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Archive for October, 2008

Moto Montevideo

Posted by urufish on October 29, 2008


With the spring comes hordes of motos flooding the streets of Montevideo.  In the winter, you still see a lot of motos on the road but when it warms up, you see more.. many more. 

This year I decided to buy one myself to get around those days when my wife has the car and I need to go somewhere in town.  Up north, I drove 350-500cc scooters because I did a lot of highway commuting and I long ago tired of gear shifting.  I haven’t seen the fun in it for years.  Here, it’s all city so something smaller works out better.  I settled on a 200-300 size range scooter.  With all the stop signs, one way streets and traffic, a manual transmission would have been masochistic.   

I first checked for used bikes.  Unfortunately, used bikes in Montevideo are ‘really’ used.  On top of that, the depreciation is minimal so I switched to new bikes.  Spent a few weeks reading through the Gallito then I went around to several motorcycle stores, windowshopping.  Finally, I got to the tire kicking stage. 

Bikes in Uruguay come in 2 basic flavours.  The traditional Japanese bikes like Suzuki, Honda, Yamaha, etc. and the Chinese bikes.  These are the newcomers at half or less the price than the Japanese bikes.  For a new 250 in Montevideo, you will pay over USD2K for a Chinese bike.  Within the Chinese community, there are a couple of brands that are known for good quality.  Keeway is the best out of mainland China.  Kymco is the best out of Taiwan. 

In the last week of shopping I looked at a Suzuki Burgman 400; a 250 Chinese knockoff of the Burgman, a Keeway 125 scooter, a Kymco 250 scooter and lastly, a Yasuki ‘Ring’ 150 scooter. 

I had a Burgman 400 in Toronto.  On the pro side, I loved everything about that scooter in Toronto.  On the con side, it’s very expensive here in Uruguay, but even more important, it really is too big for inner city driving–which is where i spend most of my time. 

The chinese knockoff of the Burgman was a non starter.  I took it out for a test drive and every pothole I hit resulted in a clanging sound of metal on metal.  The dealer said that’s how they’re made.  Sayanora knockoff. 

The Keeyway 125 was very nice.  A little too sporty for my tastes but it had good pickup.  The knockout was the size and feel.  You sit up close to the handlebars.   I like a bike you are further back with.  Gives you better balance.  I felt I was going to go over the handlebars on tight turns and quick stops. 

The Yasuki Ring, even though it was a 150, didn’t have any more power than the Keeway125.  Probably that’s because Keeway is a better make.. higher quality.. better engineering.   The knockout for the Ring was quality.  You could literally hear everything rattel on bumpy roads.  That’s why it’s so cheap.  It’s made cheap.  It also had the same problem as the Keeway.  It’s a small frame bike.  You sit almost on top of the handlebars. 

I ended up buying the Kymco250.  I did some research on Kymco first.  Kymco is the leading brand in Taiwan. It’s sold in the US.  It has a good service record.  Taiwan chinese are picky when it comes to their bikes.  So I went to the distributor and checked it out. 

The distributor for Kymco in Montevideo is the Harley Davidson importer.  That says something about the quality of Kymco w.r.t. service.  They’re not used to servicing bikes for silly problems.  The same company is also the rep for Citroen in Uruguay.  The scooter comes with a 2 year guarantee.  That’s something relatively new in Uruguay.  

The bike is finished as good as any Japanese bike I’ve seen.  Probably because Kymco made bikes for Honda for years.  The bike was well thought out.  Underseat storage was big enough for a full face helmet and rain gear.  It has discs front and back.  It has an ‘assisted’ braking system.. 60% on the rear–40% up front.  That way you can brake all the time with your left hand and not ‘dive’.  In an emergency, gripping the left brake tightly, you have a lot more rubber on the ground to stop you. 

It’s also got a few high end toys.  Electric retracting side view mirrors and a cell phone charger subsystem under the seat for very long talking periods in rainy weather.  I thought the retracting mirrors were a useless trinket until today.  I had to park the bike in a space for motos that was packed tightly.  By retracting the mirrors, there’s less chance of damage to them or a neighbour’s bike.  As for the cell phone charger, it is nice to have someplace to charge your phone if you forget to do it at home. 

