Juvena Huang

Juvena Huang is a motocross rider from Singapore, who switched to the simplicity of a small Vespa in her current endeavor to go see the world. After five months on the road riding through Asia, she has no regrets about her choice. I caught up with Juvena while she was riding through Indian and Pakistan. She talks to us about getting started in the world of motorcycling on her KTM, her adventures on her Vespa, and riding in Singapore. Enjoy! [Rashmi Tambe, Editor]

Women Who Ride: Juvena Huang reaches Cherrapunji, India

Name: Juvena Huang
Age: 28
Country: Singapore
Languages: English, Mandarin, Hokkien, Italian
Years Riding: 8
Height: 5’1″ (156 cm)
Current Motorcycles: Vespa Excel 150
Past Motorcycles: KTM 200 EGS
Kms Per Year: 5,000-6,000

 

Please introduce yourself. My name is Juvena. I was born in Singapore and lived there all my life. I am travelling around the world on my Vespa. I left Singapore on 16th May 2015 and have travelled through Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Nepal and India. Currently I am in Pakistan and will be heading to Iran and then Europe. My don’t have a final destination yet. I have been selected to be a Jupiter’s Traveller under the Ted Simon Foundation.

I have always worked with animals. I was a veterinary nurse for two years after which I moved on to working in nanotechnology and aquaculture research in a polytechnic. I quit my job a few months ago to travel the world on my scooter. I left Singapore on 16th May 2015 and have since travelled to Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, India and Nepal. I have no fixed destination or route, just a journey. I am aiming to ride for as long as I can.

I picked up yoga a year and a half ago to cope with knee injuries from riding. I experienced the benefits of yoga in strengthening my knees and improving my physical and mental well being.  I just completed my one month residential Yoga Teacher Training Course in Rishikesh, India. I hope to be able to use yoga to help bikers relieve their bodies of stresses from riding motorcycles.

Women Who Ride: Juvena Huang camping at Umian Lake, Meghalaya, India

Juvena Huang camping at Umian Lake, Meghalaya, India


Describe your path into motorcycling. 
It was a trip to Vietnam that sparked my interest in Vespas. I wanted to rent a scooter to explore Vietnam but there was no opportunity to do so. A few months after my return to Singapore, I enrolled myself in a driving school to get my motorcycle license. The first bike I got was of course a Vespa scooter.

As I got to know more bikers in the community, I was also exposed to other types of bikes. I thought I was too short to ride a dirt bike.  I got my first experience riding my friend’s DRZ 400 SM. It was exhilarating riding through mud puddles and sliding your rear wheel around the corners in mud and sand. I began saving money to get myself a dirtbike. I got myself a KTM 200 EGS despite everyone telling me that it was not suitable for beginners.

The KTM was tall for me even after changing to a shorter front fork, My feet could not reach the ground when I sat on my bike. It was a comical sight for others to see me with one leg on the ground and the other leg dangling over the seat. I struggled a lot with the seat height and having to kick start the bike. I fell down a lot in the beginning. With encouragement from a good friend who has since passed away, I persevered and got the hang of it.

Women Who Ride: Juvena Huang trail riding in Malaysia

Juvena Huang trail riding in Malaysia

Women Who Ride: One leg dangling in the air!

One leg dangling in the air!

Six years ago, three other lady bikers and I formed a team and took part in an enduro race in Singapore. We finished third out of the five participating teams. In 2009, I finished ninth in the Malaysian Enduro Race and won 50 Malaysian Ringgit. I was the only female rider in that entire series. In another motocross competition, I finished second out of five riders in the ladies category.

Women Who Ride: Juvena tearing up the trails

Juvena tearing up the trails

It was my friend’s sudden passing that drove me embark on this adventure. He passed away in a van accident just one week before he was to begin a motorcycle ride to the Laos-China border. The brevity and uncertainty of life became so much more palpable to me. I decided not to waste any more time and to pursue my dream of travel.

