The good thing about the Indian two-wheeler market is that it’s really opened up in a big way over the last few years, and motorcycles that we could once only dream about are now freely available in the country. Only if you have the money, of course, but that’s a different story. The sad part is, due to the lack of a tiered licensing system in India, many inexperienced young riders who’ve suddenly graduated from smaller, slower machines to big, powerful bikes are crashing routinely. And in the process, often losing their lives. As can be expected in this day and age of social media amplification, there’s a lot of noise about banning big bikes in India, with detractors saying that our road and traffic conditions are not suitable for those machines.
The thing is, a 25 hp bike can, in the wrong circumstances and/or with an inexperienced rider on board, be as dangerous as a 200 hp bike. Speed, too, must not be looked upon in terms of kilometres per hour alone, it must also be looked upon in terms of decisions per second. On an arrow-straight stretch of expressway, with no traffic on it whatsoever, doing 150 kph on a 1000 cc superbike might not be a big deal since the rider’s brain can operate in a reasonably relaxed, unstressed state. That’s because the brain is working overtime in those conditions. On the other hand, on a stretch of road that’s packed with traffic, someone trying to weave through traffic at 60 kph on a 125 cc commuter bike may be very dangerous, since at every second the brain is having to process huge amounts of audio-visual data (cyclists and scooterists weaving and honking, careless SUV drivers changing lanes without signalling, dogs and cows roaming around, trucks and buses barging across traffic intersections with horns blaring, and so on…), and sometimes it can just get overwhelmed. And that’s when mistakes happen.
Coming back to the two-wheeler licensing system in India, what’s really needed is a tiered system – the kind that already exists in the West – which takes into account the rider’s age, number of years spent riding and the progression of bikes ridden. So, for example, in order to buy and ride a 200 hp, 1000 cc superbike, a person could be required to be at least 25 years old, have been riding motorcycles for at least seven years and should have ridden a succession of 125 cc and 400 cc bikes. These are not absolute but only suggested numbers – the idea is that the licensing system should look beyond basic riding skills, and also account for age, riding experience and the kind of bikes that a person has ridden, before allowing them to ride bigger, more powerful, more performance-focused machines.
As the two-wheeler market in India matures, and moves – at least partially – from utility to sport and leisure, bigger, faster bikes will continue to get more popular. Banning such machines is not the answer. Formal rider training and a tiered licensing system are, instead, the things that are more likely to work.