A Woman, a Bike, and the World under Her Wheels

loading A group shot in Mongolia. “I was the only rose among the thorns,” Lin says.

AT HER FRIEND’S insistence, Lin Yeoh clambered on a Honda CB750 one day, slightly petrified at the thought of crashing. The experience instead opened up a whole new world of adventure for the 54-year-old. “I felt the power of the motorcycle; it was intoxicating, very thrilling.”

Now, Lin is no stranger to the two-wheeler, she used to commute to school with her Super Cub. But the rush of adrenaline, once awoken, was hard to shake off. “I decided to get a BMW F800R as a birthday gift to myself. But its launch was so successful, I had to wait for mine to arrive the following year, in 2015.”

It came eventually and soon after, she added a BMW R 1200 GS to her collection. With her eldest son, who is also a biker, she rides to Klang for a hearty meal of bah kut teh; with her girlfriends, she takes one-day shopping trips to Hatyai; and with her biking buddies, she travels the world.

Read also: Biking Through the Valley of Death

Dinner at Elsen Tasarkhai.

Lin has biked to Cambodia, and explored Mongolia. “There were nine of us that flew to Mongolia in 2018. I was the only rose among the thorns,” she laughs. “We rented the Honda XR 250 Baja and rode through the steppes. The place was spectacular, but at one point, we had to ride standing up to avoid puncturing our tyres from gravel. After that, we made our way to the Elsen Tasarkhai, the Sand Dune Mini Gobi.”

In 2019 a Facebook post by the Women Riders World Relay (WRWR) announcing the arrival of its baton to Malaysia prompted Lin’s sign up for the local leg. The relay was meant to alert the motorcycle industry to a growing number of women riders.

“My first meet-up with the group was at Bukit Kayu Hitam where the baton was passed to us by our Thai sisters. The four of us rode from Gerik to Kelantan, and went up to Cameron Highlands where we were joined by a group of KL riders. Together, we continued to Rompin and then to Johor before handing the baton over to our Singaporean counterpart.” In total, the baton traversed 80 countries over 343 days and an estimated 90,000km.

Scrapes and Close Shaves

Preparing to ride uphill to a monastery.

Motorcycle injuries are an unavoidable part of the riding experience, and Lin has certainly encountered her fair share of them. She relates a recent visit to the doctor’s that resulted in a comical exchange. “I was training to stay in form when I suffered a little crack on my wrist. The doctor who treated me didn’t believe I ride a bike. He said I looked like a teacher!” Lin chuckles. “I was a music teacher in fact; I used to teach at a Yamaha Music School. Now, I’m in logistics.”

Lin first took up the sport following her husband’s passing and says she is deeply appreciative of the help and guidance she has received from her biker friends. “My salesman Gary was the first to teach me how to handle a big bike; and whenever we ride to Thailand, my other good pal Tony Chow acts as the sweeper. The leader leads the way for other bikers, while the sweeper makes sure no one gets left behind. In a sense, they ‘bookend’ the group.

“I learned a great deal from Tony; for example, how to counterbalance – shifting one’s weight to the high side of the motorcycle when it is leaning – and how to avoid crashing when rounding a corner at high speed. The trick is to not zero in on the place of danger and the bike will naturally follow.”

Riding in New Zealand just as the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

Recalling her first-ever river crossing, Lin explains, “The river was deep, with the water level just slightly below my waist line. I was close to panicking.” Typically, before a crossing is made, a few riders get into the water to inspect the river’s depth or to see if there are big rocks obstructing the way. The water may be clear, but one can never be too sure of the conditions below the surface, e.g. the rocks could be slippery with algae growth.

“Some of the guys who went before me had fallen in, and against the current, had struggled to pick their bikes up. But when my turn came, they were very supportive, assuring me that they’d catch me if I fall.” Corralling her strength, Lin had plunged ahead. But midway through, her nerves got the better of her. “I was certain I was going to fall. I braced for impact, but it never came because the guys were right behind me, helping me steady my bike!”

Aware of the bias slapped onto male bikers as a rowdy and raucous bunch, Lin counters, “I’ve ridden with men more times than with women bikers and contrary to popular opinion, they are a very caring group; always ready to lend a helping hand when I need to park the bike – because of its size, it’s better to reverse park the motorcycle, and that makes it easier to ride off – or to help me put my bike on full stand.”

A Tour Interrupted by Covid-19

Flag-off day in South Africa.

In 2020, Lin toured South Africa and New Zealand, where she got “stranded” last March when Malaysia announced that it was going into lockdown. She was there to attend BMW’s International GS Trophy 2020. “When I arrived, the pandemic had already begun. The tour was to comprise eight groups of eight riders, I was placed in Group Six but in the end, there were only three of us in it. The other two were from Indonesia and Vietnam, and again I was the only female.

“Since it was unfeasible to just have us three to a group, we combined with Team Five from Taiwan. Having covered Te Waipounamu, the South Island, we took the ferry over to Te Ika-a-Māui, the North Island and finished our tour in Rotorua on March 21. New Zealand entered into lockdown two days later. I was scheduled to leave on March 25, but my flight with Singapore Airlines no longer allowed transit passengers.

“I had to book another flight, to bring me back to Malaysia on April 4. The atmosphere in the airport at departure was tensed and jittery, everyone was anxious to get back home but it seemed that Malaysia was not ready to receive us yet. Our flight stayed grounded for the night, only taking off the following day.”

Upon landing, Lin remembers KL being completely transformed. The army patrolled the city and barbed wires were everywhere. Only 20 passengers were allowed to board the Rapid bus that took them to the hotel, and it was escorted by the police, its sirens deafening against the eerie quiet of the metropolis.

“When we arrived, our luggage was sanitised again and we had to provide personal particulars before being shown to our rooms. We were not allowed to come out for two weeks, and each day, a call would be made to enquire if we had any Covid-19-related symptoms. It was the most adventure-filled tour I’ve ever experienced!”

Next on her list, Lin hopes to ride across Europe this July; in fact, she has started planning for it!

Regina Hoo is the deputy editor of Penang Monthly.

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