I believe the ad world believes they are smarter than everybody else. That they can fool/get away with anything. I think a significant number of them are conning their clients. Keep an eye on the blog, well bring out ads that are so bad (or besides the point) they could only get past the client with hard sell or flattery.
Feb 27, 2006
Feb 26, 2006
-Most motorcycle racers
Feb 25, 2006
Still with the left arm in a sling, I was taking a cab to work. I saw a cop wearing a skimpy Sam Browne waving a motorcyclist over. The busy, haggling collection of bad-haired riders said clearly, Anti-Helmet-less Riding Drive. Then, a chap with a untethered pudding basin atop a motorcycle blew by the cops without meriting even a second glance... A few kilometers down, I spotted three more cop posses surrounded by a bunch of riders. Is this a safety drive, or have the cops fallen behind their revenue targets again? Remember, the financial year ends in March.
A friend wrote me this email:
I just spent a week in Delhi and was both thrilled and filled with trepidation. Thrilled because of the clean wide roads, a mecca for riders coming from the day-in-day-out bumper-to-bumper break-a-back traffic-ed cities like Bombay.
Delhi poses a delightful 'track' situation for motorcycle riders given the roundabouts and the considerably lesser number of traffic lights vis-a-vis Bombay. Quite frankly I think it's ideal for a kind of abridged tourist trophy without too many corners but nice sweeping roundabouts on tarmac, and not bloody concrete.
But what you taketh with one hand in glee, you giveth with another for free! A kind of zero sum game. Despite the enormous amount of space on the roads for everyone to comfortably stay out of each others' path, I am sure the number of vehicles with dents, scrapes, broken lights etc. are at least 50% lower in Bombay. Same goes for public transport like buses and autos. Not a single one of them is without some form of scarring.
These buses and autos were upgraded after the supreme court order in 1998 to compulsory CNG, latest by April 2001 and which was extended till December 2002. However, with the shortage of gas, most of the conversions took place nearer the deadline. But in the short span of 3-4 years since, the buses and autos all look like they have been running for the last 20 years and due for scrapping.
This only points to the poor regard that motorists in Delhi have for their vehicles. And let's not even mention safety awareness. Talking on the cell and not wearing seat belts is rampant. While people in Bombay at least use Bluetooth devices to avoid getting caught. Delhi, being the political capital, flouts these rules blatantly.
In addition, I didn't notice a single rider wearing any reknowned brand of helmet, especially the new ones like AGV, Bieffe, Safetymet etc. Maybe they have not yet been launched. [actually, Bieffe is made in Delhi, and AGV is definitely available there] They can be excused for that, but I don't think it would make much of a difference.
If it is a delay in launch, then it also points to the low expectations that these brands have for offtake in Delhi. This, in a city with the more than the number of vehicles of Bombay, Chennai and Calcutta combined.
Which brings to mind a scary thought...will the hugely expensive, ultra-modern Metro go the same route! I hope not!
Feb 23, 2006
Our weather is so hot and humid, especially in coastal Mumbai, that my riding kit is almost all mesh. I use a Joe Rocket Phoenix jacket and pants combination daily and love it. The kit breathes better than most athletes and the integrated soft armour, plus there’s foam armour in the pockets. Which I’ve 'upgraded' with foam-backed plastic armour from an older motorcycle jacket. But the thing is no one, not even www.motorcyclegearreview.com knows if mesh gear works in a crash.
Well, I have a fair clue now. It isn’t as strong as a normal textile jacket, but it is far from useless. In my crash, the area just below the pockets on the pants touched down on tarmac. But instead of tearing or splitting, it 'melted' in situ. Which isn’t perfect, but if you were wearing one layer of clothes inside, you shouldn’t burn at all.
What I did learn is that helping the armour stay in place tightly helps a lot. I use four home-made hook-and-loop nylon straps to hold the armour in position, over the forearm/elbow and the knee/shin. Evidently, that works. The armour does not slide against skin and burn it. And stays where it provides maximum protection.
For street riding, and speeds up to 120kph, in weather like ours, mesh gear with proper armour should take care of most minor crashes. Should.
So, the pain has been subdued by the marvels of modern medicine. Time to relive it, then. It happened in a one-way street in Bandra. The road is arrow straight with about eight small intersections. Houses on both sides have excreted excess cars onto the street. That’s one clear hazard. The morning sun does not allow you to look into the cars, so you cannot prepare for a door that is about to open in my way.
But today, that’s the least of my worries. Having slowed for an intersection, I’m back on the throttle, upto third gear when a white Tata Indigo begins to honk behind me. Noticing the school gate on the left, I move over to the right to let the bugger overtake. I check the mirrors to see if there’s other people passing me as well…
I look up and scream silently at the bicyclists, obviously unsighted by the car, flits from the left edge to the right. As my fingers curl tighter on the brake lever, I wait for him to finish the traverse. But he isn’t going across at all. He straightens out just feet from my screeching front wheel.
From this point, it’s set. This is going to be a contact sport. I have one momentary choice. I could leap clear and let a 150 kg motorcycle, going 35 kph handle the business. Much as I hate the unknown cyclist, it’s too much punishment for the oblivious sod. Oh yes, he still hasn’t zeroed in on the screeching blue streak that’s catching up with him.
Course set, rear wheel at threshold of lock up, front wheel leaving a light grey skid mark, I stem into his rear wheel. Touchdown!
We’re down, him and I. I feel the bike’s grips reject my gloved hands, but we’ve almost stopped moving already. Tarmac bites into the nylon of my riding kit momentarily and tattoos the fairing and the headlamp’s clear plastic…
I get up as people lift the bike off me. Somehow, it’s in neutral. Somehow, my left elbow and forearm are screaming in agony. But everything moves like it should. Including my mouth.
I hurl angry abuse at the terrified, bruised, battered little bugger. He never saw me coming. And now, I’m bulked up with my anger, pain and armour. I’m sheathed in my helmet, balaclava and dark glasses. He thinks its Darth Vader yelling at him.
I help a bystander hammer his bent rear rim into riding shape. The elbow is getting worse. I ride to a friends place a couple of kilometres down the road. I can’t pull the clutch in anymore. So I ride in first and second gears, gritting my teeth through intersections.
Finally, I park up. It’s done, I can go to the doctor now and get the elbow looked at. There’s no sign of damage on my kit and no skin’s broken. I’m almost certain there’s no nasty surprises on the other side of an x-ray. Job well done, yeah?
In a week, I’ll be back on it.
Feb 21, 2006
You should have noticed that there was a day's gap in the posts. That's because I fell off the bike and had myself a small accident. Nutshell? Bicycle shot across the road without warning. We tussled. He lost. I severely sprained my left elbow. X-Ray Ok. Two days off. Blogging banned by the wife... sneaking this post in... heh heh.
