Monday, 12 November 2012

India - the rise and rise of the motorcycle!

Heroes and Villains

Notes from John Newman in India....

Nothing really prepares you for travelling in India. Its 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 RIFFRajahstan 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.

Clamorous anarchy


Moo-ve over
Here, in the most densely populated country in the world, the favoured means of transport is a lightweight motorcycle or scooter. They occupy every conceivable piece of road space in the towns and cities - hundreds and hundreds of motorcycles and scooters constantly weaving, in clamorous anarchy, amongst cycle and auto rickshaws, cars, trucks, buses and animals. Which, in order of obstacle, are cows, dogs, donkeys, goats, pigs, the occasional camel-towed cart and elephants.

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 roadmannersor 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


School run?
No one gives way at all, not a centimetre of space is conceded and there is a constant cacophony of horns as this is the accepted and even invited warning. The younger riders display handling skills to be admired; reminiscent of London couriers in their heyday and payday. Pick a dozen of these from the street and put them through a race school, and I predict a champion would emerge.
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 Indias 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 moremachomodels 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


Theres also a motorcycle travel website relating riders stories and encouraging long distance andadventuretravel 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 asThe ultimate highway cruiserin 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 doesnt 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 its 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 globethinksIll mention this as a destination for his post Sahara adventure....


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