Luogu” or “Drum and Gong Fusion Restaurant” in English (pictured above.) We walked into the restaurant, through the tables and to a set of very narrow back stairs, not unlike attic steps in century-old houses back home. We had to duck at the top of the landing because the ceiling was too low. We turned and ducked again through the child-height entrance to the outdoor rooftop patio. It was full of tables and umbrellas and dripping in sunlight like caramel. I paused before sitting down so that I could drink in the gold of the sun – an elixir for the eyes. It felt as though we had been magically lifted up and out the traffic and congestion of the streets below and then gently placed into a perfect paradise of quiet and surrounding foliage.

Will’s also vegan and he has been giving me some insight into the world of eating as a vegan in Beijing. His Chinese is way better than mine, too, and so I gave him total liberty to order for us. While this wasn’t a vegan or a vegetarian restaurant, his choices were impeccable. We talked and ate and shared insights about music and writing and city life and travelling. He’s American and has been here two years already, and so his knowledge of this city was impressive. He had lots of share and I have open ears.

After our amazing meal and conversation, we got back on the moped and went across town to a well-known independent record store called “Fu Sheng Chang Pian” or “Free Sound Records” in English. It’s an independent record store and Will suggested that it would be a good place for me to pick up some music by female artists here in Beijing to help direct my research (see this post for more information about my research here). The people in the store were really helpful and I came away with three new CDs for the low price of 30 kuai each (or $4.33 Canadian — how do musicians earn a living at that price?) All three of the artists are female, independent, Beijing-based songwriters and I believe they all play instruments too (besides their voices). I’m looking forward to listening to them.

I waited around for Will to be done with his tasks because I was secretly hoping I’d get one more ride on the moped. I honestly fell in love with that moped yesterday and I think I may have to negotiate an open relationship with my bicycle! Otherwise, I’m two-timing my bike and I am not the type to keep those kinds of secrets . . . !

We were standing on the sidewalk outside of the record store when he offered to drop me off at the subway station where I was meeting my friend Sarah for yet another mission to the arts district of Beijing called “Da Shan Zi” (more on this soon). I eagerly accepted his offer – maybe too eagerly – and I noticed my childlike exuberance flash back at me from my reflection in the record store window. Just a split-second sparkle that caught my eye before putting on my helmet and hopping on the back of Will’s moped for my final ride of the day.

Swerving, twisting, between cars, around bicycles, passing congestion and capturing open spaces like prizes, we motored through the cityscape like it was maze and we had the map. Once again: delight. The sun on my back, the wind in my hair, my smile peering over his left shoulder.

I gotta get me one of these!

(Okay, well maybe not. But if I lived here permanently, I’d seriously consider it!)