How Indian Highways are Numbered (New NH Numbering System)?

(Just in case you are not aware of) the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways had taken the initiative of re-numbering most of the highways in India a couple of years ago. It was a minor news item in most dailies then but I thought it’s a huge step towards rationalizing our road network names along with rebuilding the infrastructure. The National road grid in India has been getting a good boost ever since our former Prime Minister Shri. Atal Behari Vajpayee’s National highway development project (NHD) started materializing in stages.

Highway System in India

India at present (Feb 2013) has more than 200 national highways totaling to a length of 70,000+ kilometers which is maintained by the NHAI (National Highway Authority of India)

The primary highway grid, as per Vajpayee’s dream project, consists of the following major stretches (picture below) supported by existing highways significantly enhanced:

The North-South Corridor stretches from Srinagar in J&K state to Kanyakumari – the southernmost tip of India. The length of this major road is 4000kms.

The East-West Corridor connects Porbandar in Gujarat with Silchar in Assam and the total length of this road being 3300kms. (Wonder why they didn’t plan it till the boarder including Arunachal Pradesh!)

The Golden Quadrilateral (GQ) is the highway network connecting the four metros in India – i.e. Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata. The spin-offs of GQ also connects cities like Bangalore, Pune and Ahmedabad. The total length of GQ is 5846kms.

Most part of the above highways is 4-lanes while 6-laning project is being undertaken in many stretches.

Please note that the North-South and East-West corridors are often referred as ONE i.e. NS-EW corridor

north-south east west corridors
North-South and East-West Corridors

golden quadrilateral India
The Golden Quadrilateral

(Image courtesy: Wikipedia – The boundaries shown here may not be the actual boundaries of India)

Highway Types in India

If you refer to Google map for driving, you must have noticed symbols like AH, NH and SH. The following are the explanations for these respective codes.

1. National Highways (NH): These are major highways in India that provide connectivity to all cities and states. NHs are maintained by the Government of India (i.e. NHAI). As I mentioned earlier, National highways spans over 70,000 kms and even the NS-EW corridor and GQ are formed by many such highways.

2. State Highways (SH): State highways spans over 150,000kms in length and are managed by the state governments to provide accessibility and city/town inter-connectivity within each state.

3. Great Asian Highways (AH): Asian Highways are part of the cooperative project within Asian countries. While in principle, the National Highways in India themselves forms the AH stretch in India, it’s good to understand them from the map’s point of view. You will encounter many places in a map where the highway is referred to as an Asian Highway or AH. In reality though, there’s no separate road network for AHs but they consume the respective major highways in the participating countries to form the Asian Highway grid. You can read more about Asian Highways at Wikipedia.

How the New Highway Numbering in India Works?

Let us come to our main topic now. Until recently, the Indian highways were numbered in a very confusing manner that didn’t provide any logic behind their numbers. However, the Government of India took a major decision in 2010 to rationalize the highway numbers in a way that the number provides some clue about the geographic location and the direction of a particular highway.

Please refer to this circular by DORTH to know all the renumbering that took place.

The logic behind national highway numbering in India is as follows:

  1. All North-South highways will carry EVEN number
  2. All East-West highways will have ODD numbers
  3. All major Highways will be single digit or double digit in number (Read the exception in point 6 below)
  4. North-South highways will increase their numbers from East to West. For example, a particular North-South highway in Central India or Western India will have a higher number than the one in East India. To be specific, now you can guess that NH4 is somewhere in East India where as highway 44 may be towards the west of India while both runs north-south due to the even numbering
  5. Similarly East-West highways will increase their numbers as we move from North to South. By this logic NH1 will be running East-West somewhere in North India while NH 83 may be somewhere down south. Of course, there may be a minor confusion among some roads that may be running diagonally in stretches
  6. THREE digit numbered highways are secondary routes or branches of a main highway. For example, 144, 244, 344 etc will be the branches of the main National highway 44. Please note that since NH44 (NS Corridor) runs the length of the country from North to South a side shoot say 144 may be up north while something like 944 may be down south
  7. Suffixes A, B, C, D etc are added to the three digit sub highways to indicate very small spin-offs or stretches of sub-highways. For example, 966A, 527B etc

So next time when you are driving based on the map or navigation device and when you see/hear something like ‘Turn left to Old NH47’ you should remember that the particular highway is being re-numbered.

I am not sure when the numbering process will be complete but I sincerely hope that they introduce a lot of sign boards to avert any confusion. Also, like in the US and some western countries, it may help if they provide some clue about which direction one is heading at any given moment. For example, 35W means a west bound highway. In India, since the major number (e.g. 35) corresponds to the direction itself, what the road signs or milestones should carry is something like 35-W or 35-E, I think.

Picture References

Wikipedia has a nice picture showing all the re-numbered highways. Please refer to this image link.

For a magnified view of the National highway map in India, please refer to this link.

‘Highways for Life’ is indeed the punch line for India as well.

Renault Duster India – Road Test and Review

Renualt Duster in IndiaI have been longing for an affordable 5-seater SUV in India for a long time. The likes of Honda CRV – and even Skoda Yeti for that matter – is out of my reach while stuff like Mahindra Thar (though not exactly a five seater) are more for adventurous stags or Army people. I got really excited when Renault launched their mini SUV the Renault Duster in India (Dacia Duster in Europe) and I actually test drove it last evening in Bangalore. Now, is it worth all that excitement and hype? Let us find out.

Review material

The variant I tested was a white colored 110HP Diesel high end version without the option pack. i.e. Duster (D) – RXZ. This model costs 11,04,702 Ex-showroom which means around 13.65L on road in Bangalore – thanks to the high Road tax that we have here. If you were to take the option pack (leather seats and wood finish on inside door handles) the price goes up to 11,35,102 (Ex) and 14,01,131 (On road) respectively for the high end Diesel variant. 14 lakhs is a big amount and hence the expectations were really high for me.

renault duster review car
Review Material - Sorry for the poor mobile pic

Renault Duster – Exteriors

From its high and wide stands, I must say that it’s one of the good looking vehicles in that price range – especially since I have had my reservations about the rear styling of SUVs such as Mahindra XUV-500 and Skoda Yeti. As for the Duster, it looks good from almost all angles. The muscular looking wheel archs and chromy grilles with nicely designed headlamps add to the punch. If something has to be improved in the exterior, that’s the poor looking alloy wheels (design wise), the door handles and perhaps the black plastics on the air dam. May be the plastic part can be camouflaged with a nice looking IND license plate? Despite minor hitches, I give a 4 / 5 for its exterior design.

Interiors

Now, let us open the door to get to see the problems right away! The door of the Renault Duster showed the poor engineering and ‘Indianising goals’ behind. It opened almost like an Ambassador or Tata Sumo – Well, it’s good to be heavy but the doors should offer firm and predictable movement. We are talking about a vehicle that has hardly run 5000 kms and that’s a minor engineering disappointment – but nothing compared to what is expected further inside.

renault duster dashboard
The dashboard is not as good as it looks in the picture

The photos of the Renault Duster interiors looked stunning on the web and in their commercials but I must warn you that you will be thoroughly disappointed when you take a closer look. The beige and black rough plastic combo on the dashboard looks and feels pathetic. I mean really P-A-T-H-E-T-I-C when compared to any vehicle with that kind of a price tag. It definitely looks like it was made solely with the final price tag in mind. And the typical Renault AC vents and poorly designed controls positioning adds to the misery. There’s a factory fitted entertainment unit which looks (and sound) cheap but the gear knob and the steering column looked decent. The blue tooth and audio controls are positioned at a weird location right behind the steering wheel right hand side and looks like the steering column design was reused from the Europe (blinker control is on left and wiper lever on right). Overall, I was in a confused state after seeing all the mess out there. I couldn’t really find a single control where I would expect it naturally – probably horn being an exception ?

Talking about the door panel garnishes and seat fabric – it is pretty much of the same poor quality as the plastics – Very bad looking and taxi quality, I would say. The option pack comes with a wooden trim as per the sales guy (chrome as per the manual) but the one I drove had highly glossy black plastic handles that was gross. The floor carpeting was equally bad with thin looking material all around.

The other weird thing was the rear seat A/C vent that juts out too much into almost the private parts of the rear middle passenger. This is the first time I am seeing something like that on a car. Probably, they could have changed the orientation of that unit to the front to create a beautiful armrest for the driver.

Overall, I would give a 2 / 5 for Duster interiors and if you ask me this is the single most reason why I wouldn’t buy this vehicle. I mean, you can change pretty much everything else including alloys, upgrading tyre sizes, leather seats but what the hell can you do about the dashboard?

The Engine, Gear box and Driving experience

Time for some action. I started the engine with the windows rolled up. The engine gave a nice grunt and with all that poor plastic assembly, it still wasn’t all that noisy inside the cabin if not silent. The sales person gently reminded not to lift the little ring on the gear lever or else I may engage the reverse gear. Yes, we have a 6-speed Gear box in Duster and the reverse as well as the first gear has to be engaged to extreme left towards the front. However, on engaging the reverse gear there’s useful beep that reminds me where you are at.

I took of the vehicle and I liked its heaviness and pull. This vehicle – at a low weight of 1150Kgs or so – actually felt stable and nice. Slightly higher seating position actually don’t feel weird and it feels almost like a car. The visibility towards front and sides is excellent while the smaller and roundish back light (rear windshield) restricted my viewable area a bit, I thought.

Before I joined the highway, I had a stretch of almost non-existing entrance to the road (Bangalore roads!!!). The high ground clearance (205mm) and mini-offroader like capabilities helped me to maneuver to the main road pretty easily. Actually the 2WD vehicle almost felt like a 4×4 off-roader in lower gears. Very nice indeed!

As for the power, the engine is smooth in all gears. It didn’t knock when I was slowly moving under 10Kms/hr in 2nd gear, nor it complained when moving in 4th gear at 35km/hr. Excellent vehicle for very bad city traffic conditions, I must say. When I accelerated gradually, I could feel the turbo charger kicking in between 1700 and 1800 RPM. This is very good because when you need power in 2nd or 3rd gear you can avail it. The best thing I liked about this vehicle is its 6-speed gear box under which the car never complains. However, I didn’t ride too long with the sixth gear, I must add here. Overall, it is not a very powerful engine but adequate and felt nice. I am sure it should do good on highways as well with the overdrive options.

The ride quality is very good and so is the cornering without any sort of body rolling. i.e. even while making good use of its very low turning radius (5.2m), it didn’t give any hint of instability. In fact, on all types of roads and in all speeds it was pretty good. I particularly liked the electro-hydraulic steering which wasn’t butter smooth like some cars but nice and firm. It felt firm and nice. And at 248Nm torque, I would think that it can easily pull some weight without taking toll on your fuel bill. The sales man claimed that it would give a mileage of 13-14km/ltr of diesel in city traffic conditions, which I tend to believe.

A mention about the brakes (front disc and rear drum) – the top variants are equipped with ABS, EBD and Brake assist which together does a good job in my braking experience on gravel roads.

Overall, I liked the way the 1.5 litre dCI engine behaved assisted by a good gear box. I would give 4 / 5 for the engine and gear box.

Other features

renault duster alloys
Poor looking Alloys - probably the only bad thing about Duster's exterior design

The top variants are equipped with almost all that you can ask for – Airbags, 2DIN integrated audio entertainment, a 12V socket, USB-Aux in, keyless entry, Electrically adjustable ORVMs (not electrically foldable), blue tooth, reverse parking sensors and there was even a switch to turn off the parking sensors. It all boils down to getting used to where these switches actually are! Overall, for its price, I must say that this vehicle is feature rich.

Summary

Overall I would say that the Renault Duster in India is a failure in terms not living up to its brand image – every other Renault model is good looking in its class, I would say (Fluence, Koleos and even Pulse) . As I mentioned above, if they had worked on the interiors and increased the price by 1 lakh, I would have still bought this vehicle. And that’s the exact message that should go to Renault from the Indian consumers. Let them not end up like other foreign car manufacturers who initially offer quality and then start the cost-cutting there by providing cheap stuff for the Indian consumers.

Having said that , there is a lot of buzz and excitement from the taxi crowd for the 85BHP diesel model that starts at 8 Lakhs (Ex) and offers excellent mileage. I wouldn’t surprised if that becomes a huge hit but the higher segment thoroughly disappoints.

What I liked the best about this vehicle?

  • Exterior looks and styling
  • Pricing of the Diesel variants
  • Reasonably powerful and responsive engine
  • 6-speed gearbox
  • Drivability and composure of the vehicle including minimal off-roading capabilities
  • Huge trunk space (475 Litres)
  • Claimed mileage
  • Low turning radius and high ground clearance

What I hated the most?

  • Cheap interior plastics and fabrics (say that 100 times) – Can’t do anything about it!
  • Alloy wheels design and tyre (need to upgrade to 235, manageable)
  • Protruding rear A/C vents (somewhat ok)
  • Positioning of the controls (still ok)
  • Service attitude (Are Mahindra people still at Renault?) (still ok)
  • Not a 4×4 (still ok)

Overall Rating: 2.5 / 5

(The rating would have easily become 3.75 had they provided good interiors)

If you happened to really test drive Renault Duster India version, you may share your experience here!

How To Remove Sun Film From Your Car Windows Yourself!

With the Supreme Court of India enforcing a ban on all types of sun control films on vehicles in India, car owners are queuing up in front of Auto accessory shops for sun film removal. Most of the service people charge something like Rs. 250/- to 500/- just to remove the sun film and the worst case is that you have to be in a long queue to get this simple service done. Another issue is that many of them don’t even have the patience to clean things up properly as the demand is high for their services.

Removing the sun film from your car windows is not as complicated as you think. Definitely, it cannot be as bad as installing sun films or tints. After some careful thinking I thought of doing it myself on my car and it turned to be an easier task which I did in under 15 minutes and saved me 500 bucks. And the best thing, of course, was the cleanest possible job because you are working on your own baby!

How to Remove Sun Film from Cars?

I took the help of my son Aditya and shot this video of how exactly you can remove car window tints or solar films? Well, I am talking about the ‘Indian’ way of doing it as there are simpler and neater ways (Steaming etc) of doing it if you happen to be abroad.

So here’s the video. Please go through it and let me know how your sun film removal experiment go.

Additional Tips

If you have installed some high end brands like 3M sun film, I must say that your life is a lot easier as hardly any glue stains remain after pulling out the film. If you use brands like Garware or even cheaper local brands, perhaps you may have a lot more to clean up of the residual glue stains.

Also, if you leave your car under hot sun for more than an hour, the sun film peeling process gets a lot easier.

Be very careful with the back light glass (i.e. the rear windshield) of your car. You don’t want to damage the defogger lines of your car by scraping them too hard.

In any case, all that you need to do sun control film removal are the following:

  1. Paint scraper (thin) – You will get it in paint shops and it costs Rs.5 per blade
  2. A spray bottle or old/used liquid soap dispenser
  3. 5 to 10 ml of regular liquid dish wash detergent
  4. A craft knife or razor blade

So how exactly do we do it? Please watch the video on my Youtube channel.

Some Common Funny Scenes on Indian roads

The automobile industry in India has gone through a very rapid growth over the past twenty years or so. However, as we all know, the road infrastructure hasn’t quite complemented that kind of growth yet and so is our great driving culture. Our vehicles, driving sense, size of the population and the available infrastructure is a super combo that often offer us some lighter moments on our roads. Also, you can see so many ‘innovations’ and ‘improvisations’ that is specific to some of our vehicles and vehicle models that are found only in India. This post is about some of those funny and peculiar scenes on Indian roads.

sound-ok-horn horn-ok-please

On and inside vehicles

We Indians are very particular about protecting our belongings from dust an pollution. Inside many homes, you can see the TVs and washers protected with plastic covers and even the couches and dining tables topped with a layer of sari or plastic sheet to prevent it from getting dirty. The case is much the same with many people when it comes to taking care of their cars. Some of them never ever remove the plastic covers on their car seats that’s used during shipping & transportation of the new vehicle. Some even keep it for 3-4 years or until the next resale of their cars. Well, you have to get the priorities very clear here. Keeping the car seat dust free (read resale value) is far more important than getting own backside hot by the plastic cover or even transferring the dust and dirt from plastic cover to your bum.

Talking about the vehicle interiors, the dashboard area of most Indian cars is a mini temple. In the best case, you may only see an idol there but sometimes it’s an array of idols immersed in fresh flower garlands that’s changed every day, various other decorations like colorful electric lamps and even lit incense sticks. Again, the priority is not fire safety but bribing the god to get a good day on the road. This is particularly the case with taxi drivers many of whom forget the god, goodwill and well being of other people on road the moment they are off to their working day. Any road is a highway for them.

Now, if the taxi happens to be an old Amby (Hindustan Ambassador), the dashboard there in is like a wall with the left side of the wall shelf (supposedly glove box) mostly open without any shutters. You can see dirty towels, a piece of mirror, incense sticks, comb etc there – basically all that it takes for the driver to survive for a day. The towels have varying uses – from wiping their sweat to clean the cars and cleaning the windshield from outside by occasionally extending their hands out. This is mandatory on rainy days as the worn out 5″ wiper blades don’t do their job. And even if they do, they invariably do this periodic activity.

Well, if the white Ambassador is owned by an Indian politician or bureaucrat who’s a chauffeur, then you can see a lot of white Turkish towels that’s used to cover the seats. Again, the car seat cover doesn’t seem to be good enough to do its job.

I almost forgot about those hanging dolls from the inside rear view mirror – This is something that you can get to see in India alone or in cars owned by Indians abroad. However, very often I found this part interesting because mostly you can even predict the owner’s nativity and culture just by looking at it.

Now, the exteriors of most vehicles are as intriguing as the interiors. One of the common scenes is those cars with both ORVMs (outside rear view mirrors) completely folded in as if they are the most ridiculous and totally unusable inventions ever. Here, you must appreciate two things – one, the driver’s ability to drive the car without having to look at sides and behind. Secondly, if you toss up between safety and potential scratch on those mirrors, safety takes the backseat.

The vehicle owners writing their kids names on either side (left and right) of the rear window is another common scene. Well, don’t get me wrong here. I am not claiming that this is something funny but just an observation.

Autorickshaws are amazing vehicles that completely exploit the improvisation possibilities, especially on their rears. Many autos claim that they are powered by monster engines by displaying emblems of Audi or Mercedes on the back. Also, writings like 2000CC etc are very common. The rear side of those inter-state trucks also exhibit some amazing pictures or genius’ words on top of the usual ‘Sound-OK-Horn‘ or ‘Horn-OK-Please’ writings.

Some of the other things that you can see on Indian vehicles include bumpers protected by steel bars (to protect the bumber from scratching?), wheel plates or disks tied with plastic twines to prevent theft, multi-colored stop lamps (who said it has to be red) etc. I am sure, you may have a lot more to add here.

Common scenes on Indian roads

Now on to the road and driving style itself. I could write a huge post about it but for the sake of brevity I am just jotting down a few bullet points.

  • Two underpowered auto rickshaws trying to overtake each other and occupying both the lanes on the road with a long trail of of vehicles behind them is a common scene in some Bangalore roads
  • A TVS 50 moped carrying three times its weight i.e. two or three sacks of vegetables or grocery items and moving extremely slowly is another funny scene. Sometimes, the rider is in a diving position with his body resting on the sack in front, and his legs folded backwards. When he pauses in the traffic, he has to pedal hard to take it off further. The type of payload on the TVS 50 varies from state to state. In places like Tamilnadu, it’s those milk jars whereas in states like Kerala it’s fish
  • Overtaking pattern: One thing I have noticed here is that, as soon as a vehicle overtakes you, even if there’s enough width available, the driver immediately blocks you. So it’s like you are being overtaken from either side and them merging in front of you creating some kind of cut onion pattern This along with the zig-zag movement of autorickshaws, bikes and call centre taxis essentially create the traffic clog
  • In the case of a traffic jam, the two wheelers immediately use all available space including the footpath and even small parapets of drains. If it is a one way, the immediate reaction is to squeeze through the wrong side and merge into the next available slot on the actual intended lane. Sometimes this has the blessings of the traffic policemen as well
  • In case you get a flat tire, you may visit the nearest ‘pancher shop‘ which is essentially an encroachment on the road or footpath
  • Although the helmet rules are in place, sometimes it is okay to have a loose-fitting bowl like stuff on your head. The priority obviously is not safety but not to pay a fine. Some smarties, who do not want to get their hairstyles disturbed, hang the helmet on their wrists while riding to put it on only when a serious looking traffic cop is in the vicinity
  • Towing away two wheelers: Okay, so you have several of those two-wheelers or motorbikes parked on road sides where it’s not allowed to park vehicles. At times you witness a mini truck coming in with four-five people in the carrier space along with several bikes. They keep lifting bikes one by one from the road and dumping into the truck. Some of those hapless riders who would have just about parked the vehicles will plead to them but in vain. They have to finally pay the ‘fine’ to the cop who is sitting inside the driver’s cabin wearing a ‘Rayban’ eye-drop shaped sun glass in order to get the seized vehicle back

Well, there are so many other things that I wanted to talk about but it’s already a long post. I am sure you will have a lot more to share on this topic as well. Please leave your comments about those funny scenes that you have got to see yourself on Indian roads.

Happy motoring!

You may be interested in the following posts as well:

  1. Hamara Bajaj – fond memories coming to an end
  2. Tata Nano sedan and Maruti Eeeeeco in the offing

Tata Nano Sedan (Nanoooo) and Maruti Eeco XL (Eeeeco) to be launched?

The Indian auto manufacturers are probably the smartest people in the world. They really do understand the pulse of the typical Indian customer whose main obsessions are those cars that give them the highest mileage per litre of petrol/diesel, has the highest resale value, the maximum space to stuff in the family members, neighbours and their dogs.

tata-nano-sedanOnce the above three main requirements are taken care of, they do not really care about the safety standards, ride quality and the driving dynamics of the vehicle. There are number of tricks that the Indian auto manufacturers use in order to fool the Indian customer who see only the peripheral issues rather than the real mechanical aspects of the vehicle.

The Indian auto sector tricks

The following are some of the tricks that the auto companies in India use to offer substandard vehicles at cheaper (not always) prices to the clueless customers,

1. Market outdated technologies

India is the dump ground for unsuccessful models, dated technologies and unsafe vehicles. This technique has been followed not only by Mahindras and Marutis but even Hondas and Toyotas. Remember the first versions of Honda City in India? And the Mahindra Renault Logan is still an ancient piece.

2. Reuse excess parts that doesn’t quite fit

When Ford India introduced the Ikon model in India, they in fact, reused the steering column as it is from their left-hand-drive cars in other developing countries. And the result was different orientation of the wiper and light control lever switches. When you look at cars made by Tata, you feel that they are doing mix and match logic to create new car models.

3. Patched up designs

Well, in order to make a sedan out of a hatchback, you just add a tail from another vehicle from your stable. Tata Indigos and Fiat Petras are created like that. The latest addition to this being the Swift Dezire that’s really a ’shikhandi’ vehicle in looks and needless to say with poor driving dynamics. India’s most successful vehicle, the Maruti 800, would never pass any safety tests in any other country but would work here because it used to be a government production! It seems, this particular vehicle, doesn’t even have a proper chassis.

Some of these vehicles actually look like match boxes or a loaf of bread (Mahindra Xylo, for example)

4. Under-featured vehicles

To market a car in India, you have to take out the plush upholstery, take out good plastics and put cheap recycled ones, remove airbags and good baking technologies, remove good alloys and finally put an underpowered engine from the models two-three years back. You have to then tune the engine to give 20km/l though vehicle wouldn’t really move. But wait, since the Indians are worried about the power of their A/Cs, the air conditioner should make you freeze within 15 seconds, else you fail in the market.

5. Re-brand it

In India, unsuccessful models can be renamed and re-branded easily as long as you add some two tone cheap design, some stickers or strips, a new front grille and different looking headlights. Though, nothing is changed with the engine, you can still re-tune it and call it a XYZ-series engine and market. You may be recalled how Ford Ikon, CLX had failed in India, but Ikon Flair was an instant success. And the good old Maruti Versa is selling now under the Eeco brand.

What’s in store?

maruti-eeco-eeeecoGoing by the above experiences, what we can expect from Tata soon is the sedan version of Tata Nano which would be nothing but the Tata Indigo’s boot attached to the Nano. And how can Maruti be far behind? Just like Tata, elongated and marketed the Indigo XL, now the Maruti Eeco’s newer, longer variant – the Eeeeco as shown in the picture – can be on the roads anytime now. And people will still buy them!

Long live our auto-companies!

Hamara Bajaj Chetak – Fond memories almost coming to an end

It’s hardly six months since Bajaj Auto Ltd announced its withdrawal from the scooter market in India. This essentially meant that one of the common household names and valiant family carrier – the Bajaj Chetak – faced a total phase-out.

Hamara Bajaj Chetak

bajaj-chetakThe Bajaj scooter – ‘Hamara Bajaj’ as in Rahul Bajaj’s most successful campaign – has been there in the Indian market for almost 40 years with three models – the most successful Chetak, Super and 150. For the middle class Indian family consisting of a husband, wife and two to four kids, this vehicle was like their family member that carried the entire family and their accessories through the rough roads and under all kinds of weather conditions. Its toughness and low maintenance cost made it super successful in India though the surge of Japanese two-wheelers in the mid 80’s slowly forced it out of the game. It is really hard to forget some of those scenes that all of us have witnessed, admired and laughed at times.


The retro-commercial featuring Hamara Bajaj

Peculiar things about a Bajaj scooter

Though there are variations across different models, the typical Bajaj scooter weighs around 110Kg. However, it could pull double its weight without causing much trouble.

Since the engine is planted on the right side, it always had an imbalanced while riding whereby the scooter tends to move towards the right if you are not careful. This was one of the issues for beginners who tried their hands on a Bajaj.

To fix this problem, they in fact placed the tyres in an offset position. In other words the front and rear tyres are not in a straight line but has a slight offset. I was surprised to learn this from one of the old timers that I have known.

The split seats were never designed with the ergonomics in mind but the need to accommodate the ever-responsible family head and the fat-bottomed typical Indian house wife and their kids (in all available gaps)

How to start a Bajaj Chetak – the sequence of operations

This is the funniest part. From what I have seen and witnessed it involves the following operations in exact same sequence.

1. Insert the ignition key in the handle lock keyhole. Turn the key vigorously three to four times while simultaneously turning the handle to make sure that it is unlocked. I hear from people that at times, it can get locked during the ride as well?

2. Take the vehicle off the centre stand with a ‘thud’ (of the stand hitting the bottom of the scooter). To effectively do this, you have to have your left hand on the left handle of the vehicle and your right hand on a little handle behind the rider’s seat which is always kind of loose. You have to be leaning forward at an angle of 60% with respect to the ground level in order to effectively manage this.

3. Push the vehicle to a flat surface and while doing so for some weird reason you have to always pull the clutch lever. Or is it just a habit?

4. Now, you are on the left side of the vehicle but the kick starter is on the other side. So, you have to enter through the wide open space between the handle and the front seat and get to the other side. It is a process that’s religiously followed and it reminds me of entering the house from the front door and exiting via the kitchen or backdoor.

5. Now, tilt the vehicle to the other side by about 30 degrees and hold it in that position for 5-10 seconds in order to make sure that the little petrol remaining in the vehicle reaches all vital parts (or areas that matter) of the engine. Even when the vehicle has recently undergone a full service/maintenance, you have to do it because you are so used to doing it.

6. Straighten the vehicle, suddenly climb the kick starter lever and force all your weight on it and simultaneously turn the accelerator handle vigorously (four to five times a second). Subsequently – if it’s going to start that is – it gives out an engine roar along with a pale cry of the horn owing to loose electric connections. More often than not, throughout the ride, you get to hear that sound.

7. Now occupy yourself by entering from the right side and allow your co-passenger(s) to settle. You have to keep turning the throttle or the entire sequence need to be repeated.

8. Engage first gear and while leaving the clutch lever, it invariably jerks and jumps due to a slipping clutch or gearbox unit.

…and there you go…

While on the ride…

Immediately after the take off, the most important thing that you will notice is that the rider, after engaging into second gear, will suddenly raise his bum and readjusts himself. This is due to the fact that the front split seat is leaning way too forward. This adjustment happens once in a while throughout the journey, especially after taking off from traffic lights.

The pillion rider, if it is a lady, will be usually sitting in an awkward sideways position whereby she will be holding her right hand on to her husband (rider)’s right shoulder or the loose handle behind the front seat. Her left hand will be usually on the support handle/spare tyre (fondly called a stepney) holder behind the rear seat. She will then bend all the way front and look over her husband’s left shoulder so as to quickly jump down in case of an emergency.

Due to the imbalance of the vehicle weight, you have to dedicate an extra 10% of your body weight towards the left side. However, this can vary based on how much weight your pillion rider is bifurcating to each side.

The rider will never use the turn indicator lamps (blinkers) because this feature is something that was introduced in later models and he is not used to it. The horn, with whatever feeble sound it has, itself is rarely used.

bajaj-scooter-rider-on-t-road-junctionWhen typical Bajaj scooter rider, enters the main road from a side road, he usually takes wide 90 degrees turn – in fact 3/4th of a circle – before merging into the center of the road. This invariably causes some concerns among other drivers on the road, but they would expect this and manage the situation. See the illustration below to understand what I am talking about.

A Bajaj family = A happy family

Jokes apart, the middle class family, on a bajaj scooter, was always such a happy scene for a typical Indian and we adored that togetherness for a couple of generations. It often depicted the resilience of the upcoming Indian or a small business man who struggled to make both ends but emerged successful at the end. It was this kind of families – headed by those individual who drove their entire family to safety every single day – that paved foundation to the kind of growth that we are witnessing at the moment. In fact, in the 70s and 80s people used to yearn for owning a bajaj and waited for six months or one year after placing the order, in order to get their family dream scooter delivered.

I just thought of spending some time to write about the legendary vehicle because we all will be soon forgetting what we came through.

Long live hamara bajaj!

Fiat Grande Punto 1.4 Petrol road test

I got to test drive the new Fiat Grande Punto 1.4 on Friday. In fact, it was a very pleasant experience – especially after my disappointing outings with the Hyundai i20 and Skoda Fabia – both being 1.2 litre engines.

The Grande Punto 1.4 in India, is almost a complete car with exceptional high-speed stability and driveability. It also comes loaded with nice features. As usual, there has been several India specific adjustments done – like cheap plastics and fabric – but the main part i.e. the engine rocks! Moreover, according to me, it’s the best looking car in that segment and the pricing is reasonable too.

Fiat Grande Punto 1.4L
Image courtesy: Fiat India

You can read my complete review of the Fiat Grande Punto 1.4 at Mouthshut

Happy Driving!

Skoda Fabia Petrol 1.2L – Review and road test

Skoda produces some of the finest cars in the world today. Their entry to the Indian market has been with the highly successful Octavia model. The Octavia’s market has been recently hit severely by the likes of Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla and hence Skoda wanted to get into the segments below that of Octavia and above as well.


Image courtesy: Skoda India

The Skoda Fabia 1.2L has been a successful product throughout Europe. Obviously, that prompted them to bring that model to India as well. However, when things are produced or marketed for India, it has to be tailor made to fit the Indian taste and that’s exactly where they failed.

The Indian mentality is mainly around mileage and resale value and not exactly build quality or safety. The pricing has to be reasonable and the after sales service is of the highest priority as well. Unfortunately, in all these aspects the Skoda Fabia failed miserably.

Please read my complete review of the Skoda Fabia 1.2L at Mouthshut.com

Happy Motoring!