Describe your current motorcycle. I am currently riding a Vespa scooter with manual gears. It is a very simple machine and economical to maintain. The floor board keeps my feet dry when riding through puddles. I like its ample storage space and compartment for spare tyre. The front and rear tyres are the same so I can easily swap them around. Unfortunately, I dislike the tyres because they are small and not very good for bumpy roads and potholes.

Women Who Ride: Juvena Huang rides across Thailand on her Vespa

Juvena Huang rides across Thailand on her Vespa


Why did you pick the Vespa for your round the world ride?
At 156 cm (5’2″) I am vertically challenged. The KTM 200 was a fun bike for riding motocross but it is not a very comfortable bike for going long distance and it consumes lots of petrol. I decided to go with a Vespa because it is a scooter I am familiar with and maintenance is cheap and easy. Mechanical simplicity and parts availability was a plus point when travelling in Asia. It is also a good conversation starter with the locals because its presence is quite ubiquitous in the world.

Women Who Ride: Juvena Huang in Kamphaeng Phet, Thailand with new friends

Juvena Huang in Kamphaeng Phet, Thailand with new friends

What was the most exciting road on your trip so far? It was riding the Manali-Leh Highway solo. It has been on my do-to list for a few years. There are no petrol stations for the entire 365 km stretch of this highway. I had to carry extra petrol because my tank is small. Landslides are very common there so road condition varies a lot and changes quickly. You can get very well paved road for a few kilometres and then the next stretch could be broken. It was also important to plan the ride with enough stops for acclimatisation to the high altitude. Along this highway, I had to cross a few streams, ride against cold winds and snow, and push my scooter near a mountain pass above 5000 metres because I lost power due to low oxygen  in the air. I spent a sleepless night in tented accommodation under sub zero temperatures at 4300 metres.

What was your most difficult day of riding and how did you get through it? It was a day ride up to Khardung La, the world’s highest motorable road at 5, 359 metres. The road was icy and slippery above the snow line. I saw many cars stranded as their rear wheels were spinning and slipping. My friend Saurabh was with me for the journey up. After my first slip, he tied nylon ropes around my tyres which rendered more traction. It was a cheap and ingenious idea! I think I slipped four times on the way up. Picking up the scooter in that low oxygen altitude was more strenuous than usual. My past experience in dirt biking on muddy slippery trails certainly helped. The trick to riding on this kind of road is to go easy and slow on the throttle and brakes.

Have you learned anything about yourself on this trip that you hadn’t realized? Having lived in tropical sunny Singapore my whole life, I realised that I can handle cold pretty well.

You are currently in Pakistan. Did you note any differences between riding there and riding in India? People in Pakistan are very warm and hospitable. After crossing the border and heading towards Lahore, I was given thumbs ups, invited to homes and guided to the correct road by riders. A random rider and pillion ushered and held the traffic so I could cross some junctions. I felt like a VIP. There are less female riders on the road in Pakistan than in India. So riding my Vespa scooter here attracts quite a number of stares of confirmation or curiosity.

Other than that, I feel that riding in Pakistan and India are both very good tests of patience and tolerance. Many people and animals share the road. Many times, it can be so congested that traffic almost comes to a standstill. The usual traffic rules or right of way by western standards do not apply. Checking of blindspots is almost non-existent so you have to anticipate what surrounding riders or drivers may do. In India, my friendly tuktuk driver said, “Driving here, you need Good Horn, Good Brakes and Good Luck.”

There are people who mock scooters as “not real bikes”. What would you say to these people? Really? I have not encountered such people. I would like to ask them what makes a bike real or not. My scooter has brought me to many countries and places. I am happy with it. I do not care about how others define it.

Can you tell us a good story from riding enduros? On the last round in a tag team enduro race, I was quite drained and still very inexperienced on a dirt bike. While riding up a slope in full view of spectators, I turned the throttle too much and backflipped on the bike. Of course, I did not land with my bike. The moment was captured on camera and published in a magazine. Yikes! My friends and I laughed over it for years after it happened.

