The thrill of the ride makes their wheels go ’round.
By Aiden Jewelle Gonzales
“I drove my car to work the other day and it bored me,” was one of the many revelations I heard when I visited the Thailand International Bikers (TIB) at their de-facto headquarters at SUMO Bike & Car Wash by Sector 11 Garage. “Once you’ve learned to ride, there’s nothing like it,” they concurred, “we’re like a family here, brought together by a shared love for bikes.”
Walking through the cacophony of revving motors and banter, I reflect that despite living in a city where delivery bike drivers are ubiquitous and motorbike taxis the norm, there’s something special about a group that’s dedicated their time to cultivating a passion for the ride. Borne out of a bike trip to Ayutthaya in March 2019, the TIB started with six bikers and grew to become one of the largest active biker groups for foreigners in Thailand, with over 800 members on Facebook and 300 on their active LINE chat.
Around 20 of the active members are Indian and heavily involved in the meetups; a chance to form bonds with community members outside of Indian-centric events and societies. “Nationality, gender, or age aren’t an issue,” I’m told. Here, the only identity that matters is the love for the open road (and a driver’s license). In fact, their youngest member is university-aged while their oldest – “ride till you die!” they tell me with a laugh.
‘Leave no one behind’ is the, well, driving force behind the group, which exists as a platform for riders in Thailand to meet, plan rides, and share unique and unexplored routes without feeling intimidated. “We’ve got each other’s backs,” they tell me, “whether it’s the easier routes or the ‘twisties’ – the winding roads that take a lot of experience to navigate.” To that end, different skill sets are accommodated through smaller sub-groups during rides, with a designated leader and a sweeper at the back to ensure no one gets left behind.
Meeting once or twice a week at the Sector 11 Garage, W District, or Phuton Café near the Grand Palace, the group plans trips out of Bangkok on the weekends, often with an overnight stay. A single day trip, I’m told, would be a ride of no more than 400km, but overnight trips have no limit – a trip to the “unparalleled roads” of the North could track up to 700km in a single day, whereas a trip down south to Phuket would rack up around 850km a day.
Ever on the – literal and proverbial – roll, the TIB recently collaborated with Royal Enfield thanks to one of their members, test riding 14 of the brand’s bikes on a trip to and around Khao Yai. “It was amazing,” they enthused, “they planned our route and gave us a photographer, designated marshals, and a service car, and we got the chance to explore the breathtaking routes of Khao Yai.” Despite the dream come true, however, the group is nowhere near ready to retire. Future prospects include a trip to India to “conquer the mighty Himalayas in the Leh and Ladakh region,” and then after? The open road beckons.
I talked to Tieme Willems, the group’s founder, and Pranay Sood, an admin of the TIB, on their inspiration and the challenges associated with a group that has such cachet in the biker’s community.
What inspired you to start biking?
Tieme: I’ve been biking my whole life. When I was 15 years old, I bought my first bike, a Honda MT5, and the rest is history. My life feels better when on two wheels.
Pranay: Growing up in New Delhi, I’ve always seen family members ride bikes as a functional vehicle. However, my interest developed after watching the movie Dhoom (2004), after which I dreamed of owning a big bike, especially a Suzuki Hayabusa. I currently own a Kawasaki z900, but I have plans to buy the new Hayabusa model in 2021.
What’s special about the TIB as a riding society?
Tieme: There are two types of bikers: those who ride to ride and those who enjoy the social aspect. TIB is all about the second type of riders, like me. I have never been on the track nor do I follow the races. It’s all about the community; we leave no one behind.
What do you wish for the TIB to achieve, ultimately?
Tieme: I want us to grow and to make friends on the road. I see TIB as a platform where people can interact and connect with each other while exploring the picturesque roads and destinations in Thailand, maybe even with off-road endure-bikes in Thailand and beyond.
Pranay: Going forward, we see a lot of possibilities to collaborate with international biker groups because there are a lot of great riding routes in Thailand which many people are not aware of.
What are your biggest challenges as the group’s admin?
Tieme: Organisation and logistics – considering that our group has hundreds of people from diverse backgrounds, it can be hard to keep everyone satisfied. We always try to find common ground while ensuring each member’s experiences are unique and enjoyable.
Pranay: Planning routes is the easiest part for me since I’ve been exploring Thailand for the last four years, especially the lesser-known roads. However, with such a diverse group, it’s a challenge to understand people’s skills and expectations and engage with each member on a personal level. We’ve adapted and learned from each ride to find the perfect balance between safe and fun.
How do you inspire everyone to continue being active members?
Tieme: Thailand’s landscape is constantly changing, so we will never run out of fascinating new roads, routes, cafes, fuel stops, and quirky characters on our adventures.