Learnings? Expect the unexpected. Somehow. And don't listen to sundry bystanders who encourage you to thrash the already battered cyclist. No, I didn't thrash him.
Bike? Basically Ok. Scratches on bar ends, mirrors, levers, headlight fairing, pegs.
“And try to learn what they’re not so good at?”
If your disc brakes are losing their strength – evidenced by increase in lever travel, or the lack of bite, there’s a quick solution. Take an industrial rubber band or similar elastic strap and bind the lever to the grip. Leave overnight. The constant pressure in the hydraulic system forces out any trapped air, giving you almost the same benefit as a brake bleeding session. You could also use zip ties, but the rubber band will pull the lever harder if the system allows, a zip tie would need manual intervention. If this does not help, though, you need the brakes serviced. That means a disc pad check/replacement, caliper rebuild, brake hose change…
To avoid the mess of wet soap in your saddlebags or tankbag when travelling, take a perfectly good soap bar and chop it up into small bite-size (yyeeeuuwww!) pieces and dump into a zip lock or similar plastic bag. When ever you need some soap, pull out a small piece, use and leave behind. The soap in the bag stays dry and easy to store.
For long distance motorcycling, one of the oft missed details are the seams. Yes, seams in your gear and clothing. Sitting on the seam of your stylish, skimpy thong brief can begin to hurt after a while. And you'll be squirming the rest of the way. A simple switch to, no not boxer shorts (the fabric tends to crumple and 'create' seams) soft clingy shorts-type undies will take care of the seams. Similarly, pay attention to seams in gloves (any thick seams in the palm region will certainly become a manifest discomfort quickly), around the knees, in the toe/ankle region of your socks
You think British motorcycle magazines tom tom British motorcycles too much? Have you ever felt that having the Triumph logo on the tank automatically makes the bike better than its peers in their eyes? Ditto the car mags - for Jaguar, Lotus etc.?
Feb 18, 2006
It's about what you're doing with it."
You're riding down the street when you spot her. Resplendent in a red, short dress, perfect legs, supermodel looks. The sun shines an aura around her and inside your lid a low whistle escapes... been in this place? Remember, if you spotted her and forgot about the road for a second, so will a large majority of cagers and motorcyclists around you. And while they're busy ogling this paragon, one of them could crash into you. And it isn't just pretty girls. Anything that distracts you is also likely to distract others. So if you spot it, double your attention on the road. When I figure out a way to do that and look at the girl, I'll post it here.
Ever noticed that everything from the brake lever, clutch lever, handlebar, shift lever, brake pedal have adjustment nuts/bolts? They're there for a reason. They are not on the bike so they can be inexpensive replacements when you crash it. Or to make sure the service guys have stuff to do when the bikes comes into the shop. They exist so you can make the motorcycle fit you. Unfortunately, only a very tiny section of riders realise how crucial this is.
Allow me to point out some examples of how crucial this is: If I were to tell you that Valentino Rossi brushes the rear brakes while entering corners to stabilise the bike, wouldn't you want to try it? Yes, right? Now, If I told you that when a MotoGP (or World Superbikes or Dakar... any racer actually) first encounters a new bike, the first laps are used to setup the bike, not for power curves, suspension setting, but for ergonomics. That's right. Rossi spends the first few laps just ensuring that the levers are where he feels most comfortable with them. Once set, the mechanics will remember the settings, and keep them as they tune the motor, handling and other aspects of the race bike. So why don't you?
Take fifteen minutes to ride your new baby and feel the controls. Is the clutch lever too highset? Is the brake lever just so? Is the brake pedal too tall for you? Is the angle of the shifter right? Setup your bike. It will leave you ache and pain free, and allow you to concentrate on other things. Lord knows there's lot to take in while you're out there.
I was running my motorcycle, the Bajaj Pulsar 180 DTSi with an extra wide rear tyre. Instead of the standard 100/90-17, I put in a 120/90-17. For two reasons. First, that's the size I got (I would have preferred a far lower profile, say a 60 or 70). Second, I've always wanted to try it. All the questions in motorcycle magazines elicit pretty standard responses, so I wanted to know that the fuss is all about.
The responses take two lines. The first is: 'We do not recommend upsizing the rear tyre. Because it will require a rim upgrade, which is too expensive to bother with. Also, the extra mass the larger tyre will slow the machine down. The second is: 'We do not recommend this. It only makes the bike feel heavier. Plus, the manufacturer decides the tyre size after a variety of test across conditions and gives the tyre best suited to the motorcycle. And conversely, adjusts the suspension according the properties of that tyre. Why meddle with tested equations.'
The truth, not surprisingly, is pretty close. On adding the tyre, the bike seemed a bit tipped on to its nose. Which is a strange feeling. The front end turns pretty sharply, but just as sharp is the feeling that the fat rear tyre resists the change in direction. The on-the-nose feeling also makes the bike buck a little when you use the front brakes sharply without the stabilising effect of the rear brake. It also causes a noticeable change in the way you get feedback. A manufacturer tuned handling package usually (should, at the very least) has a well-balanced front-rear feedback ratio. It's a bit of an intangible, but the rear tyre, as its size grows begins to yell when it is required to merely speak. Not only is this unsettling, it also tends to 'hide' the feel the front end. Upsizing the tyre does have a few benefits though. Grip rises, no question. With it, it brings its friends, mid-corner stability, poor road tractability and in specific brand/model cases, wet weather stick.
Now, I reverted to the old 100/90-17 tyre today, and my word, what a difference. The motorcycle seemed able to change direction much, much faster. The return of balanced feedback has raised my confidence in the machine, and the under braking stability has returned. Maybe the best change would have been to find another tyre in the same size, but stickier.
Feb 17, 2006
I read today that Yamaha has offered to buyback each and everyone of the YZF-R6s they have sold in the US. It seems that while Yamaha claimed a 17,500 rpm redline, which duly appears on the tacho during riding, dyno tests show that the rev counters are actually 9 per cent over roughly, and the actual redline is around 16,200.
In a gesture, which I think absolves Yamaha of any guilt or wrong-doing, Yamaha has said that the error slipped through the framework, and they would like to offer an opportunity to all customers who are unsatisfied with their new purchase. Yamaha has written letters to all the customers stating that the company would be glad to re-purchase the bike from them and cover any incidental expenses that the new owners might have incurred during the process, like registration etc. Nice job, Yamaha.
MRF is slowly gaining a reputation. Unfortunately not all aspects of the growing legend are good. Pros first, they’re easily the most prolific of Indian tyre makers. They supply the lion’s share of OEM tyres and do rather well on the replacement market as well. Their tyres are usually beyond reproach, although they’re still less grippy than I’d like them to be. However, the cons are that many believe MRF is getting complacent about their leadership, which isn’t good. Suddenly Ceat and TVS are both making comparable or better tyres. And today, we were delighted to find a MRF Nylogrip Zapper-FV in a shop. And the chap was all praise for the tyre but said, ‘it is a rude company. They treat you like dirt.’ QED.
