Stephanie Dychiu BBC Top Gear - 15 Minutes with Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala

15 MINUTES WITH JAZA

The head of the Philippines’ largest business conglomerate is hooked on . . . dirt biking?

Why trail riding? What’s wrong with golf? Or sailing? Or exotic cars for that matter?
I started to ride Montesa Trials bikes and Bultaco Sherpa enduro bikes in Spain when I was eleven. Back then, these Spanish bikes were the best off-roaders in the world. Engines were simpler, and we spent hours cleaning our own carburetors, fixing our flats, cleaning our oily spark plugs. The south of Spain had mountains that were rugged, rocky, and bare so you could ride for hours without seeing anyone. I stopped biking in my early twenties when I began working full time, and didn’t start again till I turned forty. My wife Lizzie saw me reading motorcycle magazines and did the unthinkable . . . she gave me a new bike for my birthday, a BMW GS 1150. Probably the best gift I ever received!

You’re known to have KTM’s as your weapons of choice.
KTM’s have an exceptional off-road racing heritage. They make the best off-road bikes in the world. When they announced a couple of years ago that they were going to introduce a dual-cylinder, big bore, dual-purpose bike, I knew it was the bike I wanted—even before I saw it in its final form. Modeled after one of their winning bikes on the famous Paris-Dakar Rally, the KTM 950 S is the best large, dual-purpose bike in the market if you frequent dirt roads. It has extraordinary suspension, and is surprisingly light and nimble for its size. It also has a unique engine that takes off like a scalded cat after it breaks 6000rpm. Its only negative, for some, is its extraordinary height which takes some getting used to (I stand on tiptoes at stop signs).
My roots are in dirt riding, however, and the KTM 950 is too heavy for more serious trail riding, so I added a KTM 520 EXC for that and a KTM 620 SXC for dual-purpose riding when I need a lighter bike. This may seem excessive, but we live only once!

You can have pretty much any bike out there. Are there still any bikes that you dream of owning?
A race-ready, factory-works KTM 660 Rally like the ones raced by professionals in the Paris-Dakar Rally. For road riding, a high-end Ducati tourer or road racer would be fun.

You’re a big promoter of eco-tourism. Now that at least seems consistent with trail biking.
The Philippines has beautiful terrain that’s mostly inaccessible. I used to travel extensively around the country in my early twenties with my brother, Fernando. Our visits have taken us from the Cordilleras and Sierra Madres to the beaches of Baler. We even rode from Laoag in the north to Davao in the south over eight days. By riding on a motorcycle, you can really enjoy the surroundings: the smell of the sea, the pines in the mountains, the dry dust of barren areas, and the unusual sensations that come from riding in monsoon rain or summer heat.

Most exciting—or frightening—riding experience?
Riding across the Cordilleras from Tuguegarao to Baguio with my son, Jaime Alfonso (13 years old and he rides a Honda CRF 150). It was the first time we rode together in demanding terrain over two days. His piston ring broke down and blew halfway across the mountain. Also, on one of our runs between Baler and the northeast coast of Luzon, we crossed a number of rivers at the beginning of the day only to find they had grown in size and depth at the end of the day when we returned! Some of our bikes disappeared completely under the water and had to be emptied out overnight.

Biking fantasies. You must have at least one or two. A stadium supercross before a thousand screaming rednecks?
Participating in the twenty-one-day Paris-Dakar Rally Race and carrying the Philippine flag. This is probably the most demanding off-road race in the world and the scenery is breathtaking. However, one needs to have the time and stamina to prepare for it . . . a luxury I do not have these days.

Finally, what’s next for JAZA, as far as your trail biking adventures go?
Together with my brother and some friends, I plan to ride across the Moroccan desert in 2005. My ultimate goal, however, is to ride across the Patagonian plains of South America between Chile and Argentina on a KTM 950. That’s probably as close as anyone can get to riding at the end of the earth.

Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala is the President of Ayala Corporation. Dashing and dignified, extremely erudite, and apparently, motorcycle-manic, he is also a Director of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). - Interview by Stephanie Dychiu and JV Colayco

(This article originally appeared in BBC Top Gear, September 2004.)