It’s a ritual that has barely been broken—except when the pandemic struck—for the last three years. Every Sunday, at the crack of dawn, Sushant Sharma wakes up with an adrenaline rush. He walks past his parking garage, filled with half-a-dozen luxury and sports cars, into a corner where two of his riding beauties await him. He gently preens them, turns on the ignition of one and takes off for his weekend sojourn. The trail left behind by the throttle is a wake-up call for some of his neighbours who may start the day cursing either the Harley-Davidson Street Glide or his BMW GS Adventure.
“There’s a certain calm that comes with a full throttle. It can only be experienced and not explained,” says Sharma, a 40-year-old entrepreneur from Jalandhar. There are days when Sharma picks up his Harley and scoots off to places across Punjab, followed by his driver in an SUV carrying his food, safety kit, water and other essentials.
You can take the man away from the bike, but not the bike away from the man. Ravi Manikoth, Gurgaon-based entrepreneur and a Royal Enfield loyalist, spent the last two months browsing books that transported him to the world of motorcycles. “As I was recovering from Covid-19, I read books about biking. Some of the titles I picked up include How To Ride Off-Road Motorcycles, Maximum Control and the must-read Motorcycle Roadcraft. These books kept me closer to my passion,” Manikoth says.
As the pandemic subdues and lockdown restrictions ease away, the bikers are back on the roads. On the second Sunday of July, 40 superbikers from Pune set out on a ride to Kaas Plateau in Satara district. “We are part of ‘Pune Brotherhood Riders’, a year-old group (@pune_brotherhood_riders on Instagram), and were waiting for the lockdown to lift so that we, owners of 800-1200 cc superbikes, could ride away to the mountains,” says Chaitanya Rathi, an emcee by profession. From BMW GS, Triumph, Hayabusa, Honda Gold Wing, to Ninja... the motorcycles were lined up. “For a rider, sitting on the bike is like meditation.” It was a breakfast ride which started at 6 am and they were back in Pune by 1.30 pm covering about 275 km. “If anyone stops for any reason, the entire group stops to help.
Everyone is connected with Bluetooth systems. So we immediately know if there is a problem somewhere. Our rides happen every Sunday. One Sunday is a long ride and another Sunday in the city ending with coffee,” he adds.
Just like Rathi, Bobby Singh Sehgal, founder of the Gurgaon-based Riders of the Storm Motorcycle Club (ROTS MC), has chalked out plans for the next ride. The club—also a registered company—sells its own merchandise, conducts skill and safety training workshops and works for various charitable causes.
When Aesha Upadhyay Vyas rode a Royal Enfield Bullet to the wedding altar in 2016, the bride made many young women take up motorcycle lessons. The then 26-year-old Ahmedabad resident became the toast of the town for riding a bike wearing a heavily embellished lehenga and sporting aviators. “There was both criticism and praise,” confesses Vyas who now lives in Canada.
There is a new breed of leisure bikers who are redefining the goals of biking. Some travel around the country in their superbikes with a car in tow carrying their essentials, while some are riding up to the altar. Some feel “empowered” on a bike, while for some it’s about “staying alive”. Even the pandemic hasn’t subdued their enthusiasm.
Over the years, hobby bikers have grown in numbers. When the former Chief Justice of India Sharad Bobde posed on a Harley-Davidson, the news went viral on social media. Spiritual guru Sadhguru flaunts his love for bikes openly. In the world of leisure biking, age or gender is no bar. Passion for biking has blurred all boundaries.
At Full Throttle
Not many can understand why Sharma is “obsessed” with his bikes. A third-generation entrepreneur with a fleet of luxury cars at his disposal, it was difficult to let his family understand the need to ride bikes. “Finally I could convince them and started biking three years ago,” says Sharma. A few months back he rode across Punjab, covering 600 km in a day, the driver trailing him in his Ford Endeavour with everything that he needs.
Sharma isn’t alone to travel this way. The advantages are manifold from safety to not having to worry about running out of fuel. While company-organised group expeditions always have a follow-up vehicle, solo drivers having a backup is slowly picking up.
