Yeah, always fun when people don’t know who you are, especially when you assume they do. This was not the most encouraging start to my research for writing this article, but I did go to his website, and I read everything. It did not help.
Last week, one teenager crashed his bike while attempting to set a record for a Golden Quadrilateral run. The news went viral, everyone expressed their opinions, and people moved on. In the same week however, another lady attempted the same record, and crashed too. That incident went under the radar, probably because she hadn’t hyped her ride as much. That’s an intelligent plan, all the fame if she had succeeded, none of the humiliation when she failed, especially now that she’s deactivated her Facebook profile.
When I learned about these incidents, 3 questions popped into my head.
- Why does anyone ride for a record?
- Why do I think it’s a bad idea?
- Can it be stopped?
To try to answer these questions, the first thing I did was shut my mouth and observe. I read this post, and the comments people made on it. I read this Team-bhp thread. I read this post and the comments people made on it. I discussed these incidents with my friends, researched about Guinness and Limca book of records, sat down and thought. And I licked Balaji’s website clean.
Then I wrote a satirical post about how batshit crazy this all is.
In some ways, it feels weird that I have to write this article, is there something wrong with my brain? There’s so much stuff that looks obviously stupid to me, and yet I end up drafting philosophical arguments, practical explanations, and abuse ridden posts to prove why that is so. The stupidity doesn’t stop, but I do start questioning my sanity.
Here’s another one of my exercises in futility.
Why does anyone ride for a record?
Based on my research, these are the only reasons I could spot. I was looking for a grand narrative, a series of ideas to blow my mind and change my opinion. All I got is the same old crap I always find, boring, willful, predictable idiocy.
Breaking a Guinness/Limca record seems to be the fastest way to have you and your motorcycle plastered all over newspapers. If you go through the profiles of any of these record breakers, often you’ll find proudly shared screenshots of news stories about them. Soon afterwards you can bet that one of Motoroids, Rushlane, or Motorbeam will run an article about this achievement. Facebook posts of the rider holding the certificate get plenty of love too.
To me, that looks like the endgame. There’s no inherent reason why anybody does it, the whole point of the enterprise seems to be “Look at me!”. There’s nothing wrong with that attitude, it takes planning, effort, and determination to get such a thing done, so at least the fame isn’t entire hollow. However, going through all that trouble just to become a bit famous is overkill, there are plenty of easier, faster, less risky ways of getting the same results.
Fun fact, back in 2013 I also wrote an article about Arnob Gupta and his Kashmir to Kanyakumari record. For some unknown reason, I didn’t write one when he had a horrific crash a year or so later.
It’s not about endurance, it’s not about mind over body, it’s about friends and neighbors recognizing your face in media.
If you read the post about the accidents by Balaji again, you’ll notice a distinct tone of authority. “I gave advice but none was taken so of course they crashed”. Balaji holds the North-South and Golden Quadrilateral records, and it’s easy to tell from his words that he enjoys the power that brings. It’s as if he believes he has a rare skill set, perfectly honed with years of experience. In reality all he has is luck, and not a lot of it.
In September 2015, he met with an accident somewhere in deep Himachal. I don’t know if he was on a record run or not, but his right hand index finger had to be amputated. For any intelligent person, that would be a sign to take things a bit easy. For him, it was supposedly an inspiration to do an Iron Butt Saddlesore 2000.
It’s strange to hear “99% of the risk in the roads are controllable” from someone who’s missing a finger because of a road accident, but that’s exactly what power does to you. If you believe you are special, you will rationalize any side-effects such a belief might have, and that’s OK. The problem begins when you start preaching others that just because you haven’t died until now, they won’t either.
When I used to live in Mumbai, a friend of mine decided to do the Saddle Sore 1000. We’d ridden together quite a bit, did Ladakh together. The interesting thing about his idea was the fact that he did not feel the need to explain why he wanted to do it, that the reasons were self-evident. He spent hours in the office going through threads of other people’s attempts, prepared well, and went for it.
I was in night shift when they started, flagged them off as they rode to the nearest petrol station for fuel receipts. When I came back to office the next day, he was already there. They’d given up and turned back about 10 hours into the ride. Why? They were sleepy, tired, and couldn’t remember why they had started to begin with.
A lot of people who do such rides don’t seem to have thought them through. All they have is this vague idea that if they do it, people will like them, and that’s the start and end of their motivation. This motivation obviously burns away in the face of reality, and they are left with 2 options. My friend chose option 1, to turn back. Option 2 is to keep pushing, for no good reason except that you are already there.
That’s how accidents happen.
Why do I think it’s a bad idea?
