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Turkey by Motorcycle

Barlas Gunay, Tigh Loughhead and Sinan Soyalp ride Istanbul by motorbike
I flew in to Turkey yesterday afternoon, to meet up with a couple of my best friends from college, who live in Istanbul.  My boy Barlas picked me up from the airport, and Sinan joined us after work.  Barlas has recently become a motorcycle fanatic, and was eager to show me his YZF250, a baby sportbike in the Yamaha R line.  They don’t import this model to the US, only to Turkey and Asia, whereas in Europe they import the R3, whereas the entry bike in the states is the R6.

Overlooking Venice from my flight from Bologna to Istanbul  
I hadn’t seen these friends in years, since the last time I came to Istanbul over three years ago, so we had a Turkish feast Friday, and headed out Bebek Taps about ten minutes down the hill from their neighborhood, called Etiler. 
Jamming out (ACDC I think...) on Barlas's new guitar
Not Pictured: Johnny Double Black
Almost the entire city lives in the hills, and comes down to the Bosphorus, creating a spectrum of society emanating from the river, which has existed like this for thousands of years.  And everyone comes down from the hills, creating an incredibly vibrant, lively, chaotic mess of fancy cars and fisherman, scooters and restaurant valets, with most commuters raucously pushing their way to a destination with more braggadocio than even commuters in New York City.

Mosque in Garipçe, north of Istanbul, close to the Black Sea
Mosque in Garipçe, north of Istanbul, close to the Black Sea

Taşkın Köfte in Arnavutköy, Istanbul
I’ve been warned about Turkish drivers, just as much as I’ve been warned about Italian drivers, who respectively might have some of the worst reputations outside of Jersey drivers.  But now that I’ve had the chance to ride alongside all three, on multiple motorcycles, I’ve come to some conclusions about the nature of transport in all three countries.
Checking out a well traveled BMW GS on the way to Bebek Taps
Italy is a two-wheeled culture.  Scooters, bicycles and motorcycles nearly outnumber cars.  Bikes typically have smaller displacement than in the US, but there is an acceptance motorcycles as a necessary, functional part of transportation and even society.  There seem to be few varied traffic regulations and road width/quality, so riding can be somewhat frantic, but there is an absolute sense of respect for two-wheeled vehicles on the road.
Turkey is a driving culture, but bikes are probably the best way to navigate the city, though the motorcycles here are tiny compared to American standards (mostly 125-250cc).  I think Istanbul might surpass Los Angeles in terms of traffic.  But, since everyone needs to drive up and down the Bosphorus, you see a hectic medley of Maseratis and Ferraris stuck behind giant trucks or farmers in old Russian car makes.  And yet, as frenetic as the chaos of driving is (people just constantly pull out into traffic, into others’ lanes), I feel safer wildly cutting in and out of crazy traffic, as the pace just isn’t really that fast.
American driving is about individual freedom.  I could walk into any number of dealers and get a road legal 1300cc motorcycle, but not get the feeling I would likely kill myself on the ride home.  There is space in the states to let a 1299 rip, whereas in Turkey or Italy I think this bike would be fucking ridiculous.

There were about 6-7 Doner spits the size of an actual small cow. 
© 2015 Tigh Loughhead


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