But this post isn’t about MRF. It’s about the tyre. The tyre looks quite normal. It has three ribs down the middle, with a normal Zapper style edge tread. It wears a night-glow ‘radium’ strip along the tread edge on the sidewall and is the stickiest front tyre MRF makes. Hard to find, I’ve spotted this tyre most commonly at race track, where race teams use it. If you ask them where they got it from, the answer is always the same, ‘MRF gives out a few to special riders only. Like us.’ Why?
In effect, the direct translation of chor bazaar is thief market. Of course, if you’re already painting pictures of an Indian market, all hustle-bustle, chaos and colour populated thickly with thieves, pickpockets and all other sorts of low lifes, forget it.
The cognoscenti will say dress down, wear cheap, threadbare clothes, take a cab there and back (they might strip your car to its constituents while you’re in the rabbits warren of the market.). And more than once, you can come to shop and see the grease-covered men industriously stripping an old Premier or something down. And five minutes later you pass by the same joint, and the car’s gone. All that remains is a strangely familiar grille hanging in the shop front, four wheels and tyres that have just appeared on the pile outside, a new engine block staring darkly back at you and other bits and bobs, carefully and haphazardly stacked around the place. It’s all for sale, of course, bargaining is a must. The cardinal rule is you never ask where the shop got it from.
Two colleagues and I went looking for bits for an RD one of them is restoring. We found a cotton waste shop that sells the stringy stuff that sends mechanics into orbit with delight. Kilos of the stuff. We found a rather expensive but attractive Fury fork. We found more Pulsar tanks, fairings and bits than I’d like to think about. We found a shop whose false ceiling was made up entirely of dark grey carburettors from a thousand machines. We found a shop stacked to the ceiling with used nuts and bolts. And with the aroma of grease, oil and engines mixes the smell of kebabs cooking… If it weren’t for the fear that I’m about three seconds from losing my wallet and cellphone, I’d hang out here forever.
What a neat idea! The AFX FX-11 Lightforce helmet has a rechargeable battery pack that allegedly does not interfere with weight or comfort. The battery runs two powerful fans that take care of visor fogging. That, while admirable, I'm not too impressed with. However, the battery also powers an LED map light that's mounted on the left side of the opening, inside the helmet. Now that's innovation. No, I don't give a hoot about headphone integration, bluetooth etc. inside helmets.
Feb 16, 2006
Does anyone know where I can lay my hands on the text of the full Hurt report? I can only seem to find the 50-odd findings (listed below for your benefit). I'd like to browse the entire study. What to do only, I'm nerd-geek with a throttle-happy brain.
Full name of report: Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures, Volume 1: Technical Report, Hurt, H.H., Ouellet, J.V. and Thom, D.R., Traffic Safety Center, University of Southern California, Los Angeles
Throughout the accident and exposure data there are special observations which relate to accident and injury causation and characteristics of the motorcycle accidents studied. These findings are summarized as follows:
1. Approximately three-fourths of these motorcycle accidents involved collision with another vehicle, which was most often a passenger automobile. [detailed explanation]
2. Approximately one-fourth of these motorcycle accidents were single vehicle accidents involving the motorcycle colliding with the roadway or some fixed object in the environment.
3. Vehicle failure accounted for less than 3% of these motorcycle accidents, and most of those were single vehicle accidents where control was lost due to a puncture flat. [detailed explanation]
4. In single vehicle accidents, motorcycle rider error was present as the accident precipitating factor in about two-thirds of the cases, with the typical error being a slideout and fall due to overbraking or running wide on a curve due to excess speed or under-cornering. [detailed explanation]
5. Roadway defects (pavement ridges, potholes, etc.) were the accident cause in 2% of the accidents; animal involvement was 1% of the accidents.
6. In multiple vehicle accidents, the driver of the other vehicle violated the motorcycle right-of-way and caused the accident in two-thirds of those accidents.
7. The failure of motorists to detect and recognize motorcycles in traffic is the predominating cause of motorcycle accidents. The driver of the other vehicle involved in collision with the motorcycle did not see the motorcycle before the collision, or did not see the motorcycle until too late to avoid the collision. [detailed explanation]
8. Deliberate hostile action by a motorist against a motorcycle rider is a rare accident cause. The most frequent accident configuration is the motorcycle proceeding straight then the automobile makes a left turn in front of the oncoming motorcycle.
10. Intersections are the most likely place for the motorcycle accident, with the other vehicle violating the motorcycle right-of-way, and often violating traffic controls. [detailed explanation]
11. Weather is not a factor in 98% of motorcycle accidents.
12. Most motorcycle accidents involve a short trip associated with shopping, errands, friends, entertainment or recreation, and the accident is likely to happen in a very short time close to the trip origin. [detailed explanation]
13. The view of the motorcycle or the other vehicle involved in the accident is limited by glare or obstructed by other vehicles in almost half of the multiple vehicle accidents.
14. Conspicuity of the motorcycle is a critical factor in the multiple vehicle accidents, and accident involvement is significantly reduced by the use of motorcycle headlamps (on in daylight) and the wearing of high visibility yellow, orange or bright red jackets.
15. Fuel system leaks and spills were present in 62% of the motorcycle accidents in the post-crash phase. This represents an undue hazard for fire.
16. The median pre-crash speed was 29.8 mph, and the median crash speed was 21.5 mph, and the one-in-a-thousand crash speed is approximately 86 mph.
17. The typical motorcycle pre-crash lines-of-sight to the traffic hazard portray no contribution of the limits of peripheral vision; more than three-fourths of all accident hazards are within 45deg of either side of straight ahead.
18. Conspicuity of the motorcycle is most critical for the frontal surfaces of the motorcycle and rider.
19. Vehicle defects related to accident causation are rare and likely to be due to deficient or defective maintenance.
20. Motorcycle riders between the ages of 16 and 24 are significantly overrepresented in accidents; motorcycle riders between the ages of 30 and 50 are significantly underrepresented. Although the majority of the accident-involved motorcycle riders are male (96%), the female motorcycles riders are significantly overrepresented in the accident data.
22. Craftsmen, laborers, and students comprise most of the accident-involved motorcycle riders. Professionals, sales workers, and craftsmen are underrepresented and laborers, students and unemployed are overrepresented in the accidents.
23. Motorcycle riders with previous recent traffic citations and accidents are overrepresented in the accident data.
24. The motorcycle riders involved in accidents are essentially without training; 92% were self-taught or learned from family or friends. Motorcycle rider training experience reduces accident involvement and is related to reduced injuries in the event of accidents.
25. More than half of the accident-involved motorcycle riders had less than 5 months experience on the accident motorcycle, although the total street riding experience was almost 3 years. Motorcycle riders with dirt bike experience are significantly underrepresented in the accident data.
