13 Safety riding tips to help you survive ‘laharlandia’

Remember: Don’t fight Mother Nature
by Aris Ilagan | Sep 17, 2019
PHOTO: Joey Storm Rivero

From simple trekking to off-road driving and now motorcycle adventure riding, the so-called ‘laharlandia’ in Porac, Pampanga, is fast becoming a popular destination for those seeking extreme thrills.

Considering the Golden Trail’s proximity to Metro Manila, more and more riders are trooping there not only for the ultimate experience of riding on a lahar bed and crossing cascading rivers, but also to interact with the Aeta community that happens to own a big parcel of the off-road playground.

Amid intermittent rains, Yamaha Motor Philippines (YMPH) hauled us to laharlandia just last week to check out how its new offering, the Serow 250, and the battle-tested XTZ 125 would fare on loose surfaces, slippery rocks, and river crossings. Likewise, it was a test of our riding skills and guts on treacherous trails.

To ease some of our stress prior to the ride, off-roading guru Mel Aquino gave useful tips to survive laharlandia. “Just listen and follow instructions,” he repeatedly told the participants during the safety briefing at the barangay hall. Barangay captain Roman King and a tourism officer joined the send-off ceremony for the riders, all clad in safety gear.

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At first, we couldn’t figure out if it was the cold, rainy weather or the ugly look of the lahar bed that was giving us chills as we mounted our Serow and the XTZ units. We were told that riding conditions here change rapidly because rains easily affect the landscape of the lahar surfaces. Where you ride today could look very different on the next day.

Instead of letting paranoia get the better of us, we fired up our motorbikes and headed for the trail. Here are 13 safety tips for riding on lahar:

1) Never steer abruptly from left to right.

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If the direction your handlebars are pointed at keeps changing abruptly from left to right, you’re creating a trail that your rear wheel follows. What happens is your motorcycle will keep on swerving and twitching, and you’ll have to fight against the unnecessary movements.

2) Ride standing up.

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As much as possible, try to stand up on the pegs and clip the sides of the bike with your legs. Doing so will make your bike easier to steer on the soft lahar bed.

3) Shift your body weight to the rear.

In order to prevent the front wheel from sinking into the lahar, 70% of your body weight must be positioned rearward. This will also help keep the motorcycle stable as you navigate tricky terrain.

4) Relax your arms.

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Don’t fight the bike—doing so will only stress your arm muscles unnecessarily. You must relax your body to endure the long ride.

5) Lean the bike when turning.

Don’t just steer—lean the bike to the side where you’re turning to ease the direction change. Use your arms and not just your hands when steering.

6) The kill switch has a purpose.

If you feel that you cannot stop the motorbike from falling on its side, use the kill switch (red) on the right side of the handlebars. It’s more dangerous (and time-consuming) to kill the engine using the ignition switch.

7) Don’t put on too much weight on the handlebars.

Otherwise, the tendency of the front tire is to sink in loose lahar. This will only result in heavy steering and, again, arm fatigue.

8) The slower the bike moves, the more the tires will sink.

Always maintain consistent throttle input to keep the bike moving. The more you pick up speed, the more the bike floats on loose surfaces and becomes easier to maneuver and control.

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9) Avoid sudden acceleration.

Excessive or abrupt throttle input will trigger unnecessary wheelspin, which will cause the bike to sink in lahar. Good throttle control is an important skill when riding in these extreme conditions.

10) When going downhill, use engine braking.

Engage first gear, release the clutch, and lean back. Let engine braking slow down the bike. Also, do not use the front brake excessively—it might cause you to lose steering control.

11) Never step on the rear brake as you go downhill.

If you apply the rear brake alongside engine braking, there is a tendency for the bike to stall.

12) Don’t ride close to the lahar walls.

Loud noises, continuous vibrations, and sudden movements on the ground can make the wall collapse. Keep a safe distance from these delicate walls.

13) Respect the natives.

Adjust to the natives, who always have the right of way. Remember that laharlandia is their ancestral domain and we’re just visitors in the area.

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PHOTO: Joey Storm Rivero
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