Bonding over bikes

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By TT Bureau
  • Published 4.09.10
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It’s a date that Faisal Chow-dhry, 36, never misses. Every alternate Sunday he zooms around Calcutta’s overcrowded streets on his 500cc Bullet accompanied by his biking buddies from the Eastern Bulls motorbiking club. They rev up along the quiet bylanes of Russell Street, and then chug happily through the city on their Bullets. “This is our regular biking ritual and we make absolutely sure that we are all free to do this ride,” says Chowdhry.

Cut to Mumbai-based restaurateur Riyaaz Amlani who, with a friend Amit Jambotkar started the Mocha Bike Association in 1995. The group, which re-started in July, made one of their first trips to the Sula Vineyards in Nashik. “The best part of a biking club is the cool rides together. We are an association of guys who’re crazy about their mean machines and love meeting up for challenges and sharing experiences,” says Jambotkar.

Chowdhry and Amlani are part of the growing clan of two-wheel enthusiasts who’ve formed clubs and ride together whenever they can grab the time off. Obviously they don’t ride on commuter bikes and can be seen in the saddle on powerful monsters ranging from Royal Enfields to Harley Davidson, Ducati and the bigger Yamahas.

Take a look at Delhi-based Ikjot Singh Bhasin who started collecting bikes seven years ago and today has an enviable collection of Enfields, a Harley Davidson Night Rod, Ducati Monster and Honda Gold Wing. He was a member of G..D.S (Group of Delhi Superbikers) in Delhi but he left after an accident. Today he rides around Delhi every Sunday with friends and he’s planning to start another motorbike club soon. He also services superbikes for businessmen friends including Sameer Modi, Peter Punj and Robert Vadra. He’s also a close friend of actor and bike enthusiast John Abraham. “John consults me about all his bikes,” he says.

Or look at the Bangalore-based Royal Knights club started by Debraj Banerjee, Kishore Rangaraj and Rupak Bhaumik in 2006, where group riding in small pack is a passion. They’ve been on the road to Leh earlier this year and they’re now planning a two-day trip to Kunnigal (80km from Bangalore). Rangaraj rides a 350cc Royal Enfield.

Some clubs like Delhi’s Royal Beasts are Enfields only outfits. The club has 44 members and one of them is pilot Karna Verma who owns six Enfields.

Apart from taking part in group riding with his club, he did a cross-country solo ride in 2005 over 21,000km. “Enfield scores over other bikes because of its macho look and sturdy design. It’s a different kind of high riding it, which no modern sports bike can give.” The club was set up in 2002 by Kartik Krishnan and Ajeet Hundal with the aim of bonding with only Enfield enthusiasts.

PLEASURE RIDES

Riding together is what matters the most for these clubs. The Mocha Biking club has 40 members and more are clamouring to join. Most members meet on Sundays. Says Jambotkar, “We meet on Sundays when we chalk our road trips and we also conduct induction sessions for our new members. Members contribute generously by paying for accommodation and fuel costs.” Mocha takes Rs 1,000 as registration fee. The club allows all kinds of super-bikes.

For others like Mumbai-based biking club Inddiethumpers, started in 2001 by bikers Daman Sidhu, Dilip Sawant and Rajiv Shah, the criterion is simple. Says 50-year-old Sawant, who’s the moderator (one who chalks out the road trips) of the club: “Only those with Royal Enfields are allowed to become members. Our objective is to make friends, share our experiences when we meet and learn about bikes.” A new member has to introduce himself first and the club and the core committee members have to approve his membership. Everyone has to participate reasonably regularly in rides.

Take a look at Sawant who has done three solo rides on his Royal Enfield Bullet (Electra) — Mumbai to Kanyakumari in 2006, Uttaranchal in 2007 and Rajasthan in 2008. His last group trip was to Leh (just before the cloudburst took place) via Manali and the Rohtang Pass. He says: “Going to Leh is every biker’s dream and we were lucky to escape the cloudburst.”

In the near future they’re planning to ride to Nanded in Maharashtra during the Ganpati festival with 20 members and participate in Rider Mania (an annual meet of biking clubs across India) in Calcutta in January 2011. “Every month we meet in different places in Mumbai to plan our next riding routes. I like going out on smaller overnight rides like Chiplun near Goa and Mahabaleshwar,” says Sawant.

These clubs offer much more than just biking escapades. There are long-distance, short-distance and also day-rides. Says 31-year-old Rohan Kulkarni, who’s the moderator of Iron Bulls of Mumbai: “My employer too is a bike enthusiast and often we’ve just hopped on our Enfields for short-tours.”