26. Lack of attention to the driving task is a common factor for the motorcyclist in an accident.
27. Almost half of the fatal accidents show alcohol involvement.
28. Motorcycle riders in these accidents showed significant collision avoidance problems. Most riders would overbrake and skid the rear wheel, and underbrake the front wheel greatly reducing collision avoidance deceleration. The ability to countersteer and swerve was essentially absent.
29. The typical motorcycle accident allows the motorcyclist just less than 2 seconds to complete all collision avoidance action.
30. Passenger-carrying motorcycles are not overrepresented in the accident area.
31. The driver of the other vehicles involved in collision with the motorcycle are not distinguished from other accident populations except that the ages of 20 to 29, and beyond 65 are overrepresented. Also, these drivers are generally unfamiliar with motorcycles.
32. Large displacement motorcycles are underrepresented in accidents but they are associated with higher injury severity when involved in accidents.
33. Any effect of motorcycle color on accident involvement is not determinable from these data, but is expected to be insignificant because the frontal surfaces are most often presented to the other vehicle involved in the collision.
34. Motorcycles equipped with fairings and windshields are underrepresented in accidents, most likely because of the contribution to conspicuity and the association with more experienced and trained riders.
35. Motorcycle riders in these accidents were significantly without motorcycle license, without any license, or with license revoked.
36. Motorcycle modifications such as those associated with the semi-chopper or cafe racer are definitely overrepresented in accidents.
37. The likelihood of injury is extremely high in these motorcycle accidents-98% of the multiple vehicle collisions and 96% of the single vehicle accidents resulted in some kind of injury to the motorcycle rider; 45% resulted in more than a minor injury.
38. Half of the injuries to the somatic regions were to the ankle-foot, lower leg, knee, and thigh-upper leg.
39. Crash bars are not an effective injury countermeasure; the reduction of injury to the ankle-foot is balanced by increase of injury to the thigh-upper leg, knee, and lower leg.
40. The use of heavy boots, jacket, gloves, etc., is effective in preventing or reducing abrasions and lacerations, which are frequent but rarely severe injuries.
41. Groin injuries were sustained by the motorcyclist in at least 13% of the accidents, which typified by multiple vehicle collision in frontal impact at higher than average speed.
42. Injury severity increases with speed, alcohol involvement and motorcycle size.
43. Seventy-three percent of the accident-involved motorcycle riders used no eye protection, and it is likely that the wind on the unprotected eyes contributed in impairment of vision which delayed hazard detection.
44. Approximately 50% of the motorcycle riders in traffic were using safety helmets but only 40% of the accident-involved motorcycle riders were wearing helmets at the time of the accident.
45. Voluntary safety helmet use by those accident-involved motorcycle riders was lowest for untrained, uneducated, young motorcycle riders on hot days and short trips.
46. The most deadly injuries to the accident victims were injuries to the chest and head.
47. The use of the safety helmet is the single critical factor in the prevention of reduction of head injury; the safety helmet which complies with FMVSS 218 is a significantly effective injury countermeasure.
48. Safety helmet use caused no attenuation of critical traffic sounds, no limitation of precrash visual field, and no fatigue or loss of attention; no element of accident causation was related to helmet use.
49. FMVSS 218 provides a high level of protection in traffic accidents, and needs modification only to increase coverage at the back of the head and demonstrate impact protection of the front of full facial coverage helmets, and insure all adult sizes for traffic use are covered by the standard.
50. Helmeted riders and passengers showed significantly lower head and neck injury for all types of injury, at all levels of injury severity.
51. The increased coverage of the full facial coverage helmet increases protection, and significantly reduces face injuries.
52. There is no liability for neck injury by wearing a safety helmet; helmeted riders had less neck injuries than unhelmeted riders. Only four minor injuries were attributable to helmet use, and in each case the helmet prevented possible critical or fatal head injury.
53. Sixty percent of the motorcyclists were not wearing safety helmets at the time of the accident. Of this group, 26% said they did not wear helmets because they were uncomfortable and inconvenient, and 53% simply had no expectation of accident involvement.
54. Valid motorcycle exposure data can be obtained only from collection at the traffic site. Motor vehicle or driver license data presents information which is completely unrelated to actual use.
55. Less than 10% of the motorcycle riders involved in these accidents had insurance of any kind to provide medical care or replace property.
You know as well as I do that if you get on it, you're going to come off it. In plain text, that means slinging a leg over the saddle and riding off is a firm commitment to falling. It may not happen for years, and it may happen just as soon as you've thumbed the starter, you never know. Anyone who tells you they've never crashed (and are therefore safer than you) are just statistical abnormalities. And those usually fix themselves.
But this post isn't about that. In my job, I am required to push the limit often. This I do as diligently as my cowardly disposition allows me. I will usually be trying to push just one of the many physical limits of the machine I am on. But sometimes, one broken law of physics is enough to cause an off.
But this post isn't about me either. It's about what I've learnt from the crashes. My third low side (slick corner, too much speed and a misaligned wheel... strong cocktail) happened a few years ago and was simply amazing. The first two times, I remember nothing. I recall leaning over, followed instantly by the sensation of a riding jacket doing its job and I slid to a stop, unhurt both times.
The third time round, I felt the bike go. I remember my brain tucking my knee in to save the ligaments. I remember tucking my feet as close to the bike as I could. And I remember consciously not taking my hands off the grips until the bike had fallen properly, absorbed most of the impact. Then, my body uncoiled, letting the motorcycle slide away (which it did, across six incredulous lanes of an T-intersection). As I slid to a stop, I remember lying on my side looking for traffic, which might have run over me, or worse. I took in the fact that the light was green on my side, and no one was following closely enough to do any damage.
I felt almost like a hero when I walked extra-casually to the bike, picked it up and rode off. Most of the slack-jaws at that intersection were not going in my direction. Else they would have spotted the second low side of the day not three corners later - I hadn't spotted the misalignment yet...
Point is, you can consciously make decisions even as you fall that can add up to greater safety. You could roll into a ball and preserve momentum to give close following traffic time to react. You could consciously relax as you make impact, properly ragdoll to reduce chances of breaking bones. And you could calmly slide to a stop, none the worse for the wear.
There is one thing though. You must be absolutely sure that you've stopped sliding before you attempt to get up. Else it can hurt badly. The liquid in the inner ear is sloshed about when you fall and you can completely lose orientation (including the one that tells you you've finally stopped).
I once downloaded the only copy of Motor Cycle News I 've ever read. It was one of those low-res versions MCN was using to sell its online subscription service. I liked the content (apart from the latest bikes of 2015 and all, of course), but it was too freaking expensive to even be worth considering.
In that issue, California Superbike School UK chief Andy Ibott had one simple word of advice. And I've been using it ever since.
