SINGAPORE – Ever since Boorman and McGregor took a pair of BMW GS motorcycles on a series of very long rides, they injected serious popularity into the concept of adventure biking: Take the SUV-equivalent of a motorcycle and ride it really far.
Since The Long Way Round in 2004, the adventure bike segment has boomed, and people wanting to ride around the world on two-wheels is actually quite common. It’s no longer seen as the insane ‘leave-civilisation-behind-while-eating-rats’ sort of undertaking the modern pioneers of ‘adventure biking’ like Ted Simon and Chris Scott had to go through.
But here’s a long ride of a rather different sort: Singaporean Juvena Huang, will ride her Vespa Excel 150 from here all the way to Europe, and quite likely beyond. She’s dubbed her journey ‘The Wandering Wasp’ (‘Vespa’ is Italian for ‘wasp’).
While the word ‘wanderlust’ has become sullied by hipsters and bored office workers wanting to take a package tour to Langkawi, Juvena really does embody the proper ideal of the term.
For starters, she has a set-off date (May 16), a general direction in mind and a semi-confirmed, semi-final destination, but everything else is literally to be made up as she goes along.
In contrast to other long bike rides, which are now typically planned down to the last detail, Juvena’s approach is refreshingly old school, saying she intends to ride “as far as my travel fund, my mental and physical well being can take me,” and possibly even as far as South America.
“I intend to head to Europe,” says the 27-year-old, who’s currently working as a research assistant, “but I have no fixed timeline or route. The latter will definitely change, depending on the actual conditions I encounter, but the only requirement so far is for me to reach Europe before winter sets in.”
It’s a route that will take her through Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, India, Armenia and Georgia, at the very least. By her own words she’s going to take her time and arrive in Europe in March 2016. She also intends for one destination to be Pontedera, Italy, which is the birthplace of Vespa (the Piaggio factory) – that in itself is a journey of 13,000km.
A flexible route like that might imply Juvena doesn’t know what she’s doing, but nothing could be further from the truth: Her Vespa Excel has been undergoing ‘prototyping’ for years, along with numerous (each in excess of 300km) test rides and shakedowns to make sure all the parts do their job reliably.
With the adventure bike craze, choosing a scooter to go really really far might seem strange, but it’s not as illogical as you might think: They’re light, efficient and good at carrying loads, so the same things that make them excellent workhorses also make them good tourers.
Juvena researched scooter touring, and found out about Giorgio Bettinelli who journeyed hundreds of thousands of kilometres on his Vespa, and she also met a couple who rode from Italy to Singapore and then on to Central America on a scooter, a properly old-school, on-the-fly method of touring.
And speaking of old-school adventure riders, Juvena’s being assisted by The Ted Simon Foundation, and has been accepted as one of ‘Jupiter’s Travellers’. The foundation provides support and advice, though not financial support. And that highlights another fact about Juvena’s journey: It’s being entirely self-funded, without corporate or charity sponsorship.
Juvena’s planned visas all the way to Pakistan for now, but to her, the actual riding is far from the hardest thing: “Visa applications and negotiating carnet de passage fees are the biggest challenges,” she says, although she also admits a more personal challenge is,“…learning to let go of familiar things and comforts here in Singapore!”
For Juvena, motorcycling was a decision tied directly to a desire to see more of the world. She recounts a trip to Vietnam in 2006, where scooters and especially Vespas are a common form of transport. Seeing them up and close inspired her to obtain a motorcycle license and a Vespa of her own – the same Excel 150 seen here, which she’s owned since 2007.
“After that trip, I realised I knew very little about the world, but I’ve always had an insatiable curiosity to see new things. After graduating from poly I wanted to travel long term, but got caught up in the rat race, so I put the idea at the back of my head until now.”
Anyone who takes up motorcycling here gets drawn into the circle of Singapore’s riding community, and it was those friends who also inspired and helped her into dirt-biking – another skill that will come in handy on her epic journey west.
“With the dirtbike or scooter, I’ve never felt so much freedom, and with that I also gained confidence in myself too,” she says proudly.
Friends within the biking community were also pivotal in inspiring and helping Juvena be on her own journey of discovery. Juvena is friends with Goh MC who, along with his wife Samantha, were the first Singaporean couple to travel around the world by motorcycle and they provided her with plenty of advice and encouragement.
But one of the key catalysts for the ride was a tragedy, that also eventually became a source of inspiration
Juvena’s close friend, Lawrence Tan, was also an avid rider and tourer, once pillioning his own mother all the way to North Thailand. Unfortunately, he passed away in a car accident just a week before he was due to take a trip all the way to the Chinese border.
“Experiences like that made me realise just how uncertain and short life can be, so I decided not to let anything hold me back from travelling, and being able to do so while I still have the opportunity to,” she muses.