Pranay: For me, the ride is more important than the destination so for our day trips, I always try to find new routes that bypass the boring highways and take us past fields and lakes. We try to avoid going to the same destinations in the same month, and suggestions can come from any member. To engage our newer members, we usually do one short morning ride for breakfast every month.
I also got the chance to speak to four of the group’s active Indian members on what they get out of the group and how it’s brought them closer as a community:
REHAN MEHTA, FROM MUMBAI:
What inspired you to start biking?
I started riding after moving here to Thailand, to commute to work. After a few weeks in the saddle, though, I fell in love with riding. Even the commute started to bring up memories of Dhoom (2004). Since then, the rides have gotten longer and the bikes have gotten bigger, but every time I turn the key, it’s the same excitement.
How do you find the TIB different from other biker groups?
Pranay invited me to join one of the TIB’s meetups last year, and I was expecting it to be like some of the other biker meetups I’d attended in the past, which had toxic environments and were full of condescending people. However, it was the opposite – full of a welcoming group of bikers that gave me the feeling of being part of something bigger than myself.
What do you get out of the group, both socially and in your biking?
Compared to some other members, I’m still relatively new to biking. The group’s more experienced members helped me to learn essential riding skills that you probably won’t pick up riding up and down the same route to the office. The group chat on LINE is very active and a constant source of helpful advice on bike maintenance, gear, ongoing promotions, etc. Socially, I am happy to say that the group has given me many new friends who share a common passion. It’s like a second family.
What was your most unforgettable ride?
I did the longest single day ride of my life with the group – 853 km, from Bangkok to Phuket. That was an unforgettable experience, albeit a pretty straightforward ride. We started at 4am, and were almost immediately lashed with heavy rain. I had puddles in my boots all the way to Phuket, but at least I learned the importance of waterproof pants and boots.
UTSAV RAJORIA, FROM AJMER:
What interested you in biking?
Since I was a kid, I’ve always been fascinated by bikes. When I came to Bangkok, I noticed the biking scene here was quite prominent. After buying my first bike, I got interested in biking and doing both long and short rides with my mates.
What do you enjoy most about being part of the TIB?
It’s not just a riding group, but a very good place to meet both locals and expats and hear their experiences living and riding in Thailand. Also, there are many experienced riders in the group who know scenic routes to many places in Thailand and they share this knowledge with the group. The best parts for me are the meetups which are organised almost every week, which is where you get to know the other members of the group.
What’s your fondest memory with the group?
Being in the group gave me the chance to meet the other Indian members and we had organised a Diwali celebration a couple of weeks back which, for me, was quite memorable as I always miss being with my family on Diwali. This time, however, I can say that I celebrated with my TIB family.
KOUSHIK PAUL, FROM KOKATA
When did you first start biking?
I started when I was 14 years old! The first bike I ever rode was a Hero Honda sleek in India. Initially, it was meant for my daily commute but I soon realised that bikes give you freedom and a chance to escape reality. My slogan is, ‘ride with emotion and feel the throttle thumps like a heartbeat.’
What do you get out of the TIB?
It’s an amazing way to socialise with people from different countries, not only expats but locals as well. From a biking perspective, people here are really knowledgeable and always try to push members to learn new techniques. With the TIB, I never feel alone despite being away from my home country.
What is the biggest challenge for you within the group?
I’m an extrovert so it was no problem mingling with different people. However, I was initially intimidated by the thought that everyone in the TIB would have big bikes while I initially had a Kawasaki Z300, a 300cc bike. However, they don’t leave anyone behind no matter what bike you have – they enjoy riding together in a group.
What’s your favourite anecdote from being with the group?
During our Royal Enfield trip to Khao Yai, my wife Tulika joined us and it was a mesmerising experience for us. We enjoyed vlogging the entire journey and we even rode in the rain without our gear – it was the best experience!
ANUJ BEDI, FROM NEW DELHI
What do you love about biking?
I remember my joy, the rush, and my excitement when I first started riding, and I still feel the same way every time I gear up and sit on my bike. Riding inspires me every day, giving an exciting perspective to life. It teaches me about discipline, freedom, passion, and safety. Also, I think it’s the best way to see any country, especially the scenic Thailand. For me, it’s essential – no ride, no life.
What do you love best about the TIB?
TIB is not just a biking group, it’s a community; a family that grows every day. I’ve connected with several Thai, Indian, and international people through the TIB, and their partners as well. We help each other with any biking-related information, troubleshooting, new gear, and riding skills. For me personally, I am glad to be a part of, and learn from, the TIB family.
What was your best ride with the group?
The ride to Khao Yai with TIB and Royal Enfield. Not only was it a great ride with fellow TIB members, but we also we got to embrace our Indian heritage riding the REs here in Thailand, reminiscing about our more youthful days.