Sunday 31 January 2010

I rode on a Harley with the Sultan of Johor and survived

When I read about the death of Sultan of Johor Iskandar Ismail a week ago, my first thoughts were of his love of motorcycles and my disinclination to hug another man.

In 1994, even though I have never ridden a motorcycle in my life, I recklessly accepted an invitation to cover the Singapore Harley Owners Group's first road trip to Desaru.

Accompanying us was the Sultan on his own Harley-Davidson Road King motorcycle.

And accompanying him was a phalanx of motorcycle cops, who rode ahead to ensure that all traffic on the Malaysian roads parted before us like the Red Sea before Moses.

You know how when you go to Malaysia, you'll inevitably get stuck in a traffic jam? Maybe, just maybe, it's because you're not the Sultan of Johor. Or part of his 30-strong motorcycle convoy.

All the riders were warned not to overtake the Sultan or they would be arrested on the spot.

But His Highness sped off so fast that we only caught up with him when he stopped for his numerous cigarette breaks

Hey, he was the Sultan - who was going to give him a speeding ticket?

I was assigned to ride pillion with Harley's Singapore motorcycle manager, Mr Richard Park.

As a motorcycle virgin, I was terrified for my life. Two things my mother had forbidden me to do because they would kill me were smoking and riding a motorcycle. The Sultan enjoyed both and lived till he was 77.

My other, bigger problem was that being a hetero albeit wussy mummy's boy afraid of motorcycles, I didn't want to hold on to Mr Park's ample torso, which was what riding pillion entailed.

In the first place, I had just met Mr Park. In the second place, I already had a girlfriend.

But I couldn't back out for fear of appearing wussy or homophobic.

So I managed to get on the bike behind Mr Park without touching him and leaned back as far away from him as physically possible on the small seat while I held on for dear life to the railing at the back.

But I was nervously aware that my crotch was mere millimetres from his buttocks throughout the long journey. If he should step on the brake suddenly ...

Thankfully, we reached Desaru without incident in time for a buffet lunch.

In a good mood, the Sultan then invited all of us to his palace for a visit. But this time, at Mr Park’s request, I rode in the standby car instead because I was cramping his riding style (or so he claimed).

After some royal snacks and a group photo at Istana Bukit Serene, the bikers headed back to Singapore with me in the car again.

Without the Sultan, we naturally found ourselves stuck in a massive traffic jam.

I missed His Highness - and strangely, also Mr Park.

- Published in The New Paper, 31 January 2010

Hello SM,

Read you funny article in The New Paper on Sunday. LOL

You have a good memory. I forgot all about you on the back of my bike, it was so long ago! My wife asked me about it and I recall now how totally scared you were when you were riding pillion. That was really funny.

Of course we were all much younger then and I joined BMW Asia 2 years ago.

I miss the rides with the Sultan too! He used to make me laugh, he was actually quite a fun to talk with.

Take care
Richard Park