Starting is instant and the throttle holds the bike on its own until the engine warms up.   It’s a little rough at idle because there’s no fule injection.  You have to go to the 500cc (and up) to get that.  The weight is perfect for intown driving.  Today, I had to park downhill.  I had to back out uphill when I left.  Try that with a Burgman 650 or even a 350.  Piece of cake with the 250.    Montevideo allows you to make your own lane and weave in and out of traffic as you please.  That’s a double edged sword.  Great for making time but I’m sure it contributes to a good % of accidents.  The 250 is small and nimble enough to be able to bob and weave in the tightest places. 

Acceleration is very good and smooth.  Top end isn’t really suited for highway IMHO.  Firstly, they tell you not to go over 70kmh for the first 1000km.   I’m lucky to get 50km on the bike a week.  That means a year at least before I can go on the highway????  But more importantly, it labours at 100kph.   Haven’t tried to go any higher than that for fear of damaging something at <100km on the scooter.  I figure I’ll cross the 100km mark tomorrow. 

The passenger’s seat is more like a throne.  Very wide.  Very comfortable and a little too high for my tastes, but the rider loves the view.  He/she’s high enough to see over your head.  Both of you shares bugs in the teeth.  A very liberal scooter.  The downside to having your passenger that high is balance.  Several times I’ve been waiting for the light to change and all of a sudden, find myself struggling to keep the bike upright.  My passenger has decided to lean over for some reason, taking me and the bike with them.  While underway, this presents no problems at all, unless your passenger has some kind of death wish.  

I dont much like the dashboard.  It’s 100% LCD.  As a computer geek, you’d think I like this kind of stuff, but I’m more practical than geeky, given a choice.   I’m sure they did for one (or maybe both) of two reasons.  It impresses a lot of purchasers.  It’s cheaper to make.  Call me old fashioned, but I prefer analog gauges or at least numbers.  I think it’s dumb to count black boxes and divide.  Eg.  a warm engine has 3 boxes..

Today, I decided it was time to get my local license.  I’d been driving around on my Ontario license for the past 2.5 years.  Legally, I was supposed to get my local license when I received my residenty.  Definitely because I’m here for periods longer than 90 days.  I avoided it because it seemed complicated and my spanish wasn’t (still isn’t) very good.  The last time  I went for the license, it was to Maldonado and it was a disaster.  The whole story is in another post. 

Today, I had made all the preparations.  I talked with several people who said it would be easy.  My wife called a few days ago to make sure we had everything we needed.  But this is Uruguay, so expect surprises. 

We decided to get our licenses in Montevideo.  I hear it’s easier in Canelones, but hey, no pain.. no gain.  So we showed up with all our documents and were told we didn’t have the right medical certs.  We had to go around the corner and spend another forty bucks to get the right ones.  The doctor who interviewed us said that since we had current licenses from Canada, he didn’t need to test us for anything.  So he just signed the form and we went back with it. 

The clerk at the intendencia took all our documents and gave us another form we had to take to the cashier and pay.  The license fee to use your foreign license to get a local license is 800 pesos.  About $40.  We paid.  We took the paperwork to another counter and within 15 minutes, we had our new license.  That was the easy part.  Those licenses allow you to drive a car.  Not a motorcycle.

I had to repeat the process for my motorcycle license.  It’s separate from your car driver’s license here.  They said I had to take a practical test at a different location at another date.   During the process of making those arrangements, they told me that I couldn’t drive the motorcycle to the test because I wasn’t licensed for a 250cc motorcycle.  I said I’d been driving one for weeks on my Ontario license.  They said that now that I have a Uruguayan license, I shouldn’t be using my Ontario license any more.  They said that from now on, I couldn’t drive the motorcycle at all until I passed the practical test.  I got a little upset at that point, but the best was yet to come.  Motorcycle licenses here are graduated.  You have to drive a motorcycle under 200cc’s here for 2 years before you can drive one over 200cc’s.  The girl wasn’t entirely certain but she believed that once I got my Uruguayan motorcycle license, I’d need to drive a smaller bike for 2 years before I could drive my Kymco.  At that point I lost it.

So I went back to plan A.  To find a way to use my motorcycle qualification from Ontario to get an equivalent license in Montevideo.  After talking to a few ‘chiefs’, the reason I had to take the practical test (the most obvious reason) was because the document I got from the Canadian embassy only said that I was ‘qualified to drive motorcycles’.  It didn’t state what size engine.  That’s because in Ontario, if it doesn’t state you are limited to a certain size, it means you can drive any size.  Not so here.  It must clearly state you can drive motorcycles of a specific size, or for the G3 license, motorcycles with any size cylinder(s).