He said, 'At the end of a long, hard ride, the muscles that should hurt is the stomach and thigh. ' That's because, Ibott beleives that lots of riding benefits come from just locking the lower body into a road bike. Just eliminating the looseness of contact between the lower body and motorcycle produces a lower level of feel and feedback. And he's bang on target.
Why did I call the post Nutcracker Symphony? Well, hugging the tank tight will also stop you from sliding forward and slamming into the raised end of the tank... Ouch... when you're braking hard. It also gives you more control on weight transfer, allows the arms to stay relaxed under braking...
I tried it and now I can't touch the bike enough. Once the balls of my feet are on the pegs, I can feel the machine from ankle upwards, in an almost unbroken contact patch right up to the crotch. And then outwards to the insides of the knee. The result is a clear stream of feeback, not unlike the difference between a conventional and fibre optic transmission. Its lovely. Just don't practice this on old Harley's though. You'll be shaking like a mobile phone.
Wondering why I called this post Nutcracker Symphopny? Well, hugging the tank also protects the family jewels under hard braking. And you no longer slide painfully up against the rise in the tank. Which is to say, not hugging the tank and hard braking may equal Crazy Frog ringtone...
-Ken 'Hawkeye' Glassman, MSF instructor
Kinetic just launched India's first large-capacity (no laughing, strictly relative term) maxi-scooter (big-boned automatic scooter with spacious accomodations and lots of painted bodywork). Originally called the Italjet Millenium, then the Kinetic Blade (we found out later that Bajaj had already registered that name), then the Kinetic Millenium and finally, the Kinetic Blaze.
To quickly run through the specs, the Blaze runs a 165cc four-stroke single-cylinder motor that appears to be borrowed from the far-from-well-received GF series motorcycles. You'd be hard-pressed to tell because the eager but shrill and rackety engine has been given the R&D equivalent of a Sabira Merchant etiquette program. The 'fixed' engine gives the Blaze 11.6 bhp to play with. Which makes it the first Indian scooter to breach the 10 bhp barrier. Heh heh.
More to the point, down a open straight stretch of road, the Blaze will easily pull past 100 kph before it runs out of breath. Even with the throttle pinned for everything it is worth, the Blaze does not feel to stressed, which is something I like. In traffic, acceleration is brisk enough for quick overtakes and most people unexpectedly find themselves staring at the rather large (pretty also) rear end of the Blaze, another thing I enjoy.
And it isn't just a big re-interpretation of the usual point-and-shoot commute scoot either. This one handles like a machine its size should. You can swoop into corners and power out of them and actually enjoy the feeling, rather than being super-alert and always ready, just in case the scooter misbehaves. Which is one thing it seems not to know how to do.
Perhaps the sort point is the ride quality once good pavement ends. When I put the Blade through the rough stuff, it seemed to abhor the prospect, thudding, clattering and shuddering a constant protest to my still full-rolled on throttle. Even at more sedate rates of progress, though, the telescopic shocks and twin rear shocks that work so well on better surfaces appear not to have a clue. Then again, I am told the bike I got ride was a prototype, and not a regular production vehicle so stuff can still change. Hopefully, the bad road ride quality will.
This monday, Kinetic announced the pricing for the bike: INR 49,999 ex-showroom Pune for the drum brakes version (in pic). Tack on another three grand for the disc option. It is fast enough to need the disc, mind you. So I think the drum version should not be purchased at all.
But the question is, should you buy it? Well, I'm divided. First of all, the scooter itself is very nice and all of that sort of thing. As such, there isn't much by way of product specification/feel deterrents. However, the brand on the visor does say Kinetic. Which means poor finish levels and fairly sticky service quality... And I remember hearing that the GF series of motorcycles didn't do that well on reliability either... Er... No, if I were a scooter buyer, I'd definitely wait for a lot of people to buy the Blaze, read up on their experience and then make the decision. And you?
Here are the tech upshots:
165.12 cc, 4 valves, SOHC Single cylinder engine. 11.6 bhp@7500 rpm , 1.2 kgm@5000 rpm Variomatic, Elec start. Underbone tubular chassis, Telescopic forks and hydraulic shock absorbers, 220mm disc brake optional, 130mm drums. Dunlop 120/70-12 and 130/70-12. 1990x700x950mm. Wheelbase 1495mm. 136 kg dry. 6 litre fuel tank.
0-50kph in 5.5 sec, Fuel efficiency: 40-45 kpl, Top speed: 85 kph (All figures claimed)
Feb 15, 2006
Imagine you're busy fashioning one of those super-quick, almost unobtrusive commutes that let your slip through the urban fabric unnoticed. One of those rides where you get to work all sweaty, wanting to yell out to everyone and explain the technical highpoints of the ride in graphic detail.
Whereupon they all look at you and think, 'stupid, immature, excitable jerk.'
Then, a car turns sharp left in front of you. The dream shatters and you wake up in a white bed, stare at a boring ceiling.
Moments later, all the colleagues file in, commiserate and think, 'stupid, immature, excitable jerk.'
I just thought of something (no doubt the seed was sowed by someone on the net...) as a precaution against oblivious cagers cutting you off. Three words: Watch The (Front) Wheels.
Any four wheeler intending to change direction, be it a sharp motorcyclist-decapitating ninety degree swipe, a lane change or a jink around a candy bar wrapper in the middle of the lane, must begin with a steering correction. And thanks to the non-turning nature of the surrounding paint work, it should be easy to spot. Moving object against a stable background, I think it's called.
I've tried it. Combined with peripheral vision registering turning hands on the steering wheel in cars, you can react way, way quicker to a car that's about to do you in. All you have to do is leave a sliver of peripheral vision down below, where you can spot the front wheels of cars you're about to pass. Even actively malevolent drivers will give themselves away. Obviously, this presupposes the fact that you're going slow enough to do something in the interest of self-preservation.
Further, I tried this while waiting at intersections. I found myself shying away from stopping next to or near the front ends of cars whose wheels were pointing at me. The cagers are too lazy to steer it straight and when they release the clutch, the car's going to pounce on me.
Okay, all done. You can return to imagining the perfect commute again, then.
You've seen the Valentine's Day post. Here's a detailed version of the first fist fight. Quick recap: My autorickshaw swerves to avoid raised manhole. Hits the wrist of a chappie walking almost squarely in the middle of the road. Blows are exchanged.
We heard the flesh-metal thwack before we realised what was happening and seconds later, the chap the auto had hit was running alongside, already throwing wild blows at the driver. The chap then did the incredible, chucking his wallet for me to catch and pulling the auto keys out, effectively ending any fleeting opportunity for the driver to flee the scene.
Moments later, he'd managed to yank the driver out and was hurling abuse, blows, jabs and slaps at a furious pace. The auto driver, for his part, removed his hands free kit (!) and then, ran to a public call booth and immediately engaged himself in making a call.
