At 45, I am supposedly an old timer as a motorcyclist. No, it’s not the age or the fact that few continue riding at this age. It probably has to do with the fact that my riding spans two separate eras of motorcycling in this country. I started riding when choices were limited to the rustic Rajdoot and Bullet, the sporty Jawa/Yezdi, the maverick Rajdoot GTS (the ‘Bobby’ Rajdoot) and a little later the exotic Yamdoot RD350. Again, it was not the bikes that made that a different era but the way motorcycling was defined.
The Japanese were yet to come in full time. Machine reliability was directly proportional to the effort put in by the owner, either on his own or through a good mechanic. Long distance travel was almost impossible if the rider was not at the very least a basic DIY nut. Things were sure to break down and help was sure to be non-existent. Usually that is. Rare were times when you’d have a broken control cable or a clogged carb jet close to a large enough town to have a reasonably knowledgeable mechanic at his shop at that time. And fixing cables, cleaning plugs, adjusting the drive chain and replacing headlamp bulbs gone kaput were ordinary skills that almost every ‘serious’ rider acquired, usually out of necessity. Biking was wholesome. You knew your steed as well as you knew your own face.
Things were sure to break down and help was sure to be non-existent. Usually that is. Rare were times when you’d have a broken control cable or a clogged carb jet close to a large enough town to have a reasonably knowledgeable mechanic at his shop at that time. And fixing cables, cleaning plugs, adjusting the drive chain and replacing headlamp bulbs gone kaput were ordinary skills that almost every ‘serious’ rider acquired, usually out of necessity.
Today things are different. Machine reliability has made motorcycles now almost trouble-free, provided of course they are serviced regularly and the rider shows some basic machine sympathy while riding them. I know riders who have done thousands of kilometers on their bikes and are yet to feel the need to learn to adjust the drive-chain or change the spark-plugs themselves. The time between repairs is long enough to allow them to do some good long distance trips between the scheduled service and never face a failure on road. But then there’s another angle to this. Clinical reliability is rather sterile of charm and pleasure. Read any trip log and you’ll read about the sense of achievement the rider felt when he rode through a particularly difficult patch of road or weather. You can feel the excitement in the words however mundane or clichéd they might be. Ideally the ride would have been great had the roads been smooth and the weather perfect. But then would that be ‘interesting’? Would that be ‘fun’?
The ‘fun’ and the ‘interest’ come from a sense of having the skill, gumption and courage to face direct and tangible odds and win through them. And the roots of the absence of this ‘tangible winning opportunity’ lies in the way lives are structured nowadays. As clinically reliable and predictable as the machines. The prevalent professional trend today is towards work that is mostly detached from its real end result. The man is just a cog inside a mammoth gearbox and keeps turning in sync with the rest, unquestioning in the need for the box to work. A rewarding career (read a high six figure pay-packet) lies at the end of a series of gates through ‘esteemed’ institutes that churn out ‘package winners’ by the bucketful. The ‘work’ is unimportant as long as the package is good and the organization a brand good enough to lead to even better packages. Great for the bank-balance but not so wonderful if one starts looking for a sense of identity with the work. Imagine having to sit in one place for years through an education only to ensure that you spend the rest of your professional life sitting still again at some seat or the other just to see those zero’s add up in your bank statement! Where would ‘life’ be meanwhile?
‘Life’ is within touching distance if you want to reach out. Though it entails dirty hands, chaffed fingers, a couple of cuts or abrasions and a temporarily painful back. Do some bit of work on your bike, even something as mundane as oiling the drive chain and then take her out for a spin. You’ll feel the new found smoothness that comes from a well lubricated chain. Open the spark plug, clean it and put it back. Tighten the fairing and bodywork. Adjust the brakes. Ride it and sense the bike talk to you. Perceive that soft glow of satisfaction that rises within you from knowing and achieving, however tiny that knowledge or achievement be. The charm of my era lay in the need to learn to fix the machines I rode. And fixing them was not just about tools and parts. It was the add-ons that mattered too. You getting pulled into a network of like-minded individuals was inevitable. You’d exchange ideas and solutions, transactions that were far from money and its sterility. Friendships were forged on the road when you helped someone in need and shook hands for payment. The satisfaction experienced from work was proportional to the intellectual challenges it presented as the urge to surmount obstacles is universal and ageless. And troubleshooting IS a mental challenge. It needs a clear head, an ego-less emotional state and loads of prior knowledge of the machine at hand. Something akin to what any ‘esteemed’ institute would claim to inculcate in its students while preparing and propelling them towards professional excellence. And yet the fallacy would be in the detachment of the work with its function. Rare would be a ‘senior executive’ who would witness the direct consequences of his everyday work….continued