Features & Images » Travel

Travel: Images of Asia's two-wheeled economy

Small motorbikes fill a big role in Asian society



Back in the ’70s, when fuel-efficient Japanese compacts began flooding into North America, Detroit was still building and promoting “Longer, lower, more powerful than ever” gas-guzzling behemoths. Seems the Asians had a much clearer view of the road ahead than the transportation gurus of the U.S and Canada.

When gas hit 60 cents a litre I, like many others, made the switch. But now that it costs more to top up my little Subaru Impreza than I used to pay to fill the two tanks on my F250 it’s clearly time for another change. And again the Asians have come up with a solution of sorts.

From Beijing to Ho Chi Minh City and from Hanoi to Phnom Penh the 250cc motorbike is taking over the roads of Asia. It’s not only an efficient commuter vehicle but, with the addition of a few ingenious modifications and virtually no limiting regulations, this versatile little two-wheeler can take on the role of family car, taxi, delivery van, commuter bus, big rig, and even logging truck. Of course the saving in fuel and road space requires a few concessions to comfort, size of load, and safety. But in most of Asia that’s not a problem.

As a family car it can seat up to five people, though four is certainly more comfortable.


(bikes,2) - Four is cozy, five is possible.)


It’s also great for shopping and there’s room in the back seat for the kids or granny.


(bikes,3) – “Hang on tight dear!”)


(bikes,4) – “OK back there granny?”)


As a delivery van anything that doesn’t fall off is a legal load.


(bikes,5) – Shoes…)


(bikes,6) – Fresh pork…)


(bikes,7) – Live chickens.)


Add a “third wheel” and the bike becomes the tractor for a variety of trailers — a miniature semi that can be rigged to haul everything from people to logs.


(bikes,8) – Little “Big Rig”)


(bikes,9) – Commuter Bus)


As I leaf back through my photos and memories of Asia’s motorbike revolution I’m not sure we’re quite ready to take the leap of faith that’s required. I remember barreling down a highway outside Hanoi behind a fellow with 75 dozen eggs lashed to the back of his motorbike and marveling that the guy had enough confidence and skill to keep from becoming a giant road-omelet. Maybe I’m a coward but I think I’ll stick with my Impreza for a while longer.

Add a comment