All they’ll find is your balls,” says Kevin Weiser, a tall, thin Texan transplant who’s been riding dirt-bikes all his life. “They’re protected by the bike frame.”
It’s Sunday morning and a group of Siem Reap dirt-bikers are discussing what would happen if one of them ran over one of Cambodia’s many undetonated landmines.
The riders are talking shop while smoking cigarettes and making minor repairs to their bikes at team mechanic Benny Kramer’s house before they head out on their weekly ride. Today they’ve chosen an easy run – a loop around the West Baray – because there are a few beginners in the pack, but it’s not always a leisurely Sunday drive. Telling war stories is an essential part of the crew’s weekly outings.
Mille Svennson, a Swede working at Soria Moria Boutique Hotel who rode motocross for four years in his homeland, says his friend Christian hit a juvenile cow on National Road 6 at 70 km/hr. Christian survived with only major burns, but the calf was dead before he knew what hit him.
Or there’s the time Mille slipped on a sand patch and crashed in the middle of nowhere, Mondulkiri Province, badly cutting the foot of his girlfriend Maria who was riding on the back.
“Local villagers who saw the crash ran into the forest, came back and spit into some leaves and tied them to her foot with a sarong. Then they yelled at me for crashing,” says Mille. At the undermanned local hospital Mwwille had to help the doctor stitch up Maria’s foot.
The troupe will try to avoid any such disasters on today’s trip. At a petrol stop near the Siem Riep airport, Benny lays out the rules. Number one: Wear your goggles, it’s gonna be dusty. Number two: If the guy in front of you raises his hand there’s danger ahead – slow down and raise your hand for the guy behind you. Number three: Stop at every intersection.
And then, in a cacophony of snarling engines and plumes of exhaust smoke, they’re off.
Half an hour later the crew of eight is getting radical on gnarled dirt roads by the West Baray. Squealing kids with brown teeth wave and make throttling gestures as the riders fly through villages.
One moment they’re buzzing along a straight and levelled road through rice paddies, next they’re navigating hairpin turns on sandy paths through scrub forest, and later sloshing through a muddy pasture.
The group consensus is that the trick to making it through the soft and treacherous sand is to go fast and trust the bike: same with mud, water and bumpy dirt roads. In fact, according to these guys, the solution to any terrain seems to be to gun the throttle and let the bike do the work.
“I can’t ride for shit, I just hold on for dear life,” says Kevin. “I’ve ridden all over the world but Cambodia is pretty hard to beat. There’s not a lot of infrastructure so you have to be more careful in terms of injuries. But you give up that to get more freedom from regulations.”
And Siem Reap is probably the premiere hub in Cambodia for dirt biking. “In Siem Reap you ride 10 minutes out of town and you’re in perfect country,” says Mille. “There may be more riders in Phnom Penh but it takes like two hours to get out of the city to somewhere good.”
For people who want to jump on a hog for a backwoods journey through Siem Riep, there are at least two official dirt bike tour groups in town, Siem Reap Dirt Bikes and Hidden Cambodia, and lots of informal outfits, says Mille.
Today, after more than two hours of riding, the group splits up. The gang is wet and mud-splattered from the waist down and covered with a thick layer of red Cambodian dust. Three of the more intrepid members continue on to more trying terrain, but most have to return to town.
Everyone has a big, shit-eating grin on his face.
Until next Sunday.