July 31, 2008

India culture and more about Enfields

Posted by gornzilla

I spent some time in Delhi trying to figure out what's up. I wrote a post for ADV Rider where I explained some stuff about India without getting cultural at all. If you're not planning on visiting India, just skip this post. It will be update in the future as I learn more about motorcycles and India.

These are just some India tips, and it's free advice, so take it as that. I have a degree in Anthropology but it's been 12 years since I graduated. This is from hanging out in Karol Bragh, the motorcycle district of Delhi, and from talking to Indian bikers and actively asking for hints and complaints about foreign bikers. I've also gone on a great weekend ride with a local club. I'm killing time waiting for my Ducati to arrive from Australia but I'll probably get an Enfield while I wait. So listen to that, I'm offering advice that some of I haven't taken myself yet.

I plan on going back to update this as I get feedback, and I've only been here 2 weeks.


Indians aren't out to con you (anymore than your local population). The people who post on Indian motorcycle forums, ADV, and HU have great jobs. It's not like they're shopping you to an Indian motorcycle shop for 20 bucks. The help they do are just for the sake of helping strangers in a strange land. Like stopping when you see a motorcycle on the side of the road or picking up hitchhikers. 95% of the time, it's perfectly safe and you can usually spot the 5% of freaks pretty easily.

When an Indian from one of these forums volunteers to help you, you take away from his personal time. Many have a 6 day work week. Try not to be too demanding. Like I said, they're doing it to be friendly, not to make a quick buck. Show some common manners. If you make a date, keep it. I've heard that one a few times.

I already screwed this up because I arranged for a ride from the airport. I forgot about the dateline and told the guy I'd show on Monday (the day in California) and not Tuesday (same day in Delhi). He waited for me for four hours and I'm still very embarrassed by that. I've got no problem taking up my own time, but I don't like to infringe on other people's time.

I think part of the problem is many Indians speak English so people assume it's a Western Culture. It isn't. Indians barter so foreigners assume Indians are trying to rip you off. In one way, they are, but that's how it works. They expect you to haggle. It's like you're in a nationwide motorcycle swap for most everything. Does Nigel Norton really expect you to pay $600 for a piston? No - he's just throwing out a price to start with.

Shops with a storefront are less prone to haggle. It's still a vehicle and I haven't bought an Enfield yet, but I don't think it's as "used car salesmen" like it is in the US.

Indians don't have the cynicism or spite that I've seen in some of the western nations. If they do, they've been hiding it. I met an Indian who bought an Enfield as a favor for a North American two years ago. It still sits in his shop waiting. In my book, that's kind of pushing it and if the guy who had the bike bought reads this, you should send money to pay for and import it. The Indian who told me doesn't care at all. He's totally fine with it. How many people would buy a brand new bike and store it for two years (so far) at the request of an email buddy?

There's no road rage here, and traffic takes some time to get used to. Is Delhi the worst traffic in the world? I'm not sure yet.


You can't rent an Enfield for a few days. Traffic here is some of the worst in the world and they expect that you'll drop it or crash. Odds are very good that you will. You need some basic first aid skills and you should really ride bitch for a day or two in traffic to figure out how it works.

You can't ride an Enfield like it's a BMW 650. It's a big ol' single that originated in the 1930s. They're torquey as hell but don't rev the hell out of them. When you do, there's problems. They weren't designed for that.

Those are the two main reasons why you can't rent an Enfield for a few days. There's no profit involved and they'll probably lose money because of the damage you'll do to their bike. Sure, there's people who push that and demand short rental but if the owner agrees it's because he's being friendly and to get you to shut up.

I've also heard stories of people renting a bike, then selling it! WTF? Why would you visit a foreign country and act that way? Would you do that at home? That's outright theft and just because you can leave without getting arrested doesn't make it right.

It's stories like those (damage, destroying) which is why rental shops often have high deposits. They'd really rather get their bike back, but visitors look at the bike as if it's an appliance. There are plenty of appliance bikes here and it won't rob you of your manhood (much) if you're on a 180cc.


You can and can't. Baksheesh (aka a little palm greasing) covers a lot of things. Best bet is to get one in Nepal or work out the arranged buy back here.

India runs on bureaucracy. There's paperwork for everything. The simplest and cheapest way around it is to have a local "buy" it for you. From mobile phones to motorcycles.


As an example that happens a zillion times a day, a truck will swerve into oncoming traffic to avoid a pothole or a buffalo or for no reason, this makes a bus swerve, which makes a car swerve, which makes an auto rickshaw swerve, which makes a motorcycle swerve, which makes a bicycle swerve, which gets a pedestrian to move out of the way which gets a Sacred Cow involved so everyone stops. Except whoever is the smallest can fit through the holes in traffic (or on the sidewalk) so they will and the whole thing starts again.

