Heroes and Villains
Notes from John Newman in India....
Nothing really prepares you for travelling in India. It’s an assault on all your senses and emotions and pretty mind-boggllng from a motorcyclist's point of view!
My first visit happened over a three week period in October, and was limited to the state of Rajahstan in the north-west of the sub-continent towards the border with Pakistan; with a couple of days in Delhi as an induction period.
The primary purpose of the visit was to take in a festival in the city of Jodhpur called RIFF – Rajahstan International Folk Festival: three days of music showcasing the dynamic Rajahstani musicians playing with their counterparts from different parts of the planet including; Australia, Colombia, Turkey, Egypt, Scotland, Ireland, etc. I also wanted to do a camel trek in the Thar, the Great Indian Desert.
There are no rules here, and everything you may have heard about Indian roads and driving is true. It is a mad swirling mass of vehicle, humanity and animality, with no concession to road ‘manners’ or concern about even the most basic safety requirements. It is not unusual to see small children on motorcycles wedged between adult riders. Or babies carried in the arms of Sari clad mums sitting side-saddle.
A constant cacophony of horns
It is tempting to think that this throng of machinery being piloted around every conceivable obstacle works for them, until the crash and death figures are viewed. In October the Times of India reported that 1 in every 10 road deaths across the globe occurs in India.
Splendour, Passion and Glamour
Hero Honda is the predominant motorcycle. The company was formed as a partnership between Honda Japan and India’s Hero Corporation. But in 2010 they decided to go their separate ways, and both companies are developing manufacturing facilities.
The figures for current and projected units to be produced are staggering. India is currently home to the largest number of motorised two wheelers in the world: consider this...
- In October Hero produced 529,215 motorcycles
- Hero and Honda are both aiming to produce 10 million units over a five year period
- Honda will have three operational plants in India employing 13/14,000 workers.
These are all lightweight (125cc) utility machines, ideal for manoeuvring through the aforementioned morass. The most popular models are emblazoned with some great names such as Splendour, Passion and Glamour, in addition to the more ‘macho’ models such as Hunk, Ignitor and Xtreme.
The rise of the middle class motorcyclist
The concept of motorcycling as a leisure or sporting pursuit is not much in evidence: though glimpses of this becoming more prominent are there, as it appeals to India's, much vaunted, rising middle class consumer.
Have a go Hero
Hero sponsor a race team in the USA AMA series; having teamed up with Eric Buell and his 1190cc, 175bhp V twin racers. These are bikes whose genesis, performance and appearance could not be more different from current Hero products.
Adventure travel stories
There’s also a motorcycle travel website relating rider’s stories and encouraging long distance and ‘adventure’ travel across this vast country.
The Ultimate highway cruiser
|Cool restoration project!|
And last, but by no means least, Royal Enfield have just launched what they describe as ‘The ultimate highway cruiser’ in the shape of the Thunderbird 500, a matt black slightly chopperised version of the classic machines they have been building for years at their factory in Chennai, Southern India. It doesn’t look bad either - I don't mean the bike in the picture though - that's someone's future great restoration project!
Cheap as chips
At present it’s difficult to envisage the development of Indian motorcycling into more than a cheap method of personalised travel. The road infrastructure is so poor and in cities the roads have to cope with the massive, and still growing population, of which India seems perversely proud. While rural roads are only good for traversing with the types of bikes that AustinVince and his mates relish riding across the globe…thinks…I’ll mention this as a destination for his post Sahara adventure....