Maybe it is just me. Maybe I am getting old. I see scores of women riders in gearless two-wheelers (mostly Honda Activa) these days on the streets of Hyderabad. And these are not your typical women riders: they drive aggressively, twisting and turning, overtaking “slow” vehicles at will, getting impatient at the signal, trying to squeeze into every tiny place available…the gender gap indeed is closing down.
There is nothing wrong in women getting skillful with their vehicles; in fact, it is good news. I wonder, though, if this has anything to do with the kind of vehicles they ride.
You see, when you ride a geared two wheeler, you need more reaction time. Supposing you are going at 45 kmph in the fourth gear: you see a car braking suddenly in front of you, or a kid running on to the road. You need time to shift into lower gears, apply the breaks, take your feet off the break pedal or the gear lever (if you are riding a bike) and balance the vehicle before it comes to a stop. With a gearless two-wheeler, you just apply the breaks with both hands and the vehicle stops !
Now, why is that a problem ? Most people are of the view that driving on a busy road is all about watching what is in front of you. I believe that driving is more than that; you need to be aware of vehicles in front of you, behind you, beside you; of vehicles coming from the opposite direction, vehicles turning left or right….There are gearless two-wheelers which will break from 45 to zero in a sec: good for them ! But what about the person riding just behind them ? Will he/she be able to achieve the same feat with his/her geared two-wheeler ?
Gearless travel is one free of all hassle. You just get on the vehicle, push a button and you are on the road ! But I wonder if they are getting all the wrong driving habits into people who use them. Are they taking away the art of anticipation from riding ?Are they encouraging people to be more aggressive on the roads ?
Geared vehicles are not just some fancy of the older or macho generation. They are more fun to ride because they give you more control over your vehicle, you get to decide how much power you extract from your vehicle. They are also good for the engine (It is common knowledge that in the US, geared cars have a longer transmission life than the automatic ones). You see, even gearless vehicles have gears in them; the only difference being that while we manually shift gears in our geared ones, these gearless ones have a mechanism where the machine figures out how much torque you need and automatically shifts gears for you. The smoother your transition from one gear to the next, the easier it will be on the drive train. Hence, you are always advised to speed up or down in a gradual, smooth manner. Geared vehicles not only allow you to do that, they virtually force you.
There is nothing wrong as such with gearless vehicles. As with all of science, how we use it is up to us. Riding is a difficult activity which needs all your attention and focus on the road. Any help in the form of automation is welcome. However, I think we need a discipline on the road to maintain safety for all. Unfortunately, I fear that the freedom that gearless vehicles give us is being used to drive more aggressively and with less discipline.
But then, maybe I am getting old …