Two Tired, Too Wheeled : Motorcycling in India

Two Tired, Too Wheeled : Motorcycling in India

Three days ago, amidst the traffic, as it rained, I spotted a Pulsar 200 NS ahead of me. I’ve rarely seen customization I’d call tasteful, but this one did the trick, with a rather fancy registration plate. I liked the typeface it had, and the plate actually did look quite fitting in terms of design. What really got me, though, was the text. Instead of the registration number, it had the words “Suicide Machine” embossed on it. As I sat astride my own rather vanilla Gixxer, admiring the fancy plate, the traffic began clearing, and the Suicide Machine sped off.

Motorcycles carry an unrivalled cool factor in Indian culture. In the mid-Noughties, a gang of litre-class Gixxers and John Abraham on a Suzuki Hayabusa blew up the heist movie genre with Dhoom. In the 90’s, it was Ajay Devgan in Phool aur Kaante, standing astride two motorcycles, a foot on each pillion seat. In the 80’s, Sanjay Dutt debuted with fake wheelies and jumps while singing Rocky Mera Naam. My point is, the coolness of motorcycling goes back a long way. And, well, so does the idiocy. (Standing between bikes, fake wheelies, and riding a superbike in Mumbai traffic. Need I say more?)

And why not? Motorcycles are perfect. Any more wheels and traffic chokes your joy to death (if the mileage doesn’t). Any fewer, and you might as well work in a circus. All those childhood fantasies we have about riding dragons and feeling the wind in your face and all, the answer is motorcycles. And really, the bang-for-buck value for any motorcycle is multiplied simply by having one in India. Too much traffic? Not for a motorcycle. Wanna roam but low on cash? Cheap motorcycles excel in mileage. Need to run from your girlfriend’s parents? Motorcycle. Need to run with your girlfriend from your own parents? Motorcycle.

But I digress. Motorcycle styling. The Suicide Machine.

While many argue that replacing number plates with fancy nonsense leans more toward stupid than stylish, I sometimes disagree. Like I would for the Suicide Machine. Given that its rider was not wearing any protective gear or helmet, and sped off in the rain at a rather brisk pace, I think the choice of label, in this case, was absolutely apt and added much to the safety of his fellow commuters.

Any motorcyclist worth his salt in India knows that when a fancy-plates-and-flashy-lights motorcycle passes them on a road, it is in the former’s interest to allow the latter to pass, and to create as much of a distance between them as possible. The fancy labels only add to that element of caution, and it’s not like the fellow with his decorated set of wheels needs a number plate anyway. Who needs a registration number when a phone number does the job just as well, if not better?

See, it’s not that we don’t like being polite, but life needs some excitement, you know? Say you bump into a motorcyclist, and both your rides take some damage. Will the motorcyclist stop or will they lead you on a chase? You do not know. And if they stop, will you exchange insurance information or blows? Again, a complete mystery. With cars, there’s no such question, because honestly, car waala jaayega kahaan? There’s no room. But with motorcycles, you have no idea. And that’s good, because what’s life without a little fun? And what’s fun without a broken bone or seven? Bike workshop gayi hi hai, aap bhi hospital chakkar maar lo.

When people talk about Indian culture, I’d guess very few venture beyond the food or work, which are rather colourful and perhaps expansive enough to satisfy many. But honestly, and this comes from someone who spent most of their teen years abroad, India’s road culture is quite an experience at street level, and motorcycling is where the fun is.

Suraj Zala

Staple diet of coffee, tech mumbo-jumbo, and Hitchhikers' novels. Can't write worth a dime, can edit worth a... well, around a dime, yes. thx fr readng, aavjo