Stealth Riding in India
Riding a motorcycle in India is actually easy if one spends some time thinking about it. On the face of it, everything seems chaotic and one always wonders how people get home everyday without getting hurt or killed. There are two parts to riding in India depending on whether you ride in the city or on the highway. In the city it’s about defensive driving. You are constantly shifting gears, accelerating, braking, accelerating, maneuvering, cursing, weaving and bobbing through traffic. Defensive riding becomes part of your riding skills and in more ways than one this becomes your riding style. This has its positives and its negatives. The positive is that you feel safer riding in the city but once you get out on the highway or the back-roads this becomes annoying and stressful. (old habits die hard)
When you are on a long distance trip in India I use what I call “stealth riding”. To put it in simple terms it’s where you use your peripheral vision more than you usually do. It becomes mandatory that you constantly scan not just the road ahead of you but everything on either side of the road and make some calculated changes to your riding style to be prepared for anything. The idea is to train your mind to “look out” using your peripheral vision so that it becomes a habit that flows naturally. I follow some simple rules that help me when I am on the “long road”. I have found that there a few usual suspects to watch out for in a long distance trip. First are the local cyclists, secondly dogs, stray domestic animals, third the loitering villager and fourth the “daring villager on his two wheeler”.
Let’s start with the first. Let’s assume I can see a cyclist ahead of me going in the same direction as me, I try to keep a “peripheral eye” on the front wheel of that cycle. The moment that front wheel changes direction towards my riding line I back off the throttle just a bit to be prepared (just in case). Similarly when I notice a dog or an animal loitering on either side of the road I tend to hold throttle or in a position that I can snap it shut while also having a finger or two on the front brake lever. The slower the animals natural running speed the more you can relax, but to keep Murphy’s law in mind is best. The last of these is the “daring villager on his two wheeler” who in my opinion is the most dangerous. You catch sight of him standing there on the side of the road even half a km away and you think to yourself that nothing can go wrong..and out of the blue he lets his clutch out and into your path. What is he thinking? “let me see if I can cross the road and prove that I am invincible” or “let me see if I can scare the living daylights of the guys on the highway?” or better yet “lets see if his brakes work?”.
There are other known hazards that invariably keep popping up which are easier to deal with, the truck that pulls out only at the exact moment when you come by, the pot-holes, the speed breakers (or neck snappers), the slow auto that’s a long distance trip, the fast auto who thinks he owns the road. The good thing about these are that you can predict this for the most by paying attention to the front wheel of the vehicle, making eye contact with the driver of the vehicle when possible, the general speed or lack of speed of vehicles way ahead of you and keeping your wits about you.
Scanning the road using your peripheral vision and preparing yourself for a road hazard is mandatory in India. It’s easy as long as you keep doing this and it becomes second nature to you.