I remember, way back in my third standard, I used to have a die-cast model of a motorcycle and a rider. This was no ordinary set of motorcycle and rider. It was THE set to have at that time, the Street Hawk die cast model, all black, with the rider, Jessie Mach, actually detachable from the motorcycle, and working joints, which allowed him to bend, move his arms, flex his legs, and stand upright without any help. I remember the curious looking motorcycle, with an eager nose, two silver strips running down the front cowls, a silver box signifying the headlight, and a small side-stand, which allowed it to stand independently, and looked at from the right angle, it would look like it was carving a broad corner.
It was just like in the television show, and I used to play with the model, imagining I am on it, fighting crime, and continuously upgrading the motorcycle, albeit in my mind, to perform a gazillion tricks on it, including a Vertical Takeoff and Landing! I even remember looking on with awe as MRF took out a spinoff advertisement stating The Man, The Machine, The Tyre… MRF Nylogrip. Each time I saw a Nylogrip shod machine, I would imagine it would actually be Jessie under the lid. Life was good.
And then I started to ride. The whole dream came apart, one piece after the other. It was a traumatic experience, at best. This was no virgin strip of land which allowed a tight circle, let alone a VTOL process to be executed! And why did the people not move when they saw a motorcycle, a car or a truck coming on? Why were people taking U-turns when the sign clearly says it is not allowed? Why is the cow in the middle of the road, and not in the manger? Why is there a strange looking potbellied man on the intersection wielding a stick who is pretending to be a traffic constable?
It was then that I realised that my skills are woefully short. Short of knowing what is needed to help me stay alive, short of knowing what is needed to rush from point A to point B without causing myself or others any trouble. Basically, short of being a good rider. I started to evolve slowly, concentrating more on efficiency rather than speed, panning for optimum hazards, eliminating them, and addressing concerns each in my head in a matter of seconds. I learnt a lot in those formative years, lessons which have held me in good stead, and lessons which I had to unlearn and relearn from scratch.
I agree, it is a thrill to hear a motor bouncing off the redline, yes, especially Splendors and Dios. It is a thrill to feel the front wheel come off the ground. It is a thrill to overtake other drivers and riders. But safety is a responsibility you owe to others as well as yourself. It will not be a matter of pride for your parents or your loved ones when condolence calls pour in after a nasty crash.
I learnt riding the hard way. I crashed, repaired the motorcycle, and took on the same corner, only to crash again. And again, and again, till I could lean and hear the earth chattering and yet carve corners with pure instinct. There are some skills which you can pick up only by execution. There are some which you can be forewarned about by word of mouth.
I endeavour to capture the latter for those who are stepping into the world of motorcycles.
- Ride using proper gear: I would not make any compromises on this. I, for one, would buy my motorcycle gear before I buy a motorcycle. That way, even if I buy expensive gear, I have time to balance my income and expenditure for buying a motorcycle, rather than worrying about gear after the motorcycle comes home. I normally use a mesh jacket with floating armour, a gauntlet glove pair, a knee protector, and high heeled good quality boots when riding. While I do believe that you should try to protect all joints, I think the most important are the elbows, the knees and the ankle. For those who have survived crashes to these joints, they know how painful it is. And please, for heaven’s sake, wear a helmet. You have just one head!
- Check your steed before you start off: A basic check is always necessary when you start off on a ride, even a cross city one. I do the following checks when starting off.
- Oil drips: Terrible little snitches which can cause very bad accidents if not tended to immediately.
- Tyre pressure: This is not as bad as oil drips, but improper pressure may cause improper grips, resulting in skids and crashes. Also, tyre pressure has a big role to play in the fuel efficiency figures.
- Accelerator and clutch cables: Different machines should have different plays when it comes to the cables. If I need a quick accelerating bike which would give me a lower top end figure, ideal for city commutes at the cost of a slightly less fuel efficiency, I will wind the accelerator cable tight. If I need higher efficiency, I will keep it slightly loose, so I can comfortably potter around without wondering when the next fuel stop is.
- Brakes: These are perhaps one of the most important parts of a motorcycle. They should have a brief amount of play and should be able to give me feedback about road and the traction available while riding.
