There’s an old saying, “Four wheels move the body, but two wheels move the soul”. There is no other feeling that compares to blazing down the open road at over a hundred clicks per hour, the wind in one’s face along with an occasional bug or two. In a country like Bangladesh, where intercity highways are the only roads that are free from traffic, riding a motorcycle is the ultimate experience that combines traveling, excitement, speed and danger all in one glorious package. Once you have experienced the open road on a motorcycle at an awe inspiring speed, there is no going back. It’s like the saying goes, “Life may begin at 40, but it doesn’t get real interesting until about 150”.
Long before cars, there were bikes. Even fifty years after the combustion engine was developed for powered transportation, motorcycles reigned supreme in most countries. Eventually people succumbed to the safety of four wheeled motorizedmodes of transportation, shielded against the world inside a tiny metallic frame. It makes sense why people would choose cars over bikes. Cars are much safer, they provide a cozy homey environment where people can listen to music, hold conversations and even install TV’s and DVD players so that the kids in the backseat don’t have to endure the unsettling sensation of being alone with their parents. No matter what the ads promise, one can never break free of the pack while riding a car. On a motorcycle, the biker doesn’t have an umbilical cord connecting him to the outside world. No cell phones, no TV’s and without the exception of being stuck in traffic, no conversations with the backseat passenger. A biker is a single bubble of consciousness, one with the universe, experiencing theworld without a barrier of windshield to impede his view. That’s why a car is a grocery hauling machine and a motorcycle is an adventure.
For most bikers, motorcycles are more than just means of transportation, it’s a lifestyle. In some parts of old Dhaka, riding motorcycles is practically a cult. In most parts of old Dhaka, especially around Wari and Gopibag, almost every guy in the age group of 19 to 35 owns a bike. One doesn’t even have to own a bike in old Dhaka to be a rider. The ‘Boro Bhais’ are more than happy to lend their keys to the newbie. “I have been riding since I was two. That was in my dad’s lap in his old Yamaha. At 16 I got to ride by myself for the very first time on my friend’s bike. It was like falling in love with riding motorcycles all over again,” says Arif a hardcore biker from Gopibag. Arif shares his insight why riding motorcycles is such a huge deal in old Dhaka, “We grow up riding bikes and watching our Dad’s and elder brothers ride bikes. Every kid in old town has experienced the rush of riding motorcycles even before hitting puberty. When I was a kid I used to look up to my older brother, I was insanely jealous of how cool and manly he looked on his bike and couldn’t wait to ride on my own. I guess the reason would be that the ugliest bike is prettier than a state of the art family sedan. The way we old Dhakaites see it, you’re not a man unless you know how to ride.”
“Going on your first long journey on a bike is like a rite of passage”, claims Shajib a resident of Jurain. “A trip from Dhaka to Sylhet or Dhaka to Cox Bazaar is pretty risky on a motorcycle. If you have an accident in the middle of nowhere, the chances of medical help is next to impossible. Riding for hours on end requires both skill and guts. It’s a life changing experience. The thrill of flashing past the trees, the roads, and the city creates an illusion of fast forwarding through life itself”, he exclaims.
Riding a motorbike is dangerous. There are no arguments about that. But for people who have experienced the open road in all its glory, it seems a small price to pay. Jony Sinha a resident of Wari and a daredevil stunt biker explains why he keeps going back to riding despite being in more accidents than he can count. Jony says, “I have broken three ribs, dislocated my jaw and broken my limbs countless times, but I don’t regret it one bit. The experiences I’ve had, the adrenaline rush, the wind in my face and the feeling of being set free of a physical shell, it’s something I wouldn’t trade for the whole wide world. Sure, I might be labeled as reckless and irresponsible but I would say I am more cautious than most car drivers.”
As absurd as it may sound, Jony Sinha actually may have a point. Unprotected by the virtual shell of steel and plastic, a biker is vulnerable to even minor obstacles. In a world of cruise control, GPS and LCD navigation system, a biker has only his guts and instincts against the cruel unforgiving roads. Riding a bike requires a heightened sense of awareness, never allowing for mistakes and carelessness. Thus, contrary to popular belief, riding is not for the dull witted.
For people who don’t get why anyone would risk their lives riding the two wheeled demon, it can’t be explained in words. One has to experience the thrill of zipping past the world in motion, the euphoria of driving down the countryside intoxicated by the aroma of cows, new hay and nature. There’s more to biking than just an adrenaline high. It’s the feeling of being set free that hooks people to their motorcycles. After all, only a biker knows why a dog sticks his head out of a car window.