A few days back I was riding to work. It was the first chilly morning of the season in the district of Cooch Behar in West Bengal. It was misty all around; but surprisingly I came across not a single rider riding with headlight on. Nobody lit even the pilot lights. What was even more surprising that one rider without helmet had dark glasses on. Phew! I always ride with my headlight on — even in the broad daylight of mid-summer. It surely increases the visibility of me from a distance. My Honda Dazzler ruefully and curiously lacks pilot lights (the list of lacking is rather long in Dazzler — kick starter, engine kill switch ect. are some of them), so what I do is switch the headlight on and then put it into dipper.
I seriously feel that despite the ever rising sale and popularity of two-wheelers in India, Indians at large are quite ignorant about the finer aspects of motorcycles. It is a well-known fact that we do not put much emphasis on safety and security. Quite often we come to see people working under demanding conditions without helmet, gloves or boots. Just visit any average construction or road repairing site, you will see labourers toiling without the basic safety systems.
Hence it is no wonder that we see latest bikes zipping past us on busy roads on a regular basis without helmets. A lot of friends and colleagues of mine have laughed at me regarding my wearing riding gloves even in summer days. The fact that an average Indian is largely ignorant about motorcycles is also reflected on the domestic bike industry. Leaving aside the 100-125 cc commuter segment almost all the bikes with displacement of 150 cc or above that are coming out of factories are pro-sport models. The emphasis is more than anything else on bling factor. Yamaha R15, Honda CBR 250R, Hero Karizma ZMR, Bajaj Pulsar 200NS — all of these bikes are either inspired by, based on or scaled down models of some 1000 cc crotch rocket or the other. Crotch rocket, given the ‘Indian’ road conditions, is a complete misfit. But a model inspired by BMW R1200 GS? The only one probably we have is the malnourished Hero Impulse. Then again it is not selling like hot cake, or, well, for that matter hot paranthas. By motorcycle we understand only two things — mileage and speed. Distance, nah!
That is why a proper motorcycle touring culture and facilities are yet to flourish in this vast and beautiful country. I feel that in a country where the number of cars per 1000 heads is below the American and European figures and where the majority of people are middle-class, motorcycle can be a potential touring choice provided proper awareness and facilities are developed and… and people learn to be safe and responsible. We, the present tourers, probably have a positive role to play here which many of us are already playing.