Two-wheeling around Cuenca

10/Noviembre/2011 | 14:25

By Deke Castleman

Far more than just transportation, motorcycles have always been associated with thrill-seekers and daredevils, rebels and outlaws, escapists and freedom-lovers. Motorcycles have always symbolized a rejection of the scheduled, segmented, and stressful lifestyle of the work-a-day world.

In Cuenca, thanks to the walkability of El Centro, buses circulating continuously through the city, and taxi cabs costing a couple dollars, most gringos don't miss having motorized machines at the ready. That said, die-hard bikers still need their fix.

Practically speaking, motorcycles are cheaper to run, more flexible in traffic, easier to park, simpler to repair, harder to tow, and way more fun and cool than cars. The rumble of the engine, the wind in your hair, the smell of the great outdoors,  the feel of being part of, and not just driving through, everything around you - it all has an addictive quality that's hard for enthusiasts to kick, no matter where in the world they may be.

Take Bill Slaughter. This ex-hedge-fund-manager expat has been riding motorcycles his whole life, receiving a small bike for Christmas when he was seven. He went on to race Ducatis professionally from 1986 to 1992. "After a great six-year run," he recalls, "I traded the Ducatis for Harleys -- and a longer life."

He lived in Cuenca for all of four months before he bought a brand new KTM 990 Adventure, even though he claims that it's "honestly dangerous" to ride a motorcycle in Ecuador. "On the other hand, the roads and scenery are incredible. Also, I get forty miles to the gallon on the highway and around twenty-eight in the city, averaging about six dollars a week in gas. And," the ex-racer adds, "the police can't catch a big bike, and they don't really try."

Then there's Randy Kimbler, who started riding a motorcycle at the age of 16 in Washington state. "I've been riding ever since," he says, "and I've owned numerous motorcycles. In fact, at various times in my life, I haven't owned a car, but I've never been without a motorcycle. And when I've owned a car, I rode my bike so often that it wasn't uncommon for the car battery to go dead from sitting so long."

Randy Kimbler had lived in Cuenca even less time than Bill Slaughter when he bought his Yamaha DT175 Enduro, which he calls "a great bike for around town."

Driving a bike in Cuenca took some getting used to, because of the traffic. "Right-of-way has to do with who's bigger on the road. Once you get that down, riding a motorcycle in Cuenca is great," he says.

Karen Kimbler caught the biker bug from husband Randy. At first, she says she was "terrified" of motorcycles. Eventually, Karen got the hang of it and along the way, Karen and Randy discovered scooters. She explains, "A scooter was perfect for me. I didn't have to remember to shift when turning or stopping. Just twist and go!"

The Kimblers belonged to a scooter club in the States and found they missed the camaraderie and the group riding, prompting them to start a similar club in Cuenca in conjunction with the local Honda dealer. "We'll start small and let it grow slowly. We plan on doing weekly rides around Cuenca and to surrounding towns on Sundays when there is less traffic. We'll expand the trips as members become comfortable with riding in Ecuador," Randy says. Karen adds, "We're hoping that our core group will attract other scooter enthusiasts. It won't be limited to gringos or Honda owners," Karen adds.

Finally, we have Diane Ferchel, who learned to ride in Cuenca two years ago when she moved to the country.

"It's a twenty-minute ride outside of town," she explains, "so a motorcycle is the most inexpensive and efficient form of transportation back and forth. Gas costs me about four dollars a week."

Diane's bike, a Sinski 150 that she bought from a friend, is compact, so it's easy to park; it also has small compartments on each side, so she can tote around most of her needs. "I have chickens and I get sawdust from a local mill for the coop," she says. "It comes in a gigantic sack, which I tie right to the saddle."

Diane waxes eloquently about the joys of motorcycle riding in Cuenca. "Ecuador is a paradise with amazing views -- mountains, giant clouds, pueblos. I like that I'm not shut off in a box of metal and glass, so that nature is accessible. I've taken many long rides off side roads that have led me deep into beautiful lush valleys that are surprisingly close to Cuenca. And the climate here is super conducive to riding a moto."

As for driving in the city, Diane says, "Unlike in the States, where you have to obey traffic laws, here it's more spontaneous and fluid; you use your good judgment. And yes," she smiles, "I get lots of looks from locals, but…I find them very accepting and considerate."

Whether it’s on a Harley hog or a Honda scooter, more and more gringos will, no doubt, strap on their helmets and go riding off into the Ecuadorian sunset.