Suck a tailpipe. Wrap your lips around the exhaust and inhale while the engine is running. What you get is cleaner than the air in Delhi, India.
I landed at 5:00 AM and as soon as I stepped out of the airport I felt like someone had stuffed my head into a barrel of burning plastic bags filled with old batteries, used medical supplies and worn-out tires. My eyes started to water and my sinuses slammed shut. Welcome to India, home for 1 billion people and without a doubt the worst pollution I have seen anywhere on the planet. Worse than Mexico City in the summer. The Delhi air makes Los Angeles look like Aspen, Colorado in comparison.
I wanted to find a bike fast, and get out of town, as far away from the oxygenated cancer-puke as fast as I could.
Delhi may be able to claim the largest used bike district in the world, the motorcycle market area of Karol Bagh. There I found several used Enfield bullets but had to question the veracity of the odometers as a guy in a shop next door was rolling back odometers for about 50 cents each. Next to his shop was another where a worker was swapping an Enfield gas tank and fenders off a tired looking wreck onto a newer looking wreck that he assured me was a good running bike. I told him I owned no swampland in Florida and moved on to another seller.
I was offered a super deal on this "builder" in Karol Bagh. The seller said it ran, and with a little paint and work I could ride it for another 100,000 kilometers.
Before deciding on a used bike I called the Enfield field office in Delhi, and they told me to come straight
to their offices. I used the phone in the used bike guy's office and he could see my money go sailing out the door
as I left.
My first "new" motorcycle in nearly 20 years, $1,450.00 USD out the door. The same motorcycle would have cost me nearly $4,000.00 USD in the USA.
The Enfield Bullet 500 Standard is pretty much the same motorcycle the company has been manufacturing for the last 30 years since the English sold it to the owners in India. It came without mirrors, but did have turn signals. The engine pumps out a meager 22 horsepower, about what a modern bike with one-fifth the displacement does. The brakes are a wish in the front and a prayer in the rear. With a 6.5 to 1 compression ratio the motorcycle would probably run on some mouthwashes and for sure on some good vodka. However, given the riding styles in India, the quality of their roads and the opposition (taxi cabs, trucks, cows, people and buses), the speed and acceleration is adequate for the brakes and gasoline. Anything more increases the probability of death by a power of ten.
I added a few options (luggage rack, aluminum boxes which I brought from Germany, a small fairing, crash bars, mirrors) and some stickers for "Good Luck."
A local motorcyclist suggested I take the new motorcycle to a temple for a "blessing" before I left on my trip. I scoffed at the idea, tied on my own talismans and hocus pocus charms. In the first two days I was hit four times, three head-ons (sideswiped by oncoming vehicles). Since then I have sprinkled some "God's Dust" all over the bike and had some temple guru wave incense all around it while muttering some Hindu magic words.
India is an interesting place to ride a motorcycle. You first must forget anything you have ever learned about riding a motorcycle. What you know will kill you. On the Indian roads it is survival of the biggest, with the trucks and buses at the top of the chain. The driver of a truck sees a motorcycle as a speck sometimes worthy of a horn blare as they force you ride off the road onto the shoulder to avoid becoming a pancake. Next are the buses, which expect the motorcycle to give way, then the cars and the three-wheel taxis. Even the cows, dogs and people expect the motorcyclists to give way. I found that a day of 150 miles to 200 miles was a long day of avoiding crashes, potholes, cows, cars, taxis, dogs, people, trucks, buses, and slowing for the numerous speed bumps. Sometimes I forgot to forget what I know and wildly depressed the gearshift lever (located below the right front foot) where most motorcycles have the rear brake. Other times I would depress the brake foot lever (located under the left front foot) when I wanted to shift down a gear. To shift down a gear I need to use the right toe to move the shifter upward, quite the opposite of most motorcycles.
I was once told the relationship between a new motorcycle and the rider is like a relationship with a woman, the first 5,000 kilometers is used to get to know each other. After that each learns to enjoy what each other has to offer. Me and my Enfield are still in the heavy petting stage of our relationship.
My aluminum boxes took several direct hits from head-ons. They are just over a meter wide, far wider than a local motorcycle, so the oncoming cars and trucks do not give me a wide enough space to pass.
At first I thought the wide boxes would intimidate the oncoming drivers, but then again I once believed in justice, the political process and cops being good guys.
I soon learned that chugging along at 35 miles per hour on the little 500 cc motorcycle was about all I wanted to try. Any more speed was pushing my personal envelope and that of the motorcycle. Some people will scoff at this knowing that I often reached speeds of well over 140 miles per hour racing motorcycles, and of the numerous speeding tickets I have paid over the years. But in India, at 35 miles per hour I can slow the motorcycle down when someone runs a stop sign or pulls out to pass, coming at me, and it gives me time to slow down for the numerous obstacles jumping into my path on the road ahead. I also learned that slower speed gives me enough time to avoid the stuff being thrown out the windows of buses I am following. I learned that following a bus too close could be foul when a person threw out their entire lunch, which landed on me, after they had eaten and partially digested the lunch.
The other thing that I learned riding the Bullet in India is screaming does not slow you down. Nor does screaming seem to affect the driving style of the opposition. They just honk their horn and keep their gas pedal floored. So far I have kept my temper under control but can attribute that to not having had a bad hangover for a month. If you read of some American having pulled a truck driver through his window and beat him senseless you might well guess I fell off the wagon.