The simplest ideas are the hardest to explain, things that are obvious require the biggest justification. I’ve thought about this question quite a bit, what justification do I have to brand this concept of riding for records stupid? I’d written an article about Saddlesores a while back, and the same reasons apply in this situation as well, so I’ll not go into too much detail.
1. It’s a danger to others
This is the primary reason why I think riding for records is a bad idea. You are free to do whatever you please in your personal space, when you start stepping over the lines just to be able to stroke your ego a bit faster, that’s where the problem begins.
2. It’s meaningless
Guinness records, Limca records, Iron Butt certificates, none of these things mean anything. They are like Bitcoin, the entire reason they have value is because some douche somewhere says they do.
3. There are no good arguments in favor of doing it
There are a number of explanations given by people to justify why it’s not a bad idea. Here are a few of them:
a. Nobody in India follows rules of the road, hence there’s nothing wrong with breaking them for 20 hours a day, 7 days in a row: If nobody follows rules of the road in India, doesn’t that mean an even bigger responsibility for you to start doing so? Especially considering your self-proclaimed status as a skilled motorcyclist?
b. Such records are to prove my endurance, they have nothing to do with anything else: If endurance is your entire aim, participate in endurance racing, run a marathon, do an RTW.
c. It’s a genuine achievement to push yourself and your bike to the limit, and survive: No it’s not, it’s just lack of death/injury.
Can it be stopped?
No, and it shouldn’t be. A society built on banning stuff rarely survives, banning something is the easiest way to make people want to do it.
You should be able to do whatever you want to do, and that’s true for India. But when you do something, you are also responsible to face the consequences, that’s one thing we forget in our country.
1. Consequences for the biker
If you are riding for a record, and you are successful, awesome. If, however, you get caught by police for overspeeding, you shouldn’t just have to pay the fine for overspeeding, it should also include dangerous driving, and street racing. If you crash, your license should be revoked, and your insurance claim should be denied. If at some point in the future you do manage to get your license back, your insurance premium should be insanely high.
From a rider’s point of view, these ideas shouldn’t really make a difference. People like Balaji truly believe that they will not crash, and if you don’t, that’s perfectly fine with me. All I’m attempting to do is make things a bit more spicy, a bit more challenging. I’m reducing your margin for error, you are in public space, you shouldn’t have any.
2. Consequences for the record approver
In one way, the entire reason why people do these rides is for the piece of paper supplied by Guinness or Limca or IBA that says they’ve done something. Every time a record gets too hard to beat, a new one is spawned out of thin air. There’s no lack of extremely specific records that start with “The first person to..”.
The book of records are nothing more than weird marketing tools for their owners, and if they are willing to push people into doing stupid shit just so they can publish a book every year, there needs to be some consequences for them as well.
If you are attempting to break a Limca record, and you crash, injure/kill someone, Limca needs to have a case filed against them as an accessory before the fact. If you are attempting to break a Guinness record, and you crash, spilling your blood all over the road, Guinness needs to be sued to pay for the cleanup. If you are on an Iron Butt ride, and you crash, destroying a bus stand, Iron Butt Association needs to pay to rebuild it. They encourage such ideas to become reality, they need to take the blame when that reality rips someone’s arm off, or destroys public property.
I recently watched a talk by Nick Sanders in London, he’s a well-known adventure rider who likes to do endurance runs, giant ones. When asked why he likes to race against time, he gave the following answer.
“Anybody can ride around the world, there’s nothing special about it anymore. I try to add another layer of adventure on top of it, that I have to do it in this much time. Think of it this way, I was talking to Guy Martin a few years ago, and I asked him why do people take part in road races like the Isle of Man TT, even with all the risk, especially when there are better, safer options? He told me this: Anybody can ride up and down, anybody can ride side to side. The real fun begins when you have a 3D map of the entire TT course inside your head, you know every bump, every line of paint, every grain of dust. There’s no rush like being able to string a perfect lap on a track that’s 38 mile long.”
I understood him, and I respect him. The primary difference between him and the endurance riders in India is that he understands the consequences, and he’s willing to pay them.
There are other options in India, why not aim for the lap record at Buddh Circuit? MMSC? Kari? It takes much more effort, discipline, and strength to break those, but at least that’ll prove you have some genuine talent.
I do realize this article is not as articulate or funny as my articles usually are, at least inside my head. I think I’m tired of stating the obvious, adding a bunch of fucks and shits and pop culture references does make it more interesting, but that strategy only seems to work about 423 times. How many different ways do I have to tell people to stop being stupid?
Our society has a habit of repressing problems for decades, and then overreacting when the lid is blown off. We are lucky, people on endurance runs have only killed themselves until now, but if this trend continues, someone somewhere is going to kill someone innocent, and that’s when the shit is going to hit the fan.