I’ve been watching pictures posted by riders who attended the California Superbike School last week. It started an interesting train of thought about motorcycle riding schools.
After attending such a school for the first time, a lot of people seem to agree on one specific point, almost everything they knew about riding a motorcycle was wrong. I have felt something similar in a different way, when I first watched Keith Code’s documentaries, my next few days of riding were awkward, nooby, and dangerous. I was spending too much time thinking about what I was doing.
Riding a motorcycle is a very instinctive activity, things get weird when you start questioning your instincts.
As a kid, I was told that matter was made of atoms, and there was nothing smaller than them. A few years later I was told atoms are made of protons and electrons and neutrons, and there was nothing smaller than them. A few years after that I was told about quarks, and that there was nothing smaller than them. I always wondered why we weren’t told about quarks from the start, were we too dumb as kids to get them? I don’t think so, kids are like tampons, their absorption capabilities are surprising. In any case, what’s the point of waiting to tell someone the truth?
The same philosophy seems to be applicable to the world of motorcycle riding. You learn the wrong thing for years, only to be told later that it was all bullshit, here’s the real deal. The only difference is that you learn the wrong thing from the wrong people, you don’t learn riding from a qualified teacher, you learn it from your stupid friend who steals his dad’s bike, whose feet don’t even touch the ground, and who doesn’t have a license.
Have you ever wondered why there aren’t any motorcycle riding schools? There are a lot of driving schools, but nothing for bikes. In fact I could find only 2 places in the whole of India that teach the basics of riding:
Is riding a motorcycle such a simple activity that we trust Royal Enfield with it, a company that puts flaky paint inside a fuel tank? If it was such a simple activity, why do we have so many advanced riding schools? Something doesn’t add up.
The way I learnt riding was typical of the way it’s done in India, first started with cycles, graduated to scooties, then a scooter, and then a motorcycle. Scooters don’t exist anymore, which I guess is kinda a good thing, I hated that left hand gear thingy, the strange weight distribution, and that practice of laying the damn thing on the ground before every kick. The interesting thing about this process is that there’s zero official influence, most of the time even parents aren’t involved, by design. It’s like that practice of dumping radioactive waste into the ocean, did it create Godzilla who’s sleeping at the bottom of the sea besides Cthulhu? Nobody knows, and nobody cares.
The problem with this toxic way to start your riding life is that it’s nearly impossible to learn the correct way to handle motorcycles. Everyone in India is a self-taught bike rider, there simply is no other option. That’s a scary thought, imagine if we had a billion doctors in our country who learnt brain surgery as kids by poking a dead squirrel with a stick.
I once had a long discussion with Anoop of Motovation Track Days about why they didn’t have something for absolute beginners. It was another one of those moments when I realized I’m little more than a keyboard warrior. He told me that they had started just such a thing, but very few people were interested. Kids don’t have a few thousand lying around to spend on learning to ride, and parents would rather buy their teenage son a Hayabusa than give him money to learn how to ride one in a safe environment. There was another problem, kids who don’t know how to ride don’t have a way to reach the place where they can be taught how to.
That makes sense, kind of. We don’t give much value to the art of riding a motorcycle, so nobody is willing to put the effort to teach it to kids. But that starts another question, why don’t we teach it in schools as a part of the curriculum? We do seem to be able to find time for integral calculus and the stages of mitosis, would it hurt to include a bit of road theory at least, if not practical?
What I find fascinating throughout this train of thought is how a country of over a billion people, one of the biggest 2-wheeler markets in the world, doesn’t give a single shit about its most popular means of transport. We know that anybody can get a license to ride a bike, we also know that anybody who does get a license can’t actually know how to ride a bike, and that seems to be just fine. All the accidents and injuries and deaths aside, that’s just a very stupid way to live as a country.
I realize that India has a lot of problems, and that some people might feel that creating an infrastructure that teaches and promotes quality riding can’t be very high up the list of priorities. I agree, but you can’t aim to start 10 years down the line. If you were put in all your efforts and resources to fix this issue right now, the positive effects will only start showing after some 20 years or so.
And we wouldn’t be the first country to do it anyway, it would be easy to copy someone else’s system. UK for example has riding schools all over the place that teach you the basics of theory and practical, without which you can’t even hope to get a license. I’m not talking about implementing some impractical utopian system, I’m talking about a well-established international standard that’s somehow lost on the Indian mind.
What would need to change to make this situation better? Education, not just for the kids, but for the parents sitting on the money. Somehow, the average Indian parent needs to be convinced that motorcycles are not something that you figure out by yourself, while the elders look away on purpose, like masturbation. They need to be convinced that it’s an important life skill, must be taught young, and is well worth the investment, like cooking. Parents are the base for this structure, once they are convinced everything else will fall into place automatically.
There are people willing to provide this service, but they can’t be expected to do this for free. If we are somehow able to implement such a system of knowledge, it would reduce the number of deaths on our roads, make them much more fluid and organized, and create a lot more talented riders who can race on the international stage. I would understand if none of those reasons seem to be enough, we should still do it because it’s the right thing to do.
I’m not an ambitious person, but one of the rare ideas that motivates me to do anything well is the fact that I’m doing it. If I’m doing something, I would give it my best, because I chose to do it. I don’t half-ass things, life is too short to be unsure of your priorities. India has a gigantic population of motorcycle riders, it’s about time we stopped half-assing this shit.