Women Who Ride: Juvena Huang riding motocross

Juvena Huang riding motocross


Have you made any close female friendships due to motorcycling? 
Yes, I have a few female friends from motorcycling, although most of my close friends are male.

Women Who Ride: Juvena Huang at an enduro race start line with another lady racer

Juvena Huang at an enduro race start line with another lady racer

Women Who Ride: Juvena Huang with adventurer Anita Yusof in Ipoh, Malaysia

Juvena Huang with adventurer Anita Yusof in Ipoh, Malaysia


Is there any other kind of motorcycling that you’d like to try your hand at? 
Although I have been riding for eight years, I have never owned a big cc motorcycle to ride fast on the highway. The fastest I have ridden was 140km/h on a loaned Harley Davidson Dyna Switchback for a day. I do enjoy riding slow and appreciating my surroundings but there are times when I wish I can go faster when the terrain is monotonous.

I would also like to try riding trials bikes one day. It looks very challenging as it requires nifty control and balance.

Do you have any motorcycling heroes? Lois Pryce. I read her second book Red Tapes and White Knuckles. She gave me lots of motivation and courage to pursue the adventure I am on now. Whenever I doubt myself riding solo into unknown territories, I think about her.

A Romanian enduro rider Sorina Sandu is also my inspiration. She is petite but rides the KTM EXC250F like a beast and even participated in Red Bull Romaniacs.

Do you do maintenance and repairs on your bike? Before setting off for this trip, I asked my friend and mechanic to teach me how to repair my Vespa, such as changing the CDI, magnetic coil and tyres. When I overhauled my scooter in Bangkok, the mechanic also taught me how to change the clutch plates. I was also very fortunate to meet an Italian rider who has travelled from Italy to Singapore on his Vespa. He shared with me many useful tips for long distance riding such as keeping the carburetor breathing clean and to change the main jet according to the altitude.

One thing about the Vespa is that it is a very simple machine. I do not claim to know everything about the scooter. However, when it refuses to start, I know where to start troubleshooting. Sometimes it is just a simple problem of the wire connection to the CDI becoming loose. I just had to tighten the connector enough to get the scooter moving to the mechanic so that the connector could be fixed properly.

Although I have learnt all this, when it comes to doing it on my own I do make mistakes. In Guwahati, my clutch was slipping. After checking the clutch, I did not fit my clutch piston properly. When I started the bike, I made the matter worse by damaging the clutch piston. I am not the most competent person to work on my scooter but I do learn from my mistakes the hard way.

Women Who Ride: Scooter overhaul in Bangkok, Thailand

Scooter overhaul in Bangkok, Thailand

If you could change one thing about the world of motorcycling, what would it be? In many parts of the world, the motorcycling community is still very much male dominated. I hope to see more women in motorcycling. If that happens, there may be a bigger market for motorcycles ergonomically suitable for women.

What’s your dream bike? My dream motorcycle would be a dirt bike low enough that I can sit comfortably with both feet reaching the ground. At the same time, it should have enough ground clearance and good suspensions. Actually, I do not ask for much for my dream motorcycle. As long as I feel comfortable handling it and it can take me to many places, it is my dream bike.

RIDING IN SINGAPORE

If I were to visit you and we went riding for one short morning ride, where would you take me? I would bring you riding on Benjamin Sheare Flyover where you can see some of the beautiful skyscrapers of the business district and Gardens By the Bay. We can stop over at Maxwell Food Centre for food. There is a popular chicken rice stall there. [Link to Route]

What’s the best part about riding there? Singapore is a really small country, an urban jungle. It takes only 45 minutes to ride from one end of the country to the other. We do not have much natural landscape to offer but we have beautiful sky scrapers in town. 99% of the roads are smooth and well maintained. For long rides, we usually head to our neighbour Malaysia.

