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How to ride a motorbike sidesaddle in Cambodia

Published on: 10th November, 2013

When I first arrived in Asia, I was awed by the effortless grace of women on motorbikes, sitting nonchalantly sidesaddle on the pillion. After careful observation, a bit of practice and a surprising lack of toppling, I joined their ranks. Visiting new countries is all about experiencing different ways of doing things, so here’s our advice on how to ride like a lady (or a monk).

Keep your feet away from that exhaust!

Keep your feet away from that exhaust!

The first thing to note is that sidesaddle is more comfortable and secure than it looks. It means you won’t find yourself pressed up against a motodop (motorbike taxi driver) in a position that would usually require him to get to know you a bit better first. You can get off the bike quickly if you need to. And, of course, it looks cool.

For beginners, we’d recommend a Dailim or other motorbike with a large, flat backseat. Before you start, locate the foot peg on the left hand side of the motorbike. Don’t ride with your legs on the right side. This is where the hot exhaust is and you’re likely to get a ‘Cambodian kiss’ — a very painful and rather ugly looking burn on your calf. You will sometimes see women or monks doubled-up on a the back of a moto, one facing left and one facing right, but this is an advanced level position.

Experiment with one of the four main riding styles:

The Trailing Leg: A common posture, allowing for a quick dismount. The right leg is placed on the peg, with the left leg hanging freely in the air. Flip-flops are quite easily lost this way.

The Crossover: The most secure seating, which involves a little bit of set up before you move off. The right leg is placed on the peg, as above, but the left leg crosses over it at the ankle. This allows you to keep your knees together — handy if you’re wearing a skirt.

The Secretary: A wonderfully demure position that makes the passenger look as though she’s just finished taking a dictation. With the right leg on the peg, the left leg is crossed over the right knee. Be careful not to kick other motorists as your driver weaves through traffic!

The Dangle: If you’re unfortunate enough not to have passenger pegs, there’s no option but to do the dangle. This might require you to hold on to the seat with your right hand, especially over bumps. Hybrid positions are possible — combining the dangle with the crossover is a common variation on technique.

Extreme dangling.

Extreme dangling.

And now for the sensible bit. Wonderful though it is to have the wind rushing through your hair, your brains doing the same is not a good look. We’d recommend a helmet. You’ll thank yourself for spending those $10 if you get in an accident. If you’re carrying a bag, always position it between the motodop and your body, to deter thieves.

Do you prefer slow and sedate? If sidesaddle seems too much of a challenge, try relaxing in a cyclo instead.

About the author:
Abigail has been stoned by villagers in India, become an honorary Kenyan tribeswoman, sweet talked border guards and had close encounters with black mambas. Her motto is: “Live to tell the tale.”

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