- Indicators: Indicators are another important portion, and I check whether both the sides, at the front and the back are working before I start off.
- Pass switch: Not all motorcycles have this, agreed, but for those who do, check whether they are working before you start off.
- The engine: Motorcycles are human too, you know. They need some time to warm up, they need some time to adjust to their surroundings and the way you treat them before they start to respond to your commands. Imagined being kicked out of bed early morning, being shoved and pushed till you reached the bathroom and performed your morning ablutions without being given a wake up coffee and a bagel? That must be one painful thought no? The warm up session on a motorcycle (or for that matter, a car), is very important and if not done properly, the cold machine parts will rub against each other too furiously without getting enough space to expand, and causing undue wear and tear to the machine. The ideal way to do this would be to start the motorcycle and let it idle for a minute or two. Blip it (blipping is to take the throttle in two fingers, the index and the thumb, and gently rotate it, so the rev just starts to climb, and then releasing it) while idling. This will allow the pistons expand properly, and properly warmed up, will return better efficiency figures as well!
- Obey traffic rules: Nobody does. Which is precisely why you should. Lead by example, be the cool one, dare to be different and decrease the chances of an accident while you are at it. There is a reason why rules exist. In an intersection when the light is red, the car standing on one of the ends does not expect you to cross, and moves ahead. You expect him to slow and try to carve a tight corner to squeeze into the space between the pavement and his bumper. One miscalculation, and you may lose precious decades which you may have lived otherwise and shared precious moments with your loved ones with. Is it worth it?
- Give respect to earn respect: So you have an R1/ P220/ 250R/ 10R. So you motorcycle can do a 240 while the Scooty struggles to cross a 50. That does not give you any right to ride like you own the road, irrespective of what the advertisements say. All of us, and all of those “irresponsible, stupid people” out there have a right to ride/ drive on the road, just as much as you do. Under any condition, you will have the chance to show off your skills better if you ride slowly and stay in your comfort range, rather than being a Wham Bam and crash into some poor hapless guy, marring your perfect morning, and his too! *Hint* In teeming traffic, try not to stunt or irritate other riders. Relax and enjoy the ride!
- Focus: While in a cage, you have steel all around you, and therefore have a comfort zone. On a bike, its just the Holy Trinity, Traction, Torque and the Tarmac which you get to play with. Do not overkill. Focus on what your bike can (and more importantly, cannot) do. And stay within the walls of your bike’s limitations. Increase your power to pan and scan your attention circles for maneuverability, while staying within the boundaries laid down by the traffic rules. There are lots of tricks how to do it. Search online and start practicing.
- Pick on people your own size: Basically, never ever argue with a 10, 14 or an 18 wheeler. This rule is non negotiable. For obvious reasons.
- Lane etiquette: While in lanes, and switching lanes, always follow etiquette. Indicate which side you want to move to, check mirror and a quick flick to judge distance, and slowly move into the lane. If you are looking to make a quick switch, make sure you indicate by hand, and make sure your hand is sufficiently elevated for the person behind you to (a) see you and (b) understand that it is an indication. While carving corners, try to stick to the middle lane. If you stick to the inside lane, the angle of lean is greater, and may require control greater than your skillsets, especially when you are starting to learn how to ride. If you stick to the outside lane, the distance travelled for the corner to be carved is substantially more, and the angle of lean is too less for it to be fun. How also can we afford to forget that since this is India, there is oncoming wrong-way traffic everywhere, especially on one way streets? Imagine this, if the corner is blind, and you are on a tight curve, correcting your curve to avoid slamming into that ubiquitous cycle may be a nightmare, and a course of event that is suitably eliminated by taking the middle lane.
- Practise: This is the most important lesson of them all. Practise. Take some time off on weekends or after you come back from work. Ride. Ride. Ride. Ride. Ride. Know your motorcycle inside out. Ride her till you drop from exhaustion. (That is a figure of speech, but you get the drift, right?).
A motorcycle (yes, any motorcycle!) can be a pleasure if treated properly. But you ill-treat her, and she kicks you back and throws you off.
Ride hard; ride safe; be free!