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Rules of the Road – Riding a Motorbike in India

Rules of the Road – Riding a Motorbike in India

By on Jun 22, 2014 in Blog | 2 comments

Having ridden around India for 3 months and through Nepal for 1 month, covering over 10,000km in total, I feel like I have a reasonable amount of experience on the roads. I’ve ridden through large cities such as Delhi, Hyderabad and Varanassi and high up into the Himalayan Mountains through streams and across dirt roads. If you have ever ridden or driven a vehicle in any other part of the world before, that counts for nothing here. Buckle up, get a mask and be prepared to learn quickly how the Indians drive.

Fixing Bike in Munnar India

You can read more about my journey here, my experience riding to an altitude of 3,800m herecrossing the Indian/Nepal border, about buying a Royal Enfield in India and about a Poker Run riding experience I joined.

I wanted to share some of my experiences and give people a little insight into what they can expect to encounter on the roads so here are my….

Top 20 Rules to Survive the Roads of India

#1 – Never assume that another road user will look out for you, it’s every Man for himself out there

#2 – Always expect the unexpected, such as cows, goats, children, chickens and loads spilling out onto the road

#3 – Be prepared to swerve at a moments notice, around 80% of other road users do not have wing mirrors and never look over their shoulder

#4 – Understand that the larger your vehicle the higher your priority is on the road

#5 – The cow is king of the road/World, never ever hit one…

#6 – Do NOT stop for anyone, even the police unless you absolutely have to….Just ignore them and ride on!

#7 – Always keep a small amount of cash (200 rupees) in a “bribe pocket” along with your license to be used if you need to get yourself out of trouble

#8 – Never hand your license over the anyone, always hold onto it while showing the police

#9 – Use your horn as much as possible to warn other drivers you are there

#10 – Be prepared to pull off the road and onto the dirt when a truck or bus is overtaking while coming the other way, they will not move out of the way

#11 – Expect vehicles to undertake, overtake and go past you in ever direction, including head on down a one way street

#12 – There are no road diversions, just keep driving straight through the building site and follow everyone else

#13 – Try not to stop for long on the side of a road, but when you have to, make sure you keep looking both ways as trucks are liable to hit you

#14 – Most vehicles do not have brake lights so just keep back and be prepared to stop quickly at all times

#15 – Buses are like F1 cars, they are either accelerating at full speed or braking as hard as possible, never sit close behind one

#16 – Try to avoid riding at night as much as possible, there are many vehicles without lights and just as many obstacles as in the day

#17 – Buy a good face wash as your face will look like you have rolled in dirt when you get off the bike

#18 – Always carry spares of: spark plug, accelerator cable, clutch cable, oil, oil filter, air filter, chain link

#19 – Be prepared to average around 30-40kph on most of your journeys

#20 – Watch our for potholes and speed bumps with no warnings on ALL roads, even the highway when you are travelling over 80kph…

Other Notes on Riding a Motorbike in India and Nepal

  • Look out for the Indian road poetry, it’s very entertaining. “Don’t drink and drive, think and drive…”
  • Undertaking, overtaking it is all acceptable. If there is a gap, there will be a bike, car or animal trying to get through it
  • No such thing as an orderly line to overtake, be prepared to see vehicles 3 a breast and overtaking on blind corners
  • The larger the vehicle the more road presence it has so if you are smaller, move out of the way quickly
  • Horn everywhere, it’s your best form of communication and a very effective one
  • Expect the unexpected, everything you though you knew about driving is not applicable in India and Nepal
  • Highways run through small towns, large towns, cities and villages so expect low speeds and anticipate children, animals and people to be crossing everywhere
  • Average speed is 30-40kph usually if you are sitting at 75kph on open highway because of the stop-start in towns and when road conditions get bad
  • Very few signs for the most part, so just keep going straight unless you see something telling you otherwise.
  • Usually keep following the road with the majority of the traffic and that’ll be the highway route even if it looks too small of a road
  • Straight means keep going along the road which looks most like the road that you have come from…Could be bends, turns and junctions but just keep following the flow of traffic. This is particularly applicable when asking someone for directions and they say “go straight”, I never heard any other kind of direction instruction…
  • Keep out in the middle of the road more and leave yourself some room to manoeuvre when cars are alongside you and coming towards you. If you move over they will take more of the road and run you off the road without a second thought
  • The horn is used to alert people that you are there so use it often and get a loud horn
  • The fastest vehicles are the largest because they bully everyone else off the road
  • Riding is very tiring because you have to remain concentrated all of the time due to the driving conditions, so I would recommend eating large meals because you will have a slump and feel tired.
  • Coconuts are a great source of hydration and keep you awake and alert, plus they are cheap and available everywhere in souther India.
  • You can overtake frequently, so be prepared to do so
  • Be careful of overtaking cars and trucks on winding bends as you approach them – make sure that you are ready to stop very quickly because it is very likely that someone is overtaking coming the other way
  • When bumpy roads start to hit, the very extreme edge of the road can often be the smoothest – be careful not to run off the road or let someone else do it to you!
  • Buses quite often dont have working brake lights so stay well back and to the right side so you can see what’s ahead and overtake when the slow down. Also, buses go very fast and stop like they are doing an emergency stop for every bus stop so it’s easy to hit them up the rear with only drum brakes on the Enfield.
  • Carry a spare clutch cable, accelerator cable, oil filter, oil and air filter and preferably the tools that you need to remove/tighten the nuts and bolts that give access to the areas you need to change these parts.
  • Always use only a garage that has oil outside of it and tools lying around. I found out the hard way that any other place will take your bike somewhere else, usually just clean and and return it saying it’s had a full service
  • Wherever possible use a certified Royal Enfield mechanic. It might be marginally more expensive but so worth it and always stay with your bike to see what’s going on with it. You can find a place here. They have places all over India and a couple in Nepal. I personally used the Kolkata Bike Zone in Calcutta and one in Lucknow (I think it was called Shreya automobile), which were both very excellent.

If you have any questions please drop me a message below in the comments and I would be more than happy to try and help you out.

    2 Comments

  1. I was reading your blog and you said it very well. I am an Indian who lives in Qatar. Sometimes it is very hard to drive in my country. Wish that it will change one day 🙂

    • Hi Rahid,
      Thanks for your comment. Yes, it can be very difficult to drive in India but also a lot of fun 🙂

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