I calmed the hurting chap down and he did. As he went along his way (still walking in the middle of the road), the auto driver called from the phone booth, 'And where do you think you're going? I haven't finished with you...' Unbelievable.
Is there a point to this? Yes there is. Most of the time, pedestrians in India walk with a confidence that is built on shaky, usually injurious foundations. And then they get all up in arms about minor crashes. When really, they should be thankful they survived. In this case, the walker was in the middle of the road, and it wasn't the auto driver's fault.
In most cases, though, the auto driver will swerve to avoid something in road, without actually checking his situation in the mirror and in traffic. I've had too many close calls in traffic not to know this. My strategy now is to head straight for the worst of the road, the one place they won't swerve into.
I think auto drivers should be taught to drive. Or thrashed.
That's one down and a few million to go, then.
Would it be considered cheesy, or irrelevant, or out-of-date (see post date) to wish everyone who is visiting this blog a cheery pink Valentine's Day? Yeah? Okay do like I do. Cheer for 46 and think of Motorcycle Racing god, Mr Rossi as Valentin(o)e. Sorry, bad one.
Anyway, one thing led to another, and I was not on the motorcycle on the way home. I ended up taking an autorickshaw (tuk tuk to some) home yesterday with the wife. Post-dinner at our favourite SST (sasta, sundar tikau (that's cheap, good and reliable)) Thai place, we were slipping through Mumbai's concrete streets. Then, our auto driver swerved right to go around a raised manhole cover. He managed to clip the wrist of a chap who happened to be walking down the road with a friend. This led to fistfight. More on that later.
We paid the man, left the squabbling group and took another rick to get home.
Then, in front of the new JW Marriott hotel in Juhu (which can never manage its own parking and ends of cluttering and eventually jamming the road its sits on), a Qualis was making a U-turn. Obviously the young teen at the wheel did something spectacularly stupid, because a chappie in a Ford Escort (notice how protective and paranoid they are about the car - since they can't get no parts...) leapt out, opened the passenger door and before the kid knew what happened, made bone-flesh contact.
Talk about it being a day to celebrate love. I don't think I've ever seen this much concentrated road rage in Mumbai.
Feb 14, 2006
Have you been commuting along the same route for a really long time? Riding past the same intersections, waving to the same co-traffickers, noticing the same idiots and all... Maybe you need to jazz up your commute.
I'll tell you why I think the jazz is needed. We humans are fickle animals. They say we can get used to almost anything. If I were to strap you into an F-16 today and do one 9g turn, you'd black out. Tomorrow, you'd be prepared and black out. A week later, you'll suffer the effects, but probably not black out... In the same manner, seeing the same people make the same mistakes everyday, avoiding the same danger at the same place twice daily can lead you to becoming complacent. Your concentration levels will come down, and bam! something will catch you out.
Over the past few days, I gave up a commute route I rather liked in favour of finding a new one. I started using one that my colleague recommended and ended up finding a close-run alternate that works even better. In the process, I cut down almost half the signaled, major intersections from my route. Lowered the peak speeds and significantly boosted the average speeds. The new route runs through smaller routes will less traffic, is only a kilometer of so longer and I think is far, far lower in terms of potential hazards. And it's new, which means new corners, new straights and new fellow commuters.
The other reason why I highly recommend finding alternates is that it allows you to touch more of the town you're in. You'll see different localities, spot more places you could dine out at, find the super pub you've always been looking for (to return to it sans bike, later) and so forth. Also, choosing a small detour could end up taking you around a particularly nasty intersection smoothly.
And finally, the day traffic is really, really bad, you know five alternate routes that you could take and get home/to work smoothly.
The wife finally managed to drag me back into cinema theatre to watch a Hindi film. Of course, it all couldn't go smoothly so I had to blow right past my leave office deadline, and mis-read the watch as well... as it turns out, I did make it just about on time, panting into the house at the smoking hot end of a white hot, blazing quick ride back from work. Didn't take any risks, no mistakes I can recall now... superb job, even.
We made it to the CineWhatever in Andheri (W), Mumbai a bit delayed and missed the opening scenes of the movie. We watched from the point where Sue (the phoren youngster) comes to the Delhi University, hooks up with Is-That-Sharmila Ali Khan.
I was into the film almost instantly. I don't think I've personally identified with a film quite as much as this. The director (bloody hell, I'm reviewing a film, and I don't even know who the chaps behind it are) has done a superb job of capturing the flavour of hours spent in the college canteen, the loose and yet strong friendships and the meandering, smart-alecky banter that goes with it. I guarantee that anyone who went to a college in the last ten-fifteen years will immediately begin enjoying this film. And stay well entertained at least until the intermission.
CineWhatever, by the way, serves excellent popcorn and the handcart on the right of the entrance has very acceptable black coffee. No venti, super foamy, extra late, extra hot capuccino with baileys on top and room to go though...
Past break, however, the film leads you in two directions. I am from the school where cinematic thrills that require a minor suspension of logic and scale are fine. In this mode, the film never backs off. The way the freedom fighter bits and the current reality bits work together is eminently watchable. They do restrict the end plot to a single, dramatic, bloody option, but so be it. In this mode, this is a hugely watchable film, and easily the best I've seen in a long while. Yes, I think this time round, I won't be betting on Black. Especially given that RDB was not a copy of anything that's already been made (they still do that?)
On the other hand, once logic asserts itself, the post-intermission reels quickly soar into hyperbole, unbelievable leaps of logic are made and it quickly goes way, way south. It almost feels like the characters that opened the film leave the building at the halfway point, go home and catch forty winks, while their altogether more demented twins come in and take over for the rest of the way.
In today's day and age, which is well-represented in the first half, would a rational, obviously intelligent bunch of youngsters, no matter how emotionally outraged, choose the most stupid, destructive - granted, dramatic - way to retaliate? A way that almost guarantees the loss of personal freedoms. I didn't think so either.
That said, I'll tell you something more. I'm definitely buying the DVD.
For those who have returned to rearset to find no progress, I humbly apologize. I am busiest in the fifth to tenth of every month and as I found out, I had absolutely no time to sit down and pen anything for the blog. Kindly excuse.
Oi! Would you believe that blogger.com spell check thinks 'blog' is a mistake? :-)
Feb 6, 2006
It is winter in most of the great motorcycling nations around the top half of the globe. The result are some serious letters in bike mags. This one, I just loved.
In Bike, February 2006, on page 9 is this gem:
December 2005, 11:15am, dull and cold, I'm painting my fence. I hear a bike wail down the bypass. Sod this! 11:26am in my kit, bike on driveway. Three hours, one tank of unleaded later I'm back with big grin and dirty, salty bike. Bliss.
Ben Langley, Lincolnshire
I love the magazine. And heartfelt letters like these.
Also, it makes me thankful for the sort of hot, sticky weather we have in most of India. Imagine not being able to ride for five months in the year. Gak!
