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Saturday, May 30, 2020

Riders of the Storm


Cars are a-come-a-go, but the motoring maven will swear by his bike. The mean machine, it brings out the best and worst in man...
KARAN KARAYI | Issue Dated: October 15, 2006
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Riders of the Storm The subliminal sensation of the wind in your hair, coupled with the miles flying by in a flash, allays all cynical claims that the best things in life aren’t free. For generations now, bikers have trawled the freeways and roads of the world, nomadic travellers that make their own way. Think of the Harley Davidson leather-clad badass and you might begin to have a smidgen of an idea of what the chrome-and-rumble combo means to the youth, even if it’s not the Harley yet for them.

Motorcycle clubs are a phenomenon that has started to catch on not only in the sprawling urban metropolis’ such as Pune, Delhi and Mumbai, but also in the more far-flung and unthought of areas such as Mizoram and Coimbatore. The unbridled passion that comes across when these bikers get into the bridle of their thoroughbreds is unmistakable. These cliques aren’t devoid of charisma either, as their names show; Indie Thumpers of Mumbai, Delhi’s Royal Beast, Bangalore’s Rolling Thunders Bullet Club... to name a few. Says Praveen Kumar, part of the Enfield Club in Delhi, “There are two distinct type of bikers, those who use bikes everyday and those who use them for recreation. Not everyone can afford a car; and hence they buy a bike, which is cheaper and practical. But there are people who can afford cars many times over, but will still travel to distant places on bikes.”

Praveen and his biker friends, just back from one of their vroom jaunts to Ajmer, hang out at John’s Automobile to discuss future rides. Bikers straddling the Yezdi, Java (remember?!) and Enfield, they are united by their passion for biking despite pursuing mainstream career options at other times. For Naveen Dubey, a rock and roll photographer, biking represents “a mix of aggression and mellowness” and is something he turns to in between making movies (shooting The Last Monk lately) and conceptual art. Adds R. L. Ravichandran, CEO Royal Enfield, “The common thing that unites all the Royal Enfield enthusiasts is the bike itself... There is this bonding that happens. There is also this craze for the bike.” About the clubs, he enthuses, “We want to make motorcycling more enjoyable and help it as much as possible, so we do encourage our guys to constantly interact with club members.” Riders of the Storm The social fabric in the country may look like one that does not encourage adventure biking, far less cross-country biking. But more so, it has been the infrastructure. Ask Toni Straka – financial journalist for Der Standard, Reuters and editor of the Prudent Investor Blog – currently cruising in Dharamshala on his Enfield 535, “Please show me a road in the north where one can utilise the big engine. I only drive by sight, always ready to evade truck-sized potholes, missing pieces of road (to avoid) broken waterpipes flooding a road for several days before the repair crew shows up. It takes time to get accustomed to the Indian way of driving.” With the economic clout of the average Indian growing by leaps and bounds in the last few years, this trend – of having bikes for the mere sake of having – is no longer an obscene luxury known only to the affluent. While the international big bike manufacturers like Harley are still hemming and hawing about India, there is certainly a great deal of enthusiasm about domestic lady killers (See HOG Heaven...); especially with even the Japanese biggies deciding to bring in their higher end models soon enough. But on the morbid front, over 85,000 people died in road accidents in the last year (April 2005 - March 2006), making biking a really precarious activity.

While the surging popularity of this new lifestyle has already spawned reality shows like MTV Roadies (which has sent participants out to complete tasks and while doing so, made them travel the length and breadth of the nation on their sponsored chariots), there have even been some not-so-great ramifications of the bike bang. Possibly taking off from movies, they’re doing good as vehicles of the villains with some nefarious elements up to their ‘jobs’ on these two wheelers, sullying the name of the clan at large (See Gone Astray). But for the hordes of merry makers on their grand machines – tattoos and leather jackets et al – passion reigns supreme. As these bikers fire up their engines and with it the imagination of a nation, it’s a brand new story with the same old twist; the heroes end up riding into the sunset. Riders of the Storm HOG Heaven, stuff of legends

Owning a Harley Davidson isn’t like owning any other vehicle, it’s an entire lifestyle you purchase. Of course, for the non-initiated biker, the characterist sound of a Harley engine is enough for a panache positioning statement. Robert Patrick who played T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgement Day (though it was Arnie baby riding the Harley) says, “You don’t buy a Harley with your mind, you buy it with your heart and your balls.” Spurred on by the powerful large V-Twin engine, these Milwaukee machines are dream buys for bike enthusiasts around the world. A self-confessed ‘maverick adventurer’, 27-year old Ashutosh Ramgir loves to ride his Enfield Machismo on the hills of Garhwal, but talk of Harley gets him all charged. Quite a reference for biking knowledge, he says “Though I have my eyes on the Triumph Rocket III, the Harley V-Rod would be a dream buy.” (The Triumph is a 100-year old big bike British brand). The experience of owning a Harley doesn’t end with just the ride; the need to share their passion with like-minded people has brought about clubs like H.O.G (Harley Owners Group), which has more than a million members worldwide. Their leather jackets have patches of club emblems and other motifs, though leads to serious repercussions if worn in a manner deemed inappropriate! Together, they organise meets and ride their bikes through the wide open roads… The pride for their bikes takes them to towns like Sturgis, SD (August), Myrtle Beach, SC (May) and Daytona Beach (March), where thousands converge for races and demos. All in all, owning a Harley changes your life forever. Riders of the Storm Gone Astray...

Movies certainly inspire. And not just the Rang de Basanti way. One of Aamir Khan’s earlier movies, Ghulam, also did drop off some cues with today’s youth. Unfortunately, in not very socially conducive ways. And as if to reinforce lessons came along Dhoom, the story of stylish young men on bikes, who looted only to get the loudest whistles. These biker gangs have vroomed right off the screens on to our city roads and Mahesh Iyer, a resident of Greater Kailash, Delhi, will swear by it. In the first week of September, when Mahesh was out with family in Connaught Place, he ignored a bunch of noisy bikers zooming closer as spoilt brats killing time. Only to know better the next moment, “Even before I could react, those guys has smashed the car’s window and fled with my wife’s handbag and cellphone.”

Delhi Police traced the pillage to be the handiwork of the head of an organised gang of bikers, Gurbaksh Singh aka Ghoda, merely 19 years of age. Nearly a dozen such incidents imputed to them, the Ghoda gang has on its ‘rolls’ around 40 bike-owners who, according to the Police, constitute the largest biker gang in Delhi. Symbol of confidence and machismo, it doesn’t augur too well for the favoured vehicle of the youth as such cases come to light.

However much, Bajaj is not going to be particularly happy with this endorsement – these gangs are said to prefer the Pulsar for its better pick-up and large fuel tank. According to Inspector Rajpal Dabas from Special Cell, Delhi Police, “Their novel modus operandi is possibly inspiration from Dhoom.” According to Dabas, most of the ‘Ghoda’ members are middle-class youth, employed during the day and moonlighting as the bike brigand, for additional income and at times, merely for the kicks. Gurbaksh himself was working as a recovery agent with a private bank. Hitherto on the roads of the US of A and Europe, outlaw motorcycle clubs like Hells Angels, Warlocks, and Bandidos have traditionally prided themselves on being the 1%s (One Percenters). It was a term that became popular following the disclaimer from the American Motorcyclists Association (AMA) who refused to identify with the 1% that, they said, had nothing to do with the general community. But that’s yet another bit of the western culture we can very well do without.
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017