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India road trip: Motorcycle Misery

By on July 23, 2013 in India with No Comments


A rendering of our rickshaw!

Motorcycle Misery (otherwise known as “why the f*** do I need a motorcycle license to drive in India?”)

Context: Needing a motorcycle license to legally (ha) drive 2,500 miles across India. Unaided.

Firstly, for all you rocket scientists out there who offered such helpful advice as “don’t crash”, “just remember to start and stop”, and “it’s just like riding a bike”, yes, you know who you are, thanks for absolutely nothing.

Taking the California Motorcycle Safety class, as the practical requirement for getting a motorcycle license, was one of the most depressing experiences of my life.

Day 1: Riding

This is a piece of cake, I thought smugly, as I deftly lifted my feet onto the foot pegs.

My joy was short-lived. I thought I was doing fabulously until the instructor informed me that screeching to a lurching halt leaving black tire marks across the parking lot was in fact not the way to stop a motorcycle. She did not react kindly to my “but it sounds so cool.”

I went home scared and miserable, having seen the line of people on standby that queued up at 5am to repeat the test. I’m going to be back here every weekend until we leave, I thought. It did not help that I overheard one guy say “I thought I was doing fine until we had to do u-turns.” Faking a motorcycle license (really, how would they tell) was at the top of my back-up options.

Day 2: Hell

It started with the dreaded U-turn in a box the size of a (rectangular shaped) mouse. I could not even get into the box, let alone do a frigging u-turn in it. That shattered my confidence for the rest of the day. I was on the verge of tears the whole time, knowing I was going to fail. Yes, I know, I’m a big girl’s blouse.

Shaken from failure and clearly being the one everyone else in the class is happy is there because it makes them look better, the day went from bad to worse. To save you the misery of listening to me bellyache I’ll skip to the end-of-day four-part evaluation.  Fail this and I was out.

Motorcycle Safety Test Part i. That f-ing U-turn again. I have attached a diagram (Diagram A) of my best effort because words cannot capture my superior motor skills.

Motorcycle Safety Test Part

iiSwerving. Adamant to make up for my crushing failure in the u-turn box I coasted up to the cones and executed a smooth path around the obstacles, coming to a gentle stop. Ha! I thought. Brilliant. Until they told me that two miles an hour was not an appropriate speed and that I had to repeat it and get up to at least 15 miles an hour. Sadists. It’s not like I’d ever drive that fast on the open road anyway. Still, my 15 miles was easily achieved, I narrowly (but successfully) avoided the cones, straightened the bike before braking (not good forgetting to do that), and hit the brakes. But overachiever me, I grabbed not just the brake, but the throttle too (is this even possible?), revved up to the red zone and disrupted several airline routes with the ensuing plumes of smoke. See Diagram B.

Motorcycle Safety Test Part iiiBraking. We had to approach a set of cones at a speed of some ungodly number of miles per hour, brake AFTER the cones, and stop before the white line. Well, I didn’t want to be sent back again for going too slow, so I reached at least 20, thundering down the parking lot, keen to achieve my goal. Unfortunately my vision isn’t too great, I miscalculated the cones, slammed on the brakes four feet before I was supposed to, my rear wheel locked up, and I skidded to a stop so far past the white line that the evaluator had to get binoculars to measure the distance. The look of wide-eyed horror in his face and the fact that he said “I don’t even know how to grade that.” clearly indicated that cruising along the Pacific Highway with the wind in my hair was not to be. Please refer to Diagram C for illustration.

Motorcycle Safety Test Part ivSlowing down before a curve (Diagram D). At this point I knew my goose was cooked. I had lost all hope. I was told I would gain penalties for going too slow, but as I had far exceeded the allowable number anyway, my only thought was to retain some measure of self-respect and not fall off the bike (instant disqualification). Several ants and a tortoise passed me as I approached the finish line. This worked to my advantage as the evaluator took a short nap right as I wobbled to the wrong side of the yellow lines.

Finally the nightmare was over. I had to wait in shame as the instructor called us up to get our grades. It works on points, each point being a count against us, with a maximum of 20 points before a fail. At least it was nearly over. My name was called. “Triple digits?” was my only comment. The pain started. I was told that I had lost points for putting my foot done 2x in the u-turn. Well that I knew I did not do. I may have done everything else wrong, but the only time my feet were on the ground were to assist with braking (no shoe rubber left). Hark! He had my points mixed up with someone else. He went through my encyclopedia of errors and asked if I would mind if they used me in a training video of what not to do. Just get it over with, I thought, not listening to the scathing account of the rest of my failures. And then, I heard the words, “so you passed,”. “What!” I cried. “Are you sure?!” Yes, he said, why, do you not want to pass? “Well, I wouldn’t let me on the open road,” was on the tip of my tongue, before I heard Rick rush up from nowhere and hurriedly say to the man, “yes she does,” and whisked me away from there before he changed his mind. I’ll never know whether the score was truly mine, but to the detriment of the world I am now the proud owner of half a motorcycle license (I still need to pass the written).

The End

P.S. Just realized I spelt braking incorrectly in the diagrams, but can’t be bothered to rescan.

P.P.S.  Update: Taking the written took nearly as long as the practical.  I got to the DMV at 7am for opening at 8am except due to budget cuts this turned out to be 9am.  Due to absolute incompetence right as my number was called every computer in the entire building crashed.  This caused the staff to start screaming hysterically and running around in circles.  Not to be left out I too began screaming and running around in circles.  Finally, at 11am everything was up and running.  But ye gods! I had to take an eye test.  This was not in the plan.  I rapidly memorized every chart I could see.  Having a good memory offset being blind in one eye, phew, passed.   What??!  I have to take a written test for my car license as well as the motorcycle?  Surely Indian bureaucracy cannot be this bad.  Excelling at minimum input for bare minimum output I got the maximum number wrong and scraped through the auto test.  Who knew you had to park less than 18 inches from the curb.  No wonder everyone looks at me funny.  And apparently those octagonal red stop signs are mandatory, not just a suggestion.  Finally, the motorcycle written test.  Despite the fact that I studied (thank goodness for that extra hour) I still got the maximum number wrong.  5 hours later I make it out of there though: mission accomplished.

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