▲ Scooter riders on the coastal road near Haengwon-ri last summer. Photo by Kang Bong Soo
Remember that feeling of getting your first bicycle, when your world suddenly expanded from the walk to your best friend’s house to the high-speed exploration of the entire neighborhood. For those who visit or live on Jeju, that feeling is often relived through the rental or purchase of a scooter, which offers the freedom to explore without restrictions.
“Renting a scooter always seems to land me in so many more unexpected adventures while traveling,” said Tara Shivley from Seoul, who explored the island by scooter when visiting with her girlfriend in May.
Because proof of a license is often unnecessary, although required of any vehicle on the road, scooters are typically the transport of choice. Riders are in good company on Jeju, with 18,154 two-wheeled vehicles of more than 50 cc registered. (Motorized vehicles with less horsepower are registered at local offices so no combined figure is available.)
Coastal roads are a favorite path for scooter riders. Although they may add some extra minutes to the trip, those minutes are spent on the go rather than waiting at stop lights – often minutes on end without an approaching car in sight – and offer spectacular views of the surrounding coastline.
“Riding Jeju was fantastic,” Shivley said. She often scoots around Seoul so appreciated the openness of Jeju roads.
“It was so refreshing. The coastal roads were beautiful and the inland roads lush, hilly and an interesting look at Jeju life.”
Although a scooter may open up the island and free its rider from dependency on public transport, the ride certainly doesn’t come without risks. Many drivers make left-hand turns from the far-right lane. Others pull in front of you, only to hit their brakes and park. Cars stick their noses out into oncoming traffic, and decide to see if it’s clear afterwards. No, this isn’t a high school driver’s education course – this is the daily hustle on the streets of Jeju, and what you can expect to encounter when hitting the road.
“Jeju drivers are very tough, and tend to not follow the traffic rules. They don’t know how to yield, how to turn on the blinkers, and enjoy too much speeding. That’s why there are lots of accidents,” said Oh Min Chul, who delivered pizzas on a scooter every day for four years.
Learning to avoid the nuances of the road may be a treacherous learning curve, but manageable with the proper combination of assertiveness and caution. However, possessing an abundance of one trait will not pick up the slack for the other. If you’re too conservative, you may find yourself stuck listening to a sound more overplayed than a Lady Gaga song, the angry chorus of blaring horns from those stuck behind you.
On the flip side, expecting other drivers to watch out for you is reckless. Know when to step on the gas and make your move, but don’t forget to play defense. Ninety percent of those on the road drive as though Park Ji Sung is signing autographs at E-Mart, so expect erratic moves from every car on the road and you’ll never be surprised. Yes, that car just ahead of you on your left may be planning to turn right on that approaching street, and yes, there is a two-year collection of dust resting on its unused blinker.
La Tae Wook, president of the Jeju Scooter Riders’ Club, believes Jeju is a great place for experienced scooter riders, but is weary of inexperienced tourists hopping on bikes.
“I’ve ridden scooters for seven years, and I still get into dangerous situations,” he said. “Visitors drive long distances without much experience. The scooter itself is not dangerous, but if you get into an accident, your body is exposed and much more vulnerable.”
Play it smart. Get a license and stick to quieter roads if you are inexperienced. A scooter may not be the ideal choice for commuting through the city on a daily basis, but certainly can be a great way to get out and explore Jeju off the beaten path.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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