Sure you say. But it is my belief that motorcycling is the safest way to travel in foreign countries. This will take a while to explain, and there are some caveats – so I’ll take it a piece at a time.
#1: You are the driver
In many countries the roads and traffic is chaotic, and the quality of public (and private) transport drivers is incredibly variable. It isn’t easy to think about trusting your life to a Pakistani truck driver that believes Allah will guide him at night, rather than his headlights which are left off. It’s also scary to contemplate being driven down “the most dangerous road in the world” in Bolivia by someone who is paid a handful of dollars a day. A huge amount of 3rd world transportation is in relatively small vehicles (vans or Toyotas) or even via hitchhiking, and you cannot make an assessment of the driver before you jump on.
Once you are on a public transport vehicle it is very hard to get off. You may be traveling through a desolate or dangerous place, or you may not be able to get the drive to stop. Many are the stories I’ve heard of people clamoring to a driver to slow down, only to be confronted with language or cultural barriers. The worst of these cases involve death.
When you are on a motorbike you have complete control of the situation. If the conditions (weather, traffic, road surface) get wildly dangerous you can just slow down or stop. In fact if the weather looks bad you can just roll over in bed and stay another day.
But what about the other drivers I hear you ask? Aren’t they the ones you have to worry about?
On a bike you are constantly monitoring the other traffic on the road, along with the road conditions, presence of any people or animals, the approaching weather, the condition of the bike (engine, tires, fuel, chain) and your own needs (food, accomodation). It all becomes second nature, and if there is too much information to process then you simply slow down or stop. But basically you get used to it.
Cars and trucks will appear around blind corners, will fail to stop at stop lights (I once had a car screech to a halt 3 meters in front of where I had previously been waiting at a red light. That was in the USA), will appear out of side roads, will drift into your lane and will even deliberately drive towards you.
(Actually cars deliberately drive towards you in several places – that’s just local rules of the road in action. I’ll get on to those in another post)
Aside from slowing or stopping, riders can also simply avoid the crazy drivers. Modern motorbikes are generally a lot more powerful than local vehicles, and almost always an erratic or aggressive driver can be waved goodbye with a twist of the throttle.
Failing that I always lets someone that is aggressively on my tail overtake me, and often derive macabre amusement by following the really dangerous drivers, albeit at a safe distance.
To summarize: Ride at a speed that is well within your ability to ride safely