Lets face it. Motorcycles are sexy and so are the men who ride them’ and before you come to a hasty conclusion that as a biker I’m trying to flatter myself and my fellow riders, let me explain. This was the tag line of a commercial run by a leading two-wheeler company in the early 90s in the US in which a seductive lass mouths these words, dressed nattily in her riding gear holding a helmet in the crook of her arms standing against a drool inducing super bike by the same company. This was not a commercial product and long before the word Corporate Social Responsibility was fully understood ­— then abused, the Japanese were leading by example in the heart of corporate America. This commercial, I vividly remember, was a glorious example of how to not only sell your product but also to endear customers by promoting awareness about a burning social issue.
The commercial was from Honda that was promoting the concept of ‘being dressed for the ride. Use of protective riding gear’. Remember, this was around the time super bikes were making their appearance (any enthusiast would recall images of the first super bike Suzuki GSX - R, et al) and the youngsters were the first generation super bike riders. These bikes were capable of massive acceleration with a truly dynamic chassis which made the riding experience to say the least, exhilarating.
Consequently, the crashes that happened weren’t pretty and most of the riders were, so to say, not even dressed for the occasion. It was not uncommon to see hordes of young riders doing serious speeds without as much as a helmet on (in some states like California helmets are not mandatory). The leather belonged to the Harley gang, but for the urban youngsters it wasn’t ‘cool’ enough. Having ridden slower motorcycles they were not prepared for the speeds and the casualties that sometimes resulted. And what made it worse was lack of protective gear.
So came the Honda commercial. Today, as I write this, I realise that in India, which is the second largest two wheeler market, with hundreds of new, first generation young riders joining in virtually every day, I’m yet to see a high impact commercial advertisement from any two wheeler manufacturer taking the issue of rider safety with any seriousness. And this is even more baffling as after the pedestrians it is the two wheeler community which is involved in road accidents the most in India.
The only road safety commercial involving two wheelers, I had seen, came from a tyre manufacturer. Ceat, in the late 90s with a wonderful storyboard featuring a boy and a girl on motorcycles having oodles of fun zipping through the chaos of traffic at speeds which were obviously not legal — till the spear goes through tomatoes signifying... well, I don’t want to say it. If any of you recall this you will agree that it was highly effective. And the second, again by Ceat, is running now. The streets are full of idiots. Pretty effective stuff.
But sadly, the story is a short for road safety, rider safety, protective gear, etc commercials and this is even more of an irony as the industry has grown like the proverbial hare running to the post. Yet the ‘Big Bosses’ of the two wheeler companies have only looked at the sales figures and completely overlooked one critical aspect of their business. If riding becomes safe then the sales would multiply and people will not abandon their two wheeler for a four wheeler as easily as they do today.
Anyway, the manufacturers will do what they will but to my fellow riders, I will only say, be dressed for the occasion. Spend on protective gear including jackets with shoulder and spine protection, boots, gloves and a good quality helmet. The roadside helmet guy might give you a great bargain but remember in any unfortunate event the doctor will charge you much more than what you would have saved earlier. I will repeat what the pretty lady in the above mentioned commercial says as she signs off getting astride her super bike, “Be smart guys, dress smart for the ride”.
The writer is a senior automotive journalist and TV show host of Top Speed on ET Now