The ‘chiefs’ said if I came back with a document that had the same verbage as their G3 license in Uruguay, it was ‘likely’ that I wouldn’t have to take the practical.  I went to the Canadian embassy and explained this to the clerk there.  She said to come back the next day.  I did.  The next day I took it to IMM again. 
The new form states that the M2 rating (as requested by IMM) has no limit for cc’s or motorcycle size. The consul threw in the last one just in case. But alas. The IMM said this document wasn’t sufficient because it failed to specify me in the document. Of course, I did have that document, stapled to the previous motorcycle document, but IMM took it away when they gave me the automobile driver’s license.

At that point, my wife came up with a great line. She said we were new to the country and didn’t know anyone who could drive my motorcycle to the stadium so I could take the test. On that item, the moto-matriarchy (that’s what I call licensing because it’s all women in charge), relented on the practical test but insisted on the medical. Perhaps I was looking a little fragile and disoriented this morning.

Medical for motos involves copying various objects from flashcards to paper. I guess the better you are at art, the likelier you are to pass as you get older. They let my wife translate the explanation but then she had to leave before I could doodle. Having passed that, next stop was the dentist. He counted all my teeth, said they were all there and sent me to the ‘reaction’ doctor. She said she spoke english so my wife didn’t have to come in and translate. But as soon as I answered her in Spanglish, she switched to Spanish and never looked back.

In this test, you keep your foot on the accelerator until a red light comes on. Then you put your foot on the brake. What I didn’t understand is that you must immediately put your foot back on the accelerator after you tap the brake. So as I was failing this part, she kept wildly gesturing me to take my foot off the brake. Eventually, for the last 3 red lights, I figured it out and she was satisfied my reaction time was under a few seconds. However, when she went to sign the form, she noticed something amiss where the doodle guy had signed. She sent me back to tell him he had to change something. When I told him that, he told me to tell her to mind her own business. At that point, I decided to go back to the clerk desk with my paperwork and hopefully, I was done. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

She told us to have a seat and wait for the real doctor. At this point, we joined the mainstream of old people (I say old because they’re even older than we are) and waited in line as they hobbled in and out with various infirmities. For a G3, you have to go through this. Whenthey called my name, I had to leave my translator outside. He said I cant have a translator because they would be reading the eye chart-not me!  BTW, I assume calling you is the first test. They call it very low and the room is very noisy. If you dont come to the door, you probably fail that part of the test.   The test is very fast. You read one letter from the last line. They take your blood pressure. How they do that without pumping up the armband, I dont know. Lastly, you look into binoculars and tell them which way the U (which keeps changing position) is facing. I answered in English. I have no idea if he knew what I was saying but he too was happy to get rid of me.

With the last test out of the way, we went back to the clerk who seemed to be taking great pleasure in our discomfort, finding our way through the building, searching out various doctors, in a constant state of confusion. To lighten things up a bit, she asked me if everyone called me ‘Fish’ at school. I said yes. In fact, they still do (eh Gab??)

Unlike the automobile license, you dont get the G3 immediately.   To qualify for the G3, you need a ‘carnet salud’ from IMM.  That’s a photo health card that establishes you’ve passed the physical for a commercial license.  A G3 is considered a commercial license…  So I gave to come back on Wednesday morning between 08:00 and 14:00 with a passport sized photo.  That’s to attach to the health card and laminate it.  With it, I should be able to pay for the G3, take the picutre and get it. 

It will be nice to finally be legal, driving around Montevideo. Now when they stop me for not having the lights on, they can give me a ticket.

Wednesday:  I showed up and the health card was ready.  We had it in about 5 minutes.  With the health card in hand all the forms signed and stamped, we went to Section 2 to get the G3 license.  The guy at the desk offered me a date to take my practical test.  I said I already have a license that’s good for G3 and all I need him to do now is to give me the equivalent from Montevideo.  He spoke with his section chief and she said, nope..  She insisted I take the test.  I was running out of time – and patience.  I didn’t really mind taking the test but the date was when I’m in Toronto and since my Ontario license expires in a couple of weeks, I’d be driving the moto without a proper license until the next test date in January..  I decided I’d renew my Ontario license and simply put aside the Montevideo G3 until I was in a better mood.  Maybe in the winter when I have nothing better to do with my time…

That was all good until I started venting on Monday night to one of our friends.   She’s a lawyer.  I said I provided all the documentation according to the published rules.  There was simply no reason for not giving me the G3 here.  She agreed.   She called her friend in IMM a couple of days and he agreed to.  This morning I went in, paid the UYU800 and picked it up.  I’m glad this is over.

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