Motorbikes crossing Kompong Speu province (L to R): Yamaha R6, Kawasaki, Ducati 848, Honda CBR 60045 300. Photograph: Dylan Maddux/Phnom Penh Post
Dozens of shiny polished power-bikes, Yamaha R6s, Honda CBRs, Suzuki GSXR and even a white Ducati 848 reflect early orange beams from the sun, lighting up the area near Mike’s Burgers on Phnom Penh’s Russian Confederation Boulevard.
It is seven in the morning on Saturday March 9, and in the next hour riders, and in some cases their companions, arrive in their droves: 97 bikes in total.
With more bikes and people, most of them Cambodian, filling the car park under the rising sun, the excitement rises too.
“Everybody is hyped, riding together on a long distance on a nice stretch of road,” says Chan Cee, one of the bikers and also an organiser of the event – a 250-kilometre ride from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville.
But this is not a weekend joyride for the crowd geared-up in leather, riding boots, knee pads, jackets, helmets and gloves.
The bikers want to raise awareness for responsible and sober driving, sponsored by Top1 Motor Oil and Cambodia’s largest brewer – Angkor Beer.
“We need to educate the Cambodian people about road safety and discourage them from drinking and driving,” says Chi Morning, the marketing manager of Angkor Beer.
The latest figures from public health NGO Handicap International Belgium, published in August 2012, show a lack of road safety is cause of a “public health crisis”.
Chariya Ear, the program manager of Handicap International Belgium says that, from what it looks like at the moment, the number of traffic casualties “is not really improving” in 2013 either.
Accidents in 2011 killed 1,905, and seriously or slightly injured 15,420 and 22,860. Crashes caused financial damage of 2.4 per cent of the Cambodian GDP in 2011 – $310 million, a rise of 11 per cent compared to 2010.
The dangers involved in motorbiking are proven during the rally. Halfway to Sihanoukville one of the bikes flips over several times and crashes onto the asphalt at over 100 kilometres per hour. The bike lies totally damaged next to the motionless driver.
The whole squadron stops. Luckily he isn’t hurt, picks himself up and can travel on after a few minutes – on the press truck.
One of the bikers later says: “If it wasn’t for his protective gear he probably wouldn’t be alive.”
The bikers are aware of the importance of protective gear. Yet some concerns remain.
Lao Lyhock of sponsor Top1 Motor Oil used to ride a powerful bike himself. Now he travels down to Sihanoukville in the press truck.
“My wife doesn’t want me to ride anymore. We just had a baby two months ago.”
When the bikers arrive in Sihanoukville they parade through the streets, drawing a huge crowd. One biker says: “I don’t think they ever saw so many powerful bikes at once.”
A dinner ends the first day of the rally. Everybody comes on their bikes.
Lyhock and Cee give speeches on the importance of road safety and responsible driving. The bikers collect money – totalling more than $2,000.
They will donate it to support traffic victims – a hospital perhaps, says Cee.