Bagan bike trials
I like bicycles. Pedalling around Asia’s historic sites in an unhurried manner, stopping when I want and lingering for as long as I like is by far the best way to enjoy them. Bagan, the recently anointed UNESCO World Heritage site in Myanmar, is a hot dusty plain. Mostly flat but with the remains of some 3,500 pagodas scattered between fields and scrub across an area of about 104 square kilometres. Perfect for bicycles.
But then I had read somewhere that e-bikes were de rigueur in Bagan. I had no idea what an e-bike was but I had seen a type of bicycle, a little chunkier looking than normal bikes, with some kind of power-assisted pedals in Mui Wo, on Lantau island, Hong Kong. So I put two and two together and rather liked the answer.
Unfortunately, it was the wrong answer. When I got there I discovered that they were, in fact, more like old Lambretta and Vespa scooters. Not as elegant and a little boxier but, no matter, I’d ridden scooters before albeit a long time ago. So I decided to give it a whirl.
Where do I switch it on? I asked the girl in the e-bike rental place a few doors from my hotel. “It’s already on,” she said, pointing at a brightly lit battery indicator next to a little key. “This is to go,” she tapped the right handlebar,” and this is the brake,” she said squeezing the familiar-looking handle on the left. “Got it?” I think so I replied.
I listened hard but the bike remained totally silent. “Right side to go,” she reminded me. Gingerly I gave the handle a little twist and, without any warning at all, the bike sprang forward like a startled gazelle. I clung to the wretched thing for dear life but that only encouraged it. I hadn’t even had time to lift my feet up and so I skied along the ground kicking up a cloud of dust and gravel and upsetting the neighbourhood dogs. As I reached frantically for the brake my whole life passed before me.
I’m not sure which deity intervened but I somehow managed to stop the thing. The panic-stricken girl from the shop came running up behind. “Are you alright?” she gasped. I’m fine I replied nonchalantly, have you got any bicycles?