Riding then, Riding now
I did my first 500-kilometer ride in 1963, but as a pillion on my brother’s brand new BSA Gold Star 350. Since then I have ridden thousands of kilometers on my own bikes, starting from a Vespa scooter to 1000-cc bikes. Then, a 38BHP bike was nearing a super bike status.
Bikes were different then. They were small, simple and came only in black and chrome, with a dash of silver as paint options. Rear suspension had spring adjusters – front had none. All gears were on the ‘other’ side, and one up three down, except for European bikes. Even the BMWs came in just black with white lining. There was no luggage designed for bikes and no bungee chords to tie down stuff. Jackets were leather, black or brown. If you had visited England, you could be wearing a cotton waxed Belfast jacket. There were hardly any riding gloves. Boots were either military/camping wear or thin riding boots. Helmets were half, know as pudding bowls.
Goggles were a must and Mark-9 was the craze. You bought a bike and improvised on it depending on your use. No company offered anything but road bikes, the exception being the BSA Gold Star and Norton International, which came with rear set footrests and clip on bars, that’s all.
Roads were narrow, but not bad. Traffic was minimal and roadside assistance almost zero. Punctures were the biggest nemesis; you were supposed to fix everything else yourself. Lighting was extremely unreliable. Tire choice was skinny ribs for front, blocks for rear, all in one size. Doing a speed of 100kmph was a big deal. 160kmph, you were a hero. At roadside stops there were no crowds, bikes were too simple and rider looking like any other. Routes were selected according to eating-places on the way. Starting after dinner and riding through the night was common. Hot sun, chilly winters or pouring rain didn’t matter, it was the only vehicle a real rider had. Getting groceries, going to work or touring, and occasional racing, all was done with the same bike. And most important, there were NO speed breakers anywhere in India! Oh, and one more thing. No one took photographs! Maybe in a three-day ride one picture would be clicked. My ride to UK I didn’t take a single picture of me and my Gold Star 500! I did take pictures, but not of myself. Cameras were too big and heavy to carry, plus one didn’t go to pose, one went to ride. Motorcycles were cheap and motorcycling was cheaper. There was never any mass group touring. There was never a need of a GPS, just ask someone at roadside and you’d know exactly where you were.
I am not running any time period. But like before I ride long, use and trust the technology as it is meant to be.
In 50 years everything has turned upside down. Manufacturers caught on and now make a model for every use one can ever imagine. Accessories companies have kept ahead and manufacture everything that you need. I say they are merely toys for men. Motorcycles are not cheap now and motorcycling is even more expensive. Roadside assistance remains as before, zero. Today’s riders want to take a picture even before they start a journey, stop for tea, take a leak, eat and spend endless hours posing with their machines. Amongst millions who ride, and a few thousand who ride big expensive bikes; only a handful really use them as they are meant to be. In my horizon, it may be small, but it should be fearless. I don’t know 15 people who ride beyond their comfort zone. The brotherhood syndrome has taken over solo touring. We see even hundred bikers at a time on highways. What is the fun, I have no idea. Touring was to see different places, meet different people and eat different food and smell fresh air. Today we see each other’s backside, we smell petrol fumes and go on posing with our ‘brotherhood’. Brotherhood is part of belonging, part fear of a breakdown, part mistrust of our machine and part fear of taking on ‘the uncertain world that lay ahead’ of a ride.
Two things have remained the same. Though we have better roads, faster and more comfortable bikes, better protective gear, but the time taken from point A to point B remains the same! Tolls, speed breakers and long stops posing for the camera are partly responsible. Partly it is the lack of stamina, fear of the weather, extreme lack of concentration time, fiddling with gear are the human factors affecting our riding time today.
The second aspect that has remained the same in India, are the common dreaded questions. “How much does it cost? What is the average it gives?’
I am not running down any time period. I enjoy new bikes myself. I have new gear. But like before I ride long, use and trust the technology as it is meant to be. And I really admire and respect those few who have shown the courage and determination to venture out into the world solo or just with very few.