Better safe than scary

Shubhabrata Marmar  /
22 May 2015 14:36:47 IST

Since getting the Triumph, I've been hanging out at my favourite garages around Mumbai. This is to install the various bits that I need to turn a Street Triple into Ferine. As you all know, hanging out with a mechanic and drinking his chai is the touchstone of motorcycling. Not drinking the free tea is a grave sign of great disrespect and you absolutely must accept every single cup.

But the extra sugar in the tea doesn't scare me. The new conversation I hear does. A few years ago the talk was about bikes. About who imported what, which shade of grey it was, what this person paid for it and how s/he was a jackass/genius to be paying that for that bike.

Those days are behind us. The new conversation is altogether more somber and incredibly scary.

"Did you hear about the two Fireblades that crashed on the Sunday ride to ? Scary shit man. Both guys were okay."

"I thought one of them died or was in ICU!"

"No dear that was the previous weekend. That chap on the Pulsar cut the 'Busa guy off and the Harley bugger got wrapped up in the action too. The Pulsar bike was run over by a truck but it was the 'Busa rider who was in the ICU."

"No one died, eh?"

"No men. That was the week before. You know the crash no one's talking about..."

This conversation led directly to a lady at the Triumph showroom having a bad day. She innocently introduced herself and asked me if I knew about the Riders Association of Triumph, "We conduct rides out, sir..." I don't ride with strangers I snapped. Needlessly brusque, I know, but I'm sorry. I'm even more terrified now of riding in groups than ever before.

I'll ride with Halley, Mody et al any day and twice on Tuesday but a group ride with KTM or Triumph owners? No freaking way. I mention these two brands only because I own one of each and have, therefore, access to both owners' groups and their social calendars.

Kawasaki comparo (2)

But this isn't about the riding groups or owners' club rides. It's about what's happening on our roads on the weekend. It's about why I'm super-glad that I ride so damn much in the week that I want to spend the weekend either at home or drinking free chai at Garage52 or Zubinn Designs.

I wrote a few years ago that India was going to have to climb a steep uphill curve to assimilate the fast bikes that were coming in. The gap from small bikes to big bikes would naturally create riders who will lack the skill and temperament needed to keep 150+PS missiles under control on our chaotic roads. Unfortunately, opening the throttle on a motorcycle is far simpler than changing direction or making a panic stop. People are going to, in effect, be given guns without the training to use them. People will die or kill before we learn our lessons.

I guess this sounds morbid and gruesome but it's happening. The natural place to learn control and hone skills is the racetrack and we don't have enough. What's left are roads which grow ever more crowded everyday. I know for a fact that the popular riding roads outside Mumbai witness idiotically high speeds on the weekends and crashes are not uncommon. Luckily, deaths still are the exception not the norm. But the grim reaper rides more and more on the weekend now. Unfortunately the maturity to counter this trend has to come from within. I know of many roads where our bad behaviour as motorcyclists has already led to hostility and rage being the natives' default disposition towards anyone in gear.

What's the fix? You have to get over speed as the primary drug and that's not easy. I now own two motorcycles that find getting past 150kmph very easy. But I've no real interest in those speeds except right before the braking point for Turn One at Kari Speedway or Turn Four at BIC.

What I love instead is cornering them. You'll rarely find an open road corner that allows illegal speed but fast and leaned over even below the speed limit is a thrill. American motojourno Nick Ienatsch wrote a famous column called The Pace which dwelt on this exact issue. The upshot of The Pace was to ride reasonably fast on the straight and then work hard to nail the corners. Ride like this and you get a very involving ride without the illegal speeds and attendant problems.

The issue then, is that cornering is the hardest thing to learn on a motorcycle. You're going to have to go to school for that. Ours, TWO, someone else's - CSS or Apex Racing's. But there's really no alternative to school. Skill comes from training for most motorcyclists. But riding calmly and well requires maturity. On your part as a rider and on the part of your friends as a group. Which is something I can point out, recommend but not force-feed. So while we gain maturity, I'll be drinking tea on the weekend rather than ride outside the city. Or riding a racetrack where my speed will come from skill (hopefully) rather than stupidity.

Motorcycles are a source of intense joy for me. That's how I'd like the non-motorcycling world to see them as well. If that requires that I park them for the weekend, so be it.

Better safe than scary.

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