Phnom Penh’s motorcycle enthusiasts – brought together by love of adrenaline and speed – put their bikes and courage to the test last week at a secret location
Photo by: MARK ROY
To Kimdarith and Shi Tha take off on their 600cc sport bikes at a secret location outside Phnom Penh.
Motorcycle enthusiast Goh pulls down his visor and settles into his seat. Ahead of him lies a 3-kilometre stretch of empty concrete runway. On either side of Goh's bright yellow Yamaha R1, a handful of other 1000cc sports motorbike riders are also revved up and ready to go.
They are just some of around 35 motorcycle enthusiasts who rode 90 kilometres out of Phnom Penh last week to where they could safely put their bikes through their paces.
The aptly named Goh gives the throttle a quick twist and feels the quick response of the 180-horsepower race engine. He drops the clutch.
Three seconds later, he is travelling at more than 100 kilometres per hour and soon after clocks the top speed for the day: 299 kph - a fraction under Yamaha's factory-listed top speed of 300 kph.
"It was exciting - my heart was jumping," Goh said smiling.
It is this love of adrenaline and speed that brought the group together.
The sport riders meet up regularly in Phnom Penh, getting together in the evenings at Independence Monument and going for road trips to the provinces on weekends.
Photo by: MARK ROY
Motorcycle enthusiast Saraboth Ea (Lee) says the popularity of sport bikes in Cambodia is increasing.
One of the organisers of the day's race, Saraboth Ea - or Lee as he is better known - said riding a sport bike was all about connecting with the surroundings.
"A large part of it is just being with friends, the camaraderie," Lee said. "But when you ride, it is just you and the bike. It's all about the road, the speed and the adrenaline."
Lee said in the past couple of months the number of riders in the group has doubled, with more big motorbikes appearing on the scene.
"When we first started a year ago, there were maybe five sport bikes," he said. "Now I would estimate there are about 50 to 60 bikes like this in the country, and people are moving up from 250cc road bikes to 600s."
He said the loosely affiliated group is now looking to form a motorsport club.
"This is the first wave, the first stage in the evolution of riders in Cambodia," he said.
"Our vision is to make this country a premier destination for motorbike enthusiasts and for sport bike riders in the region."
He said one reason why sport bikes had not been popular in Cambodia in the past was due to a lack of awareness about the machines.
Another big problem faced by fans of imported sport bikes is a lack of local mechanics who can tune, maintain and repair these highly specialised motorcycles.
But Lee is already looking for a solution - one that will have a positive spin-off for more than just the motorcycle owners.
Neth Vipi gets ready to roll down the drag strip.
"This is our first organised ride, but if it is successful we will look at ways of raising money for vocational training for at-risk youth," Lee said.
"We don't have the people with the right skills here to fix these bikes, so we are working with the bike manufacturers to get some mechanics here to teach the master mechanics in Cambodia."
For the organisers of the bike run, promoting safety is a paramount consideration.
Organiser Arunan Permal laid down the rules to those gathered at Independence Monument for the long ride to the runway last week.
"Rule number one: no speeding," he said. "Number two: no overtaking. Number three: turn on your lights. Number four: signal."
But once away from the cars, trucks and cows of the Cambodian highways, the riders regularly put in runs at speeds above 250 kph, testing both mettle and machine in a controlled environment.
The only female rider at the informal race meeting, Jocelyn Roberts, described how it feels to fly along the dragstrip at 257 kph.
"I was not really thinking about anything, just seeing how close to the gas tank I could possibly get," Roberts said.
"The closer you are to the bike, the less speed you feel because there is less friction."
She shrugged as a slow smile spread across her face.
"You basically feel like a rocket."