Kulkarni’s been a biker since 1998 when he bought an Enfield 350cc. He later started collecting bikes and one of his first bikes was an old Rajdoot Bobby 175cc bought in 2006. Later he snapped up a vintage 1968 Enfield. His first big ride happened in July this year when Kulkarni rode on his Enfield to Leh along with four other club members.

The members of Royal Beasts too go on two big rides every year. The group also organises short trips every Sunday evening within Delhi starting from the Qutab Institutional Area to India Gate. The club refuses all sponsorships. Says Verma: “Ours is an adventure-oriented club and we don’t want any kind of commerce to enter it.”

The strongest sub-community among the biking clubs are the Royal Enfield enthusiasts. Many of the Royal Enfield clubs like to get together and hold annual competitions. Take for instance, Rider Mania which was hosted this year by Inddiethumpers in Vikramgarh near Mumbai. Riding skills like dirt track racing and terrain trials are conducted to test the abilities of the riders.

Next year the event will be organised by Eastern Bulls in Calcutta where 21 Enfield-only clubs from across the country are set to participate. Says Kulkarni who will be participating in it, “It’s a three-day event where we get to bond with other Enfield bikers and strengthen our biking community.”

However, marketing for these clubs is done entirely on social networking sites like Facebook or through the websites of the individual clubs. Says Sawant: “We post our ride plans on Facebook and on our websites where members get to know about the upcoming bike rides.”

RAISING AWARENESS

Ikjot Singh Bhasin on his Harley Davidson Softail Heritage Classic

Motorbiking clubs are not just about thrills but also aim to spread awareness about social issues. Most of these clubs organise special ‘rides’ around an issue. For instance, the Eastern Bulls has tied up with CINI (Child In Need Institute), an NGO working in West Bengal and Jharkhand.

In April, 20 members of Eastern Bulls organised a day-long programme at the CINI’s transit home. “We rode through the busy streets of east Calcutta on our Bullets and spent the entire day with poor kids out there. We want to repeat this kind of social exercise in future too,” says Chowdhry.

In Delhi, Bhasin has teamed up with Delhi-based NGO, Traffic Zam to spread the message of road safety. “I am a consultant to this NGO and I organise events in various parts of the city to educate bikers on road rules. Super-bikers need to follow strict road norms and cannot be irresponsible riders. I organise meets with several biking clubs and share my experiences with them,” explains Bhasin.

India Bull Riders, another Delhi based Royal Enfield biking club (with 440 members) set up by Sajeesh Nair in 2007 takes part in events organised for saving the girl child. “Our awareness-driven exercises include visits to old-age homes, orphanages or participating in events for saving the girl child,” says Nair.

HOT WHEELS

Almost all biking club members agree that history, innovative engineering and amazing road presence are reasons why these bikes are in demand. But you need to have deep pockets to afford them. Says Bhasin: “These bikes don’t come cheap. The older the model, the higher the cost.”

The Enfield Bullet was among the first bikes to hit Indian roads and has been a favourite of bikers. The 350cc Enfield is priced at Rs 94,411, and the Classic Enfield 500 costs Rs 1.42 lakh. Says Shaji Koshy, Head, Sales and Marketing, Royal Enfield: “Royal Enfields are owned by passionate enthusiasts because of their retro look, and the single cylinder, push rod operated air-cooled engines.” The company aims to sell 100,000 units by 2012-13.

Harley Davidson has also just set up showrooms in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chandigarh and Hyderabad. The company is now offering 12 macho models priced between Rs 6 lakh and Rs 35 lakh. Says Arjun Bafna, principal dealer, Seven Islands, Harley Davidson, Mumbai: “We opened bookings in April this year and have already got 40 per cent bookings for the bikes we’re importing from the US.” They’re also planning to launch a membership-based club for all Harley owners in India called Harley Owners Group (H..G).

The Italian giant Ducati too has launched five bikes priced between Rs 15 lakh and Rs 50 lakh.

DOs AND DON’Ts

Biking club members have to know about their machines — especially when they go on long rides. Baljeet Singh Kochhar who founded the Roadshakers club in Pune says, “A good biker is one who will help other bikers in case of breakdowns. He should know his engine thoroughly and, for instance, be able to change the clutch cable in a few minutes.”

One should also wear proper biking gear on road trips. “Wear three-layered riding jackets to protect yourself from falls and accidents. Ankle-covered shoes, elbow guards, gloves and a nice helmet are the other musts,” he adds.

For Bangalore-based Royal Knights club group riding in a small pack is a passion. Says Rangaraj who rides a 350 cc Royal Enfield: “We’ve road safety norms for members. We do not speed beyond 80km per hour and cause inconvenience to trucks and cars.” And all the bikers agree that when you’re on two wheels safety is the key.