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Rider mania
Top gear: The club unfurls its banner at Khardungla, Ladakh

Every Sunday evening, a row of Royal Enfield motorcycles lines up opposite the Art Gallery and Museum in Sector 10, Chandigarh. Their owners, gathered in an outdoor restaurant nearby, wear black T-shirts bearing the name of Chandigarh’s Enfield bike club ' Road Survivors. These days, on their agenda are two issues. One is members’ contributions for updating the website (www. roadsurvivorschd.com). “Paaji, pay up,” exhorts Pradeep Chakravarty or “PC”, the jovial IT programmer whose Punjabi is better than his Bengali. More serious is the talk about the trip to Chennai in January for Rider Mania 2006 ' the annual gathering of Enfield bike owners from all over India. “I think 80 kmph is the speed you should maintain,” says Amanpreet Singh, also an IT professional.

The group listens soberly to experienced biker Aman. He began riding 15 years ago on his father’s 1983 Bullet and now has his own bike ' of 1981 vintage. Of his four Ladakh trips, he remembers the last, this July, as “the one that chills my spine whenever I recall it”. “We were to do 110 km from Kargil to Rangdoum. By the time we covered 60 km, it was 2 pm. And then a bike’s luggage carrier broke. Four of us stayed with the rider, Sunny Sodhi, to unload his stuff and re-distribute it. The rest carried on. It took two hours and we resumed driving at 4 pm. We reached Parkachik at 6 pm ' the ideal time to halt ' but we decided to go on to Rangdoum.

“We kept crossing streams and, after a while, stopped lifting our feet when driving through them. So our shoes were drenched. Then we stopped at a checkpost and Sunny had breathing problems. We gave him a hot drink, a Diamox tablet and a homoeopathic pill. Then he said he was ready to drive again and we started off. We were so tense and yet I recall the beauty around us. There was a full moon and the river was reflecting the moonlight. We finally reached Rangdoum at 10 pm.”

The Ladakh circuits are the Road Survivors’ favourite trips. After Nubra Valley in 2004, they toured the Zanskar region this year, a group of 26 riders on 21 bikes. One of the bikes was driven by 23-year-old pharmaceutical company employee Hina Saini, who’s been driving banker father B.S. Saini’s bike for two years. One of the eight women among the 50-odd members, she was one of the two women riders leading the pack when the Road Survivors travelled to Wagah for the Candlelight Ceremony on August 15, 2004.

None of the women owns a bike but Dutch fashion design student Laura Kortum points out that she and Indian boyfriend Aditya (“Adi”) “own our bike jointly”. Relocating to Chandigarh after meeting Adi through the Net, she remembers the Zanskar trip for having “the widest and, probably, heaviest bike with 80 kg of luggage and both of us.” And art teacher Kanwar Aukh (universally called “Bean”, self-confessedly “owing to certain qualities”), preferred “to carry a sketch pad rather than a camera”.

Road Survivors was set up on March 12, 2003 by Aman, Rahul “Mat” Chauhan, B.S. Saini and Narinder Singh. It’s a hugely active club with frequent short trips to nearby places like the Bhakra Dam and long trips twice a year. “In the Rider Manias of 2004 and 2005, held in Goa and Mumbai, we were the group with the longest rides ' 4,500 km and 5,500 km,” says Jojo aka Preetpal Singh, who, despite a demanding job in Quark City, Mohali, was awarded the club’s Rider of the Year trophy last year for notching up 17,000 km.

The Road Survivors steer clear of modifications other than those to handles, seats, windshields, crash guards, paint jobs and stickers. “If you change much in the engine, it could pose a problem on long tours,” says Aman.

Modification is a controversial issue among the country’s 15-20 Enfield bike clubs, with some frowning at cosmetic changes while swearing by engine alteration for tours.

But, as Patiala banker Bikram Singh points out, “Our best feature is that we are disciplined. Sometimes, bikers riding in a group break rules. We never do that.”

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