Tuesday, March 06, 2007

On Mopeds

In a previous post, I had mentioned how the mobile phone and the moped are great enablers to have for the micro-entrepreneur, especially from a not so affluent background. In this respect it is perhaps worth its while to see the moped in isolation, since the moped has existed for almost a quarter of a century more than the mobile phone.

Heres a fascinating account of the history of mopeds

The moped was perhaps the first enabler for small businesses. From the bicycle which greatly enhanced the reach of a person as compared to foot, the moped was a quantum leap. For a miserly amount of petrol, it provided amazingly wide reach as well as low cost of operation per kilometre. For those in the rural areas it was a boon like no other.

I remember that in Kerala in the 80s (the height of the video boom), there was this video cassette library owner who went from village to village on his moped. I suspect he carried his entire inventory of cassettes on the moped itself. Then there was this snacks seller who rode his moped the entire length and breadth of some of the suburbs of Bombay selling murukkus and thengozhal to the Tamil denizens there - he graduated to a shop front not long after. Ditto for bakers who sold khari biscuits and others who sold kachoris and gulab jamuns. There were pundits and cooks who used the moped to give a fillip to their respective businesses. Now, skills were no longer confined to one town or dependent on pedal power or on the lone bus that operated twice a day.

Even today, in Bangalore mopeds serve scrap sellers, buffalo owners (you gotta see the amount of grass that a moped can hold), vegetable sellers, milkmen and a host of other entrepreneurs. All over India (though mostly in South), mopeds are a common sight and they are the preferred vehicle for most small entrepreneurs until they graduate to a bike.

The Kinetic website (not sure if it is updated), says that an entry level Luna comes at about INR 10,000 - which is lower than most of the higher end phones. A second hand one would cost a lot lesser. With a fuel efficiency that can do a miser proud, next to nothing maintenance charges it is actually cheaper than public transport. These things aren't fast, but they get you there.

The first indigenous moped was launched by TVS, the TVS 50 - which then went onto become TVS super, XL and so on - given the penchant of moped owners/entrepreneurs to load as much stuff on them as could be possible (the picture above would qualify as lightly loaded!).

Yes, they are a pain on the road, but perhaps the moped has enabled many a family to come out of poverty, more than the equivalent socialist slogans ever could have.


Rangachari said...

This posting brings back happy memories. When I was a student in IIT Delhi in the early 80s I had a Luna moped myself. I got teased a lot for it but I always got the last laugh since it was much faster than cycling and quite a bit more economical than scooters or motorbikes.

Admittedly one does look rather silly perched on a moped and you tend to attract a fair share of ridicule but you can get over it :-)

The main problem with mopeds is that they can be dangerous in heavy traffic since they do not generally accelerate fast enough to get out of the way of faster vehicles.

Nilu said...

Yeah, you missed the two biggest names -- Luna and Bajaj M80

Neelakantan said...

Oh yes, the M80 - the milkman favourite and something that never caught on in India beyond milkmen - despite step thrus being really big in South East Asia (perhaps the earliest learning that India is different?). It can still be spotted in parts of India rendering yeoman service.