It's a pity, I tell you. I want to spend the rest of my days riding on racing tracks and never-ending canyon roads around the world. However, since no kingdom has come forth to declare me as their long-lost prince (not yet, anyway) and rescue me from my perennially empty wallet, I'll be spending more time riding on Mumbai roads. And since I'm a hopeless optimist, I'll take whatever I can get. And to make the most of what we get, all you need are a few add-ons and a little imagination. Here are a few basic things to make our urban GPs more lively.
1. Air filters
Let's get this straight - air filters don't make your 110-kph machine hit 150. And those who claim this have probably inhaled a few more fumes than required. Also, more often than not, on your average modern machine, the carb will require bigger jets to make the filter count for anything, or you'll just be running lean. In return, you'll get better throttle response, a wee bit more power and a satisfying intake sound, even in the first three gears, so you don't need to go redlining in top gear - in short, it prevents you from doing stupid things in a city. More than anything, the intake sound announces your presence to other road users, especially those in bigger vehicles. Worth the money just for this one thing, I say. Just make sure you get a good brand - we've tried K&Ns and Green Cotton filters on our bikes and they're both pretty good.
And no, the same justification doesn't work with loud pipes, the 'law' notwithstanding.
2. Rear-view mirrors
You're probably rolling your eyes - this one seems pretty obvious, no? However, I see many motorcycles being ridden around with their mirrors dangling at weird angles. Those riders must have guardian angels who take their work more seriously than mine do. Having mirrors on your bike does little good unless you use them. Whether it's standing at a traffic light or filtering through traffic, mirrors can be life savers. We haven't come across any decent after-market ones (most are just weirdly shaped with just a piece of flat glass), but some bikes do have better ones than others.
You need these everywhere. Indian roads are a melting pot of road surfaces as varied as the cultures that belong to the country. On my 15-km commute, I get everything from tiles to paver blocks to concrete to asphalt to tarmac to dirt. And I won't even mention the bumps, potholes, metallic expansion joints on flyovers and speed breakers. Enough to drop any tyre company's jaws. However, finally, we do have some decent rubber for Indian bikes today. MRF's sticky compound tyres are the best we've seen and they're not too expensive either. Michelin sells tyres in India too, but we haven't got our hands on them yet. Stick to stock tyre sizes. Fat is not fit.
4. Riding kit
Last but certainly not least, buy appropriate riding kit. No full leathers, here. Unless of course, you like yourself 'well done'. A light mesh jacket, ankle-length tough shoes and gloves should suffice. For the legs, you could do with jeans, but why not go a step further and get one of those armoured jeans which look like everyday jeans but also protect way better? And no, I haven't forgotten - always wear a good helmet!
5. Ride appropriately
There is this one corner on my commute - a fast right-hander on a flyover, full of bumps. However, there is a line through it that avoids all those bumps and even affords a knee-down opportunity. However, I'm yet to put my theory into practice. And I probably never will. Self-restraint is probably the most important thing that will keep you out of trouble. On any given road, there are many things that can end a ride pretty quick, but if you're going at the right speed (which can be 70 kph instead of 85 kph), you will notice them well in advance and take avoiding action.
Most of these things apply to motorcycling in general, but are of special importance in the urban scenario. If you think there's more to riding in the city, please do post your comments.