Indian Motorcycle Diaries
By Etan Doronne
11 Apr 2011
Being a family 'car' the Indian motorcycle or scooter has an 'optional' standard equipment unique to traditional life here:
Saree guard. The women sit sideways behind the driver. To the rescue of Saree's entangled in the wheels spokes came the Saree guard. The most prominent accessory on every 2 wheeler sold here. It is installed only on one side of the vehicle, usually covering the rear wheel from the left.
The other provision is an enclosed drive chain. In western countries there's only a minimal wing over the chain/belt/drive shaft power train from the engine to the rear wheel. Here there's a full casing wrapping from all sides. It also doubles as dust protection that can dramatically extend the life of a chain on Indian unpaved ways.
The next add-on can't be easily seen but non the less is it prominent on the roads. That's because it defines the typical sound of any city, town or the roads in between. The horn. Or more precisely – horns. You will hardy find a vehicle that has only an OEM horn. The minimum for keeping heard on the road is an oversized horn, usually the type installed on cars or multiple horns, up to 2 by law but in reality I have seen 3 on many motorcycles. Somewhat different then sounding a beep !!! in the west here it is not meant to say what you think about the driver you just passed but to warn pedestrian and other drivers in any potentially hazardous circumstances, which means in sign-less, dense and unplanned Indian roads – always! When coming to a blind curve, when passing in the opposite lane, when coming into a densely populated crossways, when a vehicle reverses or about to merge in front.
The case becomes health threatening when trucks and buses drive up town streets. Their horns are so strong that even sitting inside an adjacent shop I feel like blocking my ears. Definitely conversations momentarily pause quite frequently around here.
Although all this is uncomfortable the accident rate in India is amazingly low in absolute figures compared to western, modernized countries. It is even more impressive considering the seemingly unmaintained, narrow roads lack of traffic signage or enforcement. Driving with overloaded vehicles and in opposite lanes is a standard.
Bikes drive with practically worn out tires on dust covered roads – a recipe for loss of grip, skidding and topping over. Yet I very rarely witness such accidents.
The only explanation I could find is the human factor: the common sense, responsibility, practice, tolerance (non-competitive driving).
The "glove compartment". Of course no one uses gloves so let's call it what it is: a paper fuel-tank-top bag. Extra benefit: protects from direct sun rays and pads the 'seat' for an infant passanger (they sit between the drivers legs spread out on the tank). Hazards: passing by cows love to munch on the content while the bike is parked.
Next is the 'Handle' – again, double action: both a grip for the lady in the back and a hook for big & heavy market bags.
The feet guard: I always thought it protects the bikes paintjob and signal lights from a fall but as I prepared for this article I was told it actually guard the driver legs from zooming by vehicles that might get too close.
The license plate: the creative and personalized part of the bike Actually I had just ran into a customizing shop and realized that is where the colorfully Indian touch is applied to 2 wheelers. The shop deserves a separate story and video but for now I will just say there's a graphic designer in a full time job customizing each and every license plate with fonts, photos and layout. The result is computerized printed and cut from adhesive vinyl. Gods and politicians are the top choices. They both protect. The gods – well it's obvious... but the politicians ? Well, once you have that license plate, so I was told, this political figure is your godfather. If a policeman stops you, he can never know how close you are to the center of power and might not want to test his luck.
More about this personal project on My India: Where every village is home - Experience !