If you’ve never crashed, are you going fast enough?

By | October 12, 2016

Subhamoy Paul died yesterday while participating in the Raid de Himalaya. The 49 year old was an experienced off-roader, and had done the rally many times before the mishap.

You could gauge his level of skill by the fact that he spent his last few months in Romania practicing to improve his enduro riding. You could gauge his level of skill by the fact that he was riding a beautiful KTM 500 EXC. You could gauge his level of skill by the fact that CS Santosh put up this status yesterday.

This is not the first death at the Raid, British rider John Mark James died during the 2001 edition, SR Thakur died before the start of the 2011 one. It’s rather hard to find data about the fatalities that have happened over the course of this event, which in some ways is a good thing, especially when compared to the Dakar, whose organizers seem to use the death toll as a proof of how tough that rally really is.

It must be pointed out here that I am as inexperienced an off-roader as Hitler was a painter, which means that I’ve dabbled in it from time to time, but the results have been nothing spectacular, to put it mildly. I’ve never participated in any competitive motorcycling event, on or off the road. Not only do I not have the skill to do that, I’m certainly lacking in the balls too. On top of that, I’m an extremely unambitious guy, very uncompetitive, the moment I see even a small number of people running towards the same thing, I have an uncontrollable urge to start running the other way.

It’s also worth mentioning that in the 28 years of my existence, I’ve never broken a bone till date, and I feel that now is too late a time to start doing that shit. If I take a risk nowadays, there better be one hell of a reward at the end of it, or I don’t see the point. This, in more ways than one, is cowardice, and I have no shame in admitting that fact.

Even though life is pain, thinking is torture, and existence is suffering, self-preservation is too strong an instinct with me, at least as of now.

In the light of these details, it’s safe to say that I don’t understand the mindset of a racer, nor can I tell you what Subhamoy would’ve felt about his life or the way it was gone. He understood the risks, probably enjoyed them too, but it’s hard to claim “He died doing what he loved” when the writer has never risked that far.

I have, from time to time, thought quite seriously about racing in at least one round of the national championship. I don’t have any experience with track racing, nor do I think I have the heart for touching elbows at 150 kmph, but it’s something I’ve wanted to experience for a very long time, most likely because of the excess of MotoGP that I’ve exposed myself to.

One of the biggest reasons why I couldn’t do it this year was because of my contact lenses. I must wear goggles inside my helmet at all times, and that’s something the race organizers don’t allow for safety concerns. It turned out to be convenient excuse to prevent me from attempting something I shouldn’t even have thought of to begin with.

On some level then, I understand why a lot of amateurs go and participate in the Raid de Himalaya. There are far too many people out there whose first encounter with competitive off-road racing is the Raid. This is obviously a tremendously stupid idea in so many different ways, but it’s not hard to grasp the reasons behind it.

Our country’s dirt racing infrastructure is quite nascent, there’s only CS Santosh’s Big Rock motopark that I know of where you can go and practice off-roading in a safe environment. The Indian National Rally Championship does have rounds all over the country, but there’s little in the name of smaller events that’ll allow the participants to build up to such major league pressure.

On top of that, we have an absurd lack of dirtbikes on which people can improve their skills. What most riders end up doing is to put knobby tires on their Duke 200s and slide around to glory/gutters. We can’t buy one single bike in this country that can be legally ridden on the roads, and then taken to dirt, jumped on, ridden over rocks. You have to build one, mostly based on road bikes that were never designed for this sort of punishment.

What I mean is that people have far too many excuses to jump right into MotoGP, without first struggling and improving with Moto3 and Moto2. The organizers are also to blame, allowing someone to participate in the toughest class of the toughest rally in the country without a single shred of experience is quite literally asking for a disaster.

I would like to clarify that this rant has nothing to do with the death of Subhamoy, he was in a different league, he knew what he was doing, just ended up being at the wrong place at the wrong time. What I’m trying to say is that if a veteran racer like him can perish during the Raid, how is it logical that someone who has never even participated in an off-road event should be allowed to ride besides him in the same class?

FMSCI’s licensing system is hilariously easy to circumvent, as I came to know from a few friends who participated in a few rallys recently. For something like the Dakshin Dare or the Raid, you need a full rally license to participate. To get that license, you are officially expected to have trained first, or taken part in smaller events to gain experience. However, if you haven’t done any of those, all you have to do is approach any local motorsports authority, and get their endorsement for your full license. In some cases, you don’t even have to go meet them, everything can be done on the phone.

This is ridiculous, and in some ways mirrors our licensing system for the public roads. I had expected better from an organisation whose entire aim is to manage inherently dangerous racing events, but I guess bureaucracy doesn’t give a shit about anything.

Riders might not understand the level of danger they’re putting themselves into, might even try to stupidly ignore the facts, it’s the job of the organizers to prevent people from behaving like such hardcore events are leisure guided trips of the pristine Himalayan valleys. It’s nothing short of a miracle that there haven’t been more catastrophes in the past.

The gist of this article is this, don’t do something just because you can, use your fucking brain. Just because the organizers are allowing you to participate in something that’s far far beyond your level doesn’t mean you should. I get it, racing is thrilling, the risk is fun, but make sure you spend the time and money to be worthy of riding with someone like Subhamoy Paul.