One of the Golden Rules for riding in India, like in Central America, South America and Africa, is Never Ride At Night. In this photo you can see the locals are using trucks and buses to smash the wheat out of the chaff by placing the wheat on the road. In the morning they fork up the chaff, then sweep the seed into bags. Riding a motorcycle over this stuff, even during daylight, is like riding over greased snot.
One interesting aspect of riding in India is the absence of Harley-Davidsons and Gold Wings with stuffed animals on their top boxes. In a week of riding I saw not one of the beasts. While I am sure someone has one somewhere in India, it is not where I have been riding, the northern part of India. I did meet an Italian motorcyclist on a BMW K1100 LT who is trying to make his way from Italy to Australia without using an airplane to get his bike across water. He was missing most of the left side of the plastic on his bike from a crash in Pakistan, but his spirit was still good. Over dinner he told me he planned to ride into China from Kathmandu, Nepal, and then across to Viet Nam and south from there. With no permits I doubted he could do it. I did try to explain that many motorcyclists had tried, unsuccessfully, to get into China without paying the big $'s, like $20,000.00, because I figured his biggest worry was getting to Nepal from Delhi. I may see him up the road, although I am moving slower and several days behind him. It will be good to hear his stories of adventure. He snickered a bit at my little 500 cc Enfield compared to his huge 1100 cc BMW, but I think we may have a classic tortoise and hare race taking place. I did not say anything about his effort to do the impossible, nor did he say anything when I told him how I planned on photographing a Yeti.
(The next leg of this ride around the world, on an Indian Enfield motorcycle, will take me into Nepal, where I expect to spend some time chasing Yetis. I read that the female Yetis have such big breasts they have to cradle them or throw them over their shoulders when running. At 35 miles per hour on my Enfield I should be able to keep up well enough to get a good sideways picture.)
July 27, 2000, Going Out Again - 'Round The World
October 4, 2000, Why Another Long Ride, The Plan, and Mr. Fish
October 10, 2000, the beginning, in America on an Indian
November 6, 2000, AMAZONAS-Tamed By Beasts in Brazil
November 22, 2000, Monster Cow, Wolpertinger and Autobahn Crawling Across Europe
December 22, 2000, Enfield 500 Bullet, India Motorcycle Dementia, Ozoned Harley-Davidsons and Gold Wings
December 25, 2000, Yeti on a Harley-Davidson, Nepal By Enfield, No Carnet Sexpedition
January 1, 2001, Haunting Yeti
January 25, 2001, Monkey Soccer, Asian Feet, Air 'em Up: Bhutan and Sikkim
February 12, 2001, Midgets, Carnetless, Steve McQueen on Enfield, Bangladesh
February 20, 2001, Higgledypiggledy, Salacity, and Zymurgy - India
March 20, 2001, Road warriors, sand, oil leaks - meditating out of India
April 8, 2001, Bike Cops, Elephants, and Same-Same - Thailand
May 1, 2001, Little Bikes, Millions of Bikes, Island Riding - Taiwan
May 15, 2001, Harley-Davidson, Mother Road and Super Slabs - America
June 8 , 2001, Crossing The Crazy Woman With A Harley-Davidson, Indian, BMW, Amazonas, Enfield, Hartford, SYM, Honda
January 1, 2002, Donged, Bonged, and Gonged - Burma
January 20, 2002, Secrets of The Golden Triangle - Thailand
March 31, 2002, Bear Wakes, Aims Green Machine Around The World
April 10, 2002, Moto Cuba - Crashes, Customs and El Jefe (Fidel)
May 20, 2002, Europe and The Roads South to Africa
June 10, 2002, Morocco Motorcycling, Thieves and Good Roads
July 30, 2002, Russia – Hard and Soft, By Motorcycle
August 30, 2002, USA – American Roadkill, Shipping Bikes and BIG DOGS
September 30, 2002, Good Times Roll Home, Riding With Clothes On, Team Green - USA
November, 2002, Mexico By Motorcycle - Gringos, Little Norman Bad Cock, and Bandits
March 2003, Laos by motorcycle - Guerrillas, Mekong Beering, and Plain of Coffins
July, 2003, Alaska by motorcycle – Deadhorse, Fish Story and Alaskan Bush
January 2004, Angkor, Bombed Out Roads and Dog Eaters - Cambodia
April, 2004, Minsking, Uncle Ho and Snake Wine
August 2004, Around The World Again, 1st Tag Deadhorse
February 2005, Colombia To The End Of The Earth - South America
January 2006, My Marriage, Long Strange Ride, Montana Nights
May 2006, Cherry Girls, Rebels, Crash and Volcano - Philippines
September 2006, Break Bike Mountain Ride – United States
March 2007, Kawasaki Cult Bike “No Stranger To Danger Expedition” - Thailand and Cambodia
November 2007, Lone Wolf Wanders: Bears, Moose, Buffalo, Fish
April 2009, Global Adventure Roaming: Burma through the USA to headhunters on Borneo
February 2010, Adventure Motorcycle Travel: Expedition to Alaska, then Java
Copyright © Dr. Gregory W. Frazier. 1999- All Rights Reserved.
Thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author,
and not necessarily Horizons Unlimited