To subscribe to Bike, click here www.greatmagazines.co.uk/bike
Feb 4, 2006
I currently ride a Bajaj Pulsar 180 DTSi. And on a cold morning, it goes fast enough. Fast enough to be a proper thrill. Fast enough to spin right up on a corner exit, helped by a thoughtfully placed metal drain cover. Fast enough to squeal the front tyre shedding speed into a nasty, slippery left hander along the way. Fast enough to buzz you up good in ten minutes flat.
And I know this. Which adds to the urgency, as I do up the various snap tabs, hook and loop closures, velcro thingys and get suited up. It demands the helmet shield be extra clean, the glove closures be extra tight and that the riding pants fit just so. Minutes later, there's a warming engine making all manner of promises to you. Promises of adrenaline, of pleasure, of speed, of the perfect cold morning ride.
Then you set about making the bike deliver on the promises. Devoid of the usual mess of traffic, the roads become lamp-posted speedways with blurred edges which race past your helmet shield with the urgency of a falcon in a swooping dive.
The intersections are now empty. Checks done, you can wind the throttle on long before the apex. As the bike widens the line, the rear tyre catches the drain hole perfectly. The rear of the bike suddenly goes smooth as revs rise and the front-end begins to point into the turn all of its own. It isn't a big slide, but it's a powerful, spectacular moment. With microseconds, the Pirelli at the rear recovers its composure and grip and with a gentle jolt, it returns to its raison d'etre, forward progress.
The rev counter stays around the 7000 rpm mark, just below peak power for the rest of the ride. Wind noise, satisfaction and a singing engine are the only sign of what is really going on.
Then in the distance, the sun rises. It is time to stop.
Next to sea, alone. Quiet. The morning heralded only by the quiet ticking of the engine.
And then the city wakes up again.
I put on the helmet again and slink slowly home. And lie in wait for tomorrow...
Today I woke up at 0445, rubbed sleep out of my eyes, drank coffee without tasting it. I began to really wake up as hot scalding water washed away the last bits of yesterday. By the time the boot zipper clicked in place, I was ready for another day.
I was heading to meet Mumbai's newest motorcycle club, the Mumbikers. The plan was they would meet up and then head off to Pune for the weekend. Now, the Mumbikers is a largely cruiser oriented community, where the Mumbai Motorcycle Company (MMC) run by Ash Chandler and Akshai Varde bring out their smart, innovative choppers. Bullets are welcome by default, and a couple of imported cruisers (Shadows and Steeds) also join in the fun.
It was fun watching the seven-odd members of the team setting up for their first group ride together. Chandler has thoughtfully gotten a print-out of hand signals and group ride rules for the riders, but I didn't see anyone reading them. I think the excitement of the road, of the ride and of meeting new people along the way was overpowering. That is understandable, of course.
But I just sat back and watched the lively chattering between the riders, back slapping, good wishes and even the fairly humourous rider's briefing that took place.
I don't think the brief was taken too seriously, but it is a start. I know most clubs spring up informally and the first ride often turns into a all-or-nothing race to prove who is where in the pecking order. Which means chaos, crashes, ego-fights and a whole bunch of nastiness.
Just the fact that that was missing in the morning today was nice.
I watched them ride off into the sunrise, leaving behind trails of dust, shattering thumps from the open pipe choppers and the fading images of early morning laughter.
Feb 3, 2006
A colleague just bought a motorcycle. I should be happy about that, right? After all, it's one more member in the tribe, more power to us and all that sort of thing, right?
Truth be told, I'm disgusted. The personal reason is that the man is irritating to an extent I did not think possible. He's awkward, seemingly unmotivated about everything and just aargh... But the reason I'm really not happy about him buying a bike is that I think he'll crash it. And crash it good.
No, this isn't a wish list sort of thing, I'm convinced that there are people out there who carry a sort of blinking sign atop their helmets (or worse, grubby smoke-laced hair) that says, 'Look at me, I'm about to crash this rig.' They come in both the ultra-safe, ultra-aggressive formats and I think there's ample numbers in the middle as well.
I can't quite put my finger on what it is about them that becomes the flashing neon sign. Or for that matter, any specific behaviors (off and on the motorcycle) that make me feel this way. But unfortunately, once the sign is spotted, at least by me, a crash follows with frightening regularity. Thankfully, most are 'escaped lightly.'
Take this man, for instance. He just bought the bike sight unseen. He's practically never ridden before and he sincerely believes that water cooler riding tips are all he needs to sort his riding. Since he didn't have a lid, he rode for two days saying, 'I'll just go out and get one.' Now that he has one, I wouldn't be surprised if I caught him the parking lot with the male end of the quick-fastener canoodling with his shirt collar (!), rather than the female end.
There was a minute there when I thought, maybe I shouldn't be such a boor (no matter how enjoyable that is) and actually teach him.... nah...
Today he waltzes in saying, 'you know motorcycles make you feel like god.' Right. I agree. And then, 'Oh and I nearly fell off. A woman crossed the road. I came around the corner, spotted her and the front brake... you're wrong... it causes the bike to skid...' Jesus. This is the same fellow who was playing flash games at work two days ago. Whom I re-directed to msgroup.org for riding instruction.
Let me assume for a minute that we're in the US and I recommend him an MSF programme. That, I'm convinced will improve his machine control. But I'm not sure that will make him any safer, or less prone to crashing.
Because I don't think the majority of riders crash because of machine control issues. They crash because they just aren't paying attention. And this man has a ultra-short attention span.
Or am I just trying to wriggle out of teaching him?
Feb 2, 2006
The Jethro Tull concert (previous post) was playing at the Shanmukhananda Hall in Dadar Mumbai. A year or more ago, I was in the hall, having the most intense musical experience of my life so far. Sitting in and listening to Ian Anderson brought up some of those memories.
Back then, the band playing was a Pakistani outfit called the Mekaal Hasan Band (the link is in the post title). Headed by a guitar-wielding Mekaal Hasan, the music was a revelation. Hasan takes the classical works of old masters (think dyed in the wool, ultra-respected classical singers like Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and all) and rejigs them. It sounds a bit blasphemous yes, but man, he does a great job. Drawing on his jazz and pop influences, Hasan resets the background score while allowing the powerful ex-qawwali school vocalist Javed Bashir to do a smashing job on the vocals. The results are stirring, hair-on-end, emotional music that I still remember as clearly as ever.
More to the point, the CDs are hard to find. So I managed to wrangle a CD of their only album so far, Sampooran by a little hook and a lot of crook. An effort not wasted, I must say. They played a more hard-hitting version of their music live, but the CD is altogether calmer, even lounge-ish.
It sounds great. I also like the fact that it allows non-classically inclined people like me, who do have an ear for good music (does that constitute a pat on own back?) get in touch with undistorted classical music. Albeit with a full drum set keeping time in the background.