Of course pedestrians, bikes, motorcycles, and animals walk across roads or stop and make chaos into chaos. You know those scenes in war movies, where two guys are in a foxhole and there's a firefight and shelling and they're sitting there calmly talking? It sort of works like that. So much danger but it's controlled in a weird way. But people are going to get killed.

The roads are some of the worst pothole ridden bits in the world, but there's still Ferraris (and at least one McLaren) that drive on them.


Get use to rinsing your ass with a cup of water and squatting. You might want to try this at home first. I haven't been to the spots where people use dirt or leaves (yet), but I plan on taking a cup of water with me.


There are some of the richest and poorest people in the world here. Four out of ten on Forbes Top Earners are Indian. The middle class is about 300 million! People who post on the internet are more of the middle class type, so show a little class yourself. Telemarketer jokes are like shooting fish in a barrel. Those calls are paid for by yourselves and if you live in the US, it's our government giving tax breaks for off-shoring. Good for the world, bad for US citizens.

Random questions I've been asked by Westerners and Indians.

The country doesn't have an odd smell (Delhi was much nicer with much cleaner air than Sacramento with all the California fires).

There's not leper beggars with maggoty dead babies hitting you up for change while Mother Theresa looks on.

You will see dead people.

The streets are mostly paved.

There's a lot of beautiful girls.

Whiskey and vodka ain't the best, but Kingfisher is good beer (and cheap).

There's not a lot of whitey and people here are curious and very open about asking questions. My sarcastic handlebar moustache gets a lot of attention.

Even Indians buy bottles of water.

I'm epileptic and found my anti-seizure prescription for not much more than my Kaiser co-payment. It's not a common drug and a weird dose and it was next day which is the fastest I've had it filled in the US (often it's a 2 or 3 day wait). I had a pharmaceutical friend check them out and they're legit. I brought plenty with me but better safe than sorry. I think folks with weird prescriptions won't have a problem.

There's a difference between Western perfect and Indian "close enough". I'm working with that idea because I'd like to do some re-pops of some vintage European/British iron. Oh boy, has that opened up trouble on vintage Ducati lists.

It's hot but I'm from the Central Valley of California so 105F/40C doesn't bother me.

Oh yeah, just like everyone else in the world, people get generalizations from movies. Western women put out whether that's true or not. I've heard from many a Western girl that they don't wander the streets alone. Not from fear of being raped, but from the non-stop harassment. I talked to a blonde haired girl with full-sleeve tattoos from the California Bay Area who tried to hide herself with a burka.

I think that mostly covers the questions I had, and the questions people have asked me about India. I hope it helps. Sorry it's a thesis but I can be a wordy bastard. Feel free to rip it apart (if you can read it). Like I said, I plan on going back to make corrections.

Posted by gornzilla at July 31, 2008 01:24 PM

Nice to read another dispatch from the CBI (that's China Burma India Theater of Operations for the non-history geeks).

There was a recent NPR broadcast about the new, younger, upscale class of Indians and the explosion of consumer culture over there. Lots of new shopping centerss/malls are springing up and how everyone buys bottled water. It mentioned how India's waste disposal stream doesn't know how to handle the detritus from consumer culture (ie, discarded wrappers, empty water bottles, etc) yet and a lot of it is just thrown out on the street for the traditional trash-picker-upper class to deal with. There was also a very recent broadcast on how they built New Mumbai.

Posted by: Mr. S. Lyle Mar at August 1, 2008 08:53 AM

Your Truck made it up to Canada,over to Spokane and down to LA n' back.Something fell off in Oregon but it didn't matter.Also everybody asks me if I drink Pepsi cause the battery needs a good cleaning.Left the lights on once and needed a jump.I am so sure Canada didn't want the truck in Canada and gave me a little trouble.But once they found I was loaded and willing to spend lots of moo la on Canuck beer it was not a prob.Travellin' thru the Canadian Cascades was awesome and wanted to make it to the rockies but ran out of time.The Truck is now up for sale..Any Offers???


Posted by: jay at August 1, 2008 04:47 PM

awwww yah! your in the thick of it! excellent! Dont get hooked, you wont come back! woohoo!


Posted by: kurt Mcquiston at August 4, 2008 08:30 AM

I bring you important news from the homefront, Sir:

As of Friday 15AUG08, cockfighting will officially become an illegal past time in the state of Louisiana. They finally gave in.


Hope all is well in the CBI.

Posted by: Mr. S. Lyle Mar at August 13, 2008 05:28 PM