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Crashing a motorcycle (and other notes from one year of riding)

Everyone loves the idea of owning a motorcycle; it’s almost a default with most men (and sometimes women). You pull up on your motorcycle anywhere and anyone who didn’t know you rode before will likely open the conversation with, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to own a bike but…” or “I used to own a motorcycle (three, thirteen, or thirty years ago)”. But very rarely do people pull the trigger on actually getting one themselves. They have many excuses; a difficult learner’s test, road safety issues, the weather, their weight, their height, the expenses, anything, and everything.

That wasn’t me. I’d always wanted a motorcycle. I’d been around them as a toddler in India, riding as passenger number four with my whole family on one bike. That’s not an understatement by the way; my family of four didn’t have a car in the early 2000s so we often traveled places by motorcycle (or scooter) like this other family here.

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Credit — Janet and Phil (Flickr) — https://www.flickr.com/photos/dharma_for_one/3885746811

This wasn’t unusual for the time. One of my favourite movies from the time, and possibly what planted the seed in my mind for getting a motorcycle was the Indian version of the Fast and the Furious franchise; Dhoom. It convinced my seven-year-old self that riding motorcycles was the coolest thing you could do, and I remain a huge fan of the franchise today, no matter how ridiculous the stunts get (seriously watch it and you’ll see).

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So I was the prime candidate for getting a motorcycle. I knew the downsides; I just didn’t care about them. My parents always knew too; and so, on my 21st birthday, they bought me one of these:

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A Kawasaki Ninja 300 — about as sporty as a bike can get on your learner’s

Needless to say, I was over the moon. As soon as I’d gotten through my 2–day learner course, I hastily decided to ride it home from the dealership instead of getting it delivered, in what would be one of the scariest experiences of my life (note- do not immediately take your bike on the freeway on your first ride). What followed was a 6 month long honeymoon period where I would ride every single day, for any distance in any weather, at any time. My day would feel incomplete without a ride.

Every time I rode, I felt a connection to the machine and my surroundings; something which could never really be experienced in a car. As cheesy as it sounds, the bike was an extension of me; a full-body exercise moving at speed. A twist of the wrist and you’re moving at 100km/h in seconds, a drop of the knee and the chassis leans with you, a press of the foot and the engine responds with a mechanical clunk, ready to fire up to 11000rpm. Some people liked dancing to express themselves through movement; riding was my dance. It wasn’t just a form of transport; riding was my form of self-expression.

There were other practical benefits to riding too. I could filter through traffic, and park anywhere I wanted on the sidewalk. My fuel bill was as much as my Netflix subscription. I always had a conversation starter wherever I went. Whenever I felt stressed, a trip to the mountains was my therapy; the dance of the motorcycle healed all.

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It was in the honeymoon phase that I went on as many outings with my bike as possible. I went on road trips, camped with friends, and solo (with my luggage on the pillion seat). My bike had seen a lot in its first 6 months.

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And then it happened. My honeymoon period came to an abrupt halt after I had a low-side crash at 80km/h on the Great Ocean Rd. I was extremely lucky; there was no traffic, I landed in an area with ample space on the side, there were conveniently two other motorcyclists who promptly came to help, and I crashed on the side opposite the cliff-face. I was not injured at all but it was a jarring experience to say the least. I was overconfident and overeager and I paid the price for it. The dangers of riding which I chose to ignore hit me all at once.

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I was humbled and my confidence came crashing down; corners I once took at 80km/h, I now could only take at 50km/h without shaking. Whenever I tried to push myself and go faster, I got drawn into ever riskier situations and had a few close calls.

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Slowly, the spontaneous road trips and mountain cruises ended, and the realities of living with a motorcycle set in:

  • You’ll never be able to fully relax on your commutes; on a motorcycle you have to be vigilant of distracted and plain unsafe drivers
  • You’ll either have to put up with the inevitable terrible weather conditions or inconvenience yourself by catching the bus/taxi/getting a friend to pick you up
  • Any shopping is a logistical nightmare; it has to fit in a backpack or you have to get delivery, or invest in luggage racks
  • Whenever you ride, you’re more likely to die compared to a car (no airbags on bikes)
  • Whether it’s a 5-minute ride or a 50-minute ride, you’ll have to put on at least a helmet. If you’re smart, you’ll protect every part of your body with full gear no matter the ride duration; helmet, jacket, gloves, boots, pants.

The next 6 months were a battle of monotony and inconvenience. All these downsides still existed in the honeymoon phase but paled in comparison to the benefits. When the novelty of the riding experience wore off, they revealed themselves. Slowly, motorcycles changed from visceral experiences to just another mode of transport.

My outlook on motorcycles has changed (matured?) drastically in the year I’ve been riding. The weather and all the other stresses are much more likely to stop me from riding, and I definitely don’t feel like riding every day anymore. The comfort of cars is a lot more appealing now.

Still, the sheer thrill of riding never disappears despite the weather, the logistics, and the dangers. And in the moments where the weather’s perfect and you don’t have to worry about the groceries or any stupid drivers, trust me; you won’t care about the downsides.


This article was originally posted on Medium on August 2, 2019

Notes after writing this post

The video of my crash ended up on a bunch of motorcycle crash compilations on YouTube LOL: