I was going to ride a pillion on a bike after ages.
The last had also been a bike taxi, but in Bangkok, where as a tourist with a “must-try- everything” approach, it was a part of the experience. Now, years later, when Uber and Ola launched their Bike Taxis in Bangalore within hours of each other, I decided to try it out for myself. I have ridden pillion for hundreds of miles through the treacherous terrains of Ladakh, how bad could a few kilometers in a metro city be?
Choosing between Ola and UberMoto boiled down to where I got a ride first. And while Ola for the longest time showed no “OlaBike” till I gave up, UberMoto, and its tiny bike icons – a deviation from the tiny car – kept popping up on my screen. I booked one, and after a few seconds of requesting, here it was – my own personal Valentino Rossi was arriving any minute.
I stood at my pick point, watching the tiny bike icon on my phone totter around a bit, before finally arriving in my direction. The man (or was it a boy?) zoomed past me, almost missing me. I waved to him and he stopped and took off his helmet. ‘Dhoom machale’ should’ve really been playing in the background.
I slid my pillion rider helmet on and hopped on and off we went. I was his 5th ride for the day, and the only girl, as I learnt as the ride progressed.
Even though he wore a helmet throughout, I could’ve guessed that Mohun (for that’s what I’m calling my Valentino Rossi in this account) is quite young, not much older than 25. He topped it when he confirmed he’s actually 22 years old, and fresh out of college. College, yes. Mohun was a commerce graduate, who worked a day job from 6:30 am to 3:30 pm at HP, at a tech park not too far from my own.
While talking with the drivers of my cabs that ferry me around the city is not an unchartered territory to me, to hear Mohun across his shoulder and make myself heard, amidst the peak-time cacophony of blaring horns and zooming cars barely made for a sweet tête-à-tête. But determined as I was, even if in the process scandalising Mohun a little with the loquaciousness of his first girl client, on his first day at the job, I talked away.
Having been a bike rider since the age of 17, the opportunity to be a taxi driver professionally came along when Mohun signed up with Bangalore’s first bike taxi, Rapido, where he worked for 4 months.
“Yesterday someone called me from Uber and asked me to bring all my original documents and certificates and come to the Uber office”, he told me. And that’s how he met Uber. A call, an office visit, and a formalised sign up just the evening before, Mohun was now zipping passengers around on his Unicorn, a bike that incidentally cost Rs, 93,000. Did he get any training before coming onboard I ask. “No madam, no training at Uber. Rapido they used to train”, he said reading my thoughts.
I was amazed at how quickly we are going along, meandering through the tiniest gullies he seemed to know like the back of his hand. I was beginning to think that the bike ride was going to take much shorter than usual, but I’d spoken too soon. The bike dragged itself to a halt and I didn’t need to ask Mohun what was wrong. It was a flat tyre. Mohun asked me if he should end the trip and I’d like to make alternative arrangements, but I declined. This was turning out to be quite the experience.
The bike was soon good as new again, and this time Mohun handed me a shower cap. A shower cap! I was briefly perplexed, but realized that it’s supposed to be worn *inside* the helmet, should one cringe at wearing something many others have shared head-space with.
The bike repairs had cost Mohun Rs. 300, and I was feeling a little sorry for him until I learnt that he’d just got a joining bonus of Rs. 2500, and if he managed to finish 40 rides within the week, it’s an incentive of another Rs. 450, and this on top of the Rs.70 he makes per hour.
By now Mohun was part uninhibited and part skeptical about this super chatty, photo-taking passenger, but he continued to regale me with stories of his family, his friends and how by he didn’t have any bad habits like drinking and smoking. We were stuck at a long snarl-up, something I’m not too fazed by any more in Bangalore, and almost feeling as though people around were looking at me, I slid back on the seat just a little, should they confuse Mohun and me to be a chatty couple, out on a romantic ride!
How’d his experience been on the first day, I asked. “Super madam.”, he replied happily as a fresh stream of smoke from a vehicle in front billowed in my face. I slid the visor of the helmet down, and asked Mohun if Uber provided the headgear. “No madam, I had to pay Uber 750 rupees to buy this helmet.”
I’m soon home, and it’s time for Mohun to head back home too. “No Bike Taxi after 9pm” he informs me and instantaneously I see a familiar ping on my phone – “Your evening Uber trip has cost Rs. 103”. Not a lot of savings compared to a Zipgo, or a share I muse, as I prepare to get into a shower to wash off all of Bangalore’s muck that I’ve accumulated over the last 60 minutes or so. Mohun has probably got home by now too, perhaps a few hundred rupees closer to his dream of owning his dream bike, the Harley Davidson.