The band is made up of Hasan, Bashir, Mohd Ahsan Papu on the flute (regarded as Pakistan's foremost flautist). At the concert, the superb Fahd Khan was on the drum and very much the life of the evening at the back of the stage. Farhan and Salman Albert were on Keyboards and Rhythm Guitar.
If you like Indian classical music, or would like a easy but gripping intro, give Mekaal Hasan a spin.
I still think that my Agent Smith imitation works for only two words: Mr Anderson. And yesterday, I went to the Jehtro Tull concert expecting fully to be able to use them, heh heh. But I didn’t. And even though I’m not a Tull fan, no not even after yesterday’s concert, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
However, a couple of sore points. Like all Indian events, this one didn’t start on time either. In fact, at 20:03, one gent – you’re the man, whoever you are – screamed into the empty stage, ‘IT'S EIGHT O'CLOCK. START THE CONCERT NOW... I HAVE TO TAKE MY DAUGHTER TO SCHOOL EARLY. IF YOU WEREN'T PLANNING TO START BY EIGHT, WHY DID YOU PRINT 07:30 PM SHARP ON THE TICKET?'
We all laughed with him and then Uday Benegal walked out to start the proceedings. Er… Alms for Shanti is okay, but only just. Gandhi’s guitar has an angry, screaming voice that seems out of place and out of time. I think the age of anger is past. Today its either angst or not caring that’s the flavour, really. But that aside, I think their single Nagoom has a lot of potential. But they need a better second vocalist than the Vivek, the Mridangam player.
But all the murmurs of dissent and occasional shouts of ‘We want Tull’ faded away as the frisky Mr Ian Anderson finally took the stage.
He’s quite a creature, isn't he? His skill with the flute is amazing and his penchant for humming, spitting, scatting while playing is just amazing. His between song humour is nice too - almost to the point of being what I was waiting for while listening to the flute - and I think he connected with the audience in a way that I haven’t seen in a while. His lead guitarist, Florian something or the other, is a bit of a find, and he played a nicely understated lead. Very, very nice. And I like the fact that his electric guitar had a sleekness of note and fluency of tone similar to Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler.
At the end of the evening, my companion and I slipped out into the warm night, just as the crowds began to chant 'one more, one more...'
There's something great and grand about live music, innit? Like a race-canned Ducati doing a fly-by as you stand stunned by the side of the road...
I have been a peaceful, unprotesting, un-canvassing, non-interfering agnostic for as long as I can remember. I don't believe in god, but I have no problem if you do. And I have no issues with what your god looks like etc.
But now, I’m having a bit of a funny situation stare back at me. You see, I have a good friend coming over, a chap I well, befriended very recently. Being male, young and all of that, I know he will want me to take him for a ride. And I even have a spare helmet and riding jacket for him already. But he’s a sikh and he wears a turban.
And I absolutely insist that anyone who rides pillion with me wears a lid. So my mom, dad, many friends and all relatives don’t ride with me.
But now, what do I do?
Feb 1, 2006
Most Indian bikers are pretty careless. Even those among them that actually have sat down and thought about their riding miss out some not-so-obvious essentials. For instance, I noticed that ear plugs come up often when you're trawling anonymously through international motorcycle fora. You could be in an model-specific site, in a heated discussion on motorcycle safety, or just hanging around in a general chat room with a motorcycle specific conversation unfolding.
So obviously, I had to give it a shot.
Now, earplugs, you'd probably be surprised to know are amazingly hard to come by. Most medical stores won't even be able to grasp what you want from them. The safest bet is to ask a colleague, friend or relation flying abroad to pester the air hostess a fair bit and mooch as many as possible.
But it is all worth it. The first time I rode with them on, I was spooked. I thought I couldn't hear anything at all, felt disoriented and overall, I almost refused to try them again. But I did go back to them. Now, I can't ride without them.
The second time round, I put them in almost fifteen minutes before I got on. I think that allowed me ears to get used to attenuated levels of sound. Surprisingly, on the bike, this time around, I could hear everything. My spatial orientation was pretty spot-on (no sense of someone honking far, far away or any such), and I felt very comfortable. More to the point, the lower noise level felt good. The ride, not slow, felt peaceful, I think I was calmer throughout and when I got off, I practically leaped off the saddle and let off a loud guffaw to celebrate the ride.
They work, and they work very, very well. Emphatically recommended. If you haven't tried them on, do it today, it will change your ride forever in complexion.
There are negatives of course, what doesn't. Don't use them for too long. You can actually wash them in lukewarm water and reuse them if needed. But look close, if you see pits where the sponge has broken off, it's time to get after a new colleague, relative or friend for a new set...
Oh, and physicians say improper use (read dirty brown plugs) make you susceptible to ear infections.
Since I have told you the cons, I must linger over the pros, right? Well, apart from making you ride peaceful and enjoyable, earplugs have a profound long term effect. The lower exposure to loud noises prevents, or should prevent tinnitus (ringing ears). Motorcyclists are regularly exposed to 90 dB of sound level (traffic, not loud bikes) and that can cause temporary ringing, which over time can become permanent, and then regress into permanent loss of hearing.
Do you need more reasons?
I love commuting. If I had to put my finger on what I have enjoyed most in the past twelve (!) years of motorcycling, I'd say I am amazed at my capacity for not getting put off by bad roads, traffic chaos and/or weather. I have met a number of fairly committed motorcyclists in Mumbai, who consciously park their bikes on days when they know traffic will be extra-heavy, specific parts of their commutes are jammed or if the weather is likely to cause trouble.
However, I am yet to meet another rider who likes commuting for what it is. I've often wondered what I love so much about commuting but I'm not even close to the real answer. And just to clarify, I do specifically mean commuting to work and back, on a motorcycle.
Perhaps the greatest pleasure I get is that arrive at either end of the trip recharged, full of energy and get-go. When I do the same trip in a car - I get music but it takes longer - I feel drowsy. When I take the bus - I get to read, it takes much longer, is waaay cheaper bus stop to bus stop - I don't feel any need to rush out and hack away at my to-do-list for the day.
In the ride itself, I think there is a lot of fun to be had figuring out what speed is the safest with reference to traffic around you, figuring out which lanes of the road to occupy through various sections, filtering through the fastest. I also tend to enjoy riding at a brisk speed without taking any great risks on a daily basis and as I've figured out, it can be done.
More to the point, I'm saddened at seeing other riders who push the envelope in traffic and then find themselves making as much or even less progress than me. More to point, they're an absolute nuisance to other motorcyclists and cagers alike.
But these, clearly, are the tangilbles. I believe there is another facet of the love for commuting that still remains hidden from me.
If any of you have ever thought on these lines, I'd appreciate an email/comment telling me what you think.
Also, I'm working on a list of ten things that will make you safer in traffic, and faster as well...