What are the top rides you would recommend? They can cruise along East Coast Park Highway to enjoy the sea breeze and then to Benjamin Sheares Flyover to see the skyscrapers along Singapore River. For scenic and long rides, Malaysia has more to offer. Avid motorcyclists from Singapore usually ride in Malaysia, Thailand and Laos.

What kind of food can riders expect to stop for on the way? Singapore’s population is made up of a few ethnic groups – Chinese, Malay, Indian and Eurasian. We have hawker centres in neighbourhoods and towns, where there are many stalls with common dining area. So, there is a pleothora of cuisines to choose from at one place. I do bring guests to sample Hainanese Chicken Rice, Satay (BBQ meat on sticks) and Laksa. Being a vegetarian, I find many options available in Indian cuisines. Palak paneer is one of my favourite dishes.

How does the topography of the place you live in affect the kind of motorcycling people choose to do? The roads in Singapore are well-maintained and flat. The choice of bikes is very much based on individual preference. We have many varieties of bikes in Singapore from small cc scooter to sports bikes to adventure tourer. We can easily cross the causeway into Malaysia for more highway riding or dirtbiking. 

Women Who Ride: Juvena Huang in Ayutthaya, Thailand

Juvena Huang at Wat Mahathat in Ayutthaya, Thailand


Is it safe to ride at night where you live? 
I do not feel hesitant about riding at night in Singapore. Sometimes, if I was unable to sleep, I would even ride at 3 AM in the morning. In Singapore, most of the roads are well-lit and well-maintained. There are not much animals around too. These are things I have always taken for granted until I started riding in other countries.

Is motorcycle theft a problem? It is not that much of a problem. However, we always say, “Low crime does not mean no crime.”

Are there any motorcycle specific laws? Motorcycles are not allowed in Sentosa Island. Some shopping malls and buildings do not allow motorcycles to park.

Are there any motorcycling related political issues that affect your ability to riding? Due to land scarcity and its high cost, we do not have any legal off-road trails and motorcycle race tracks anymore. We always travel to Malaysia for that. Singapore and Malaysia are connected by two causeways so it is not difficult for us to go there. However, if our motorcycles are non road-registered (e.g. track bikes or motocross bikes), transporting them out of the country on a truck or van may require additional documentations with the customs.

Do you have access to high quality women’s motorcycling gear in your part of the world? Yes, there are many options available for street riding gear. We have Dainese and Japanese brands like RS Taichi and Komine. Dirtbiking gear for ladies is less common. I used to wear kids’ size motocross boots.

What kinds of motorcycling events are held regularly? There are many motorcycle clubs and groups in Singapore. They frequently organise rides and supper meetups in Singapore or Malaysia. When I had my dirtbike, I used to trail ride almost every weekend with Singaporeans and Malaysian bikers in Malaysia.

During Chinese New Year, my Vespa mechanic organises a ride to visit an old folks home to distribute food and ang bao (red envelopes with money). Also, every year there is the 3 Nation Charity Ride for which riders from Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand get together. I attended one four years ago which was also my first time riding long distance on my scooter.

There is no race track in Singapore. Motosports races are usually held in Malaysia.

Women Who Ride: Juvena Huang in Ayutthaya, Thailand

Juvena Huang in Ayutthaya, Thailand


Are any motorcycle related sports popular where you live and do women actively participate in them? 
The population of female riders in Singapore is increasing. However for motorsports, there are only a handful of ladies actively involved.

How are women motorcycle riders treated? I think male motorcyclists are respectful and protective of the ladies. It is pretty evident when I go dirtbiking with the boys. When we fall down, get hungry, thirsty and tired, the guys do not hesitate to help. They take care of the ladies.

Do female and male motorcyclists have the same amount of freedom to pursue motorcycling activities? Yes, both female and male motorcyclists have the same privileges here. favicon



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