Delhi resident Rajeshwar Gill is a case in point. “I am a hobby rider and on long solo trips, I would want someone to be around,” he says. Gill is chalking out an itinerary for a 1,000-km trip this year and would have a mini-van follow him with his medications, safety kit, clothes, food and so on. The 69-year-old Supreme Court advocate is a cancer survivor and a heart patient. “These ailments have not shattered my spirit or passion for biking. I would rather be a cautious driver than not drive at all,” he says. Gill has 18 cars, including a vintage Rolls-Royce, Mini Cooper, Mercedes, to name a few. And yet, weekends are reserved for his Harley-Davidson 1800cc. “It gives me a reason to be alive,” he says. That there’s a certain snob value attached to owning bikes running up to lakhs of rupees is unsaid. “But it’s positive arrogance. It’s like riding a thoroughbred horse,” says Gill.
If anyone were to ask Jai Kishore what it is about his Ducati Scrambler that makes him speed off to rough terrains, he will say, “It’s therapeutic.” The 39-year-old digital marketing professional from Bengaluru, rode a motorcycle as a means of commuting. But sometime over the course of the ride of two decades, he took to mid-highway trails and dirt biking. “The passion started with riding my first Bullet from Bengaluru to Mysuru where my mother lives,” he says. It was during these monthly rituals that Kishore encountered unknown trails and followed them and realised how biking can be pleasurable. Clubs are also a way to network and make life-long friendships, believes Kishore, who was a member of Rolling Thunder Motor Club, one of the oldest and largest Royal Enfield biking communities.
Business of Bikes
That even during a year ravaged by pandemic and lockdown, motorcycles did business that outdid expectations is noteworthy. BMW Motorad showed one of the best sales in India last year. According to Vikram Pawah, president, BMW Group India, even though the luxury motorcycle market is at a nascent stage, the growing aspiration has led to growth. “A motorcycle is more than just a means of transportation. This is why we don’t talk only about model series but about riding experience worlds. And no matter how different these experience worlds are, they all share our message of ‘Make Life a Ride’,” he says. The company sold 2,563 units in 2020, a sales growth of 6.65 percent year-on-year, a significant number for the German automobile major that started its operations in India in 2017.
Then there is the ubiquitous Royal Enfield, which almost every biker would have owned or aspires to drive at some point. “Our motorcycles cater to experienced riders as well as enthusiasts,” says Lalit Malik, Chief Commercial Officer, Royal Enfield. In December 2020, their sales saw an increase of 37 percent compared to the same month in 2019. In the October-December 2020 period, the company added 129 studio stores increasing retail touch points to 1,889 stores across India. “There is strong resonance and affiliation among consumers for Royal Enfield in the premium motorcycle segment as we have a 96 percent market share in the mid-sized (250-750cc) motorcycle segment in India,” he adds.
Motorcycling has, indeed, come a long way in India. It all began a decade ago, when international bikes forayed into the country. This was also the time when home-grown companies reinvented themselves. There’s a Bullet Baba temple in Pali in Rajasthan where people offer prayers after the purchase of a new bike. The belief goes that they may meet with an accident if they don’t perform the rituals. A few decades ago, Jawa and Yezdi dominated Indian roads.
In 2018, Mahindra and Mahindra revived the classic Jawa brand by launching three versions. The same year, Indian Motorcycles, the oldest American luxury bike brand, launched in India. Companies like Triumph now align India launches with global launches of their new models signifying how the Indian market has grown. There are several factors that have accelerated the growth of biking as a hobby. One among them is increased disposable income among the youth. “Also, the demand is largely driven by urbanisation of towns and villages,” says Malik of Royal Enfield.
Knots on Wheels
While most of her peers would have fussed over their bridal outfits during their wedding, Vyas was worried about how she would fit her bike inside a lift to take it up to the fourth floor venue. “But my father and brother helped,” says Vyas who as a teenager used to ride her father’s bike whenever he was away from home. “I used to wipe off the tyre marks leading up to our house so that no one would know.” It was the culmination of a long-cherished dream for her.
Like destination weddings, making an entry on motorcycles instead of a car or the traditional ghodi (mare) is catching up. The stereotypes of yore are being rewritten. For Shachi Sharma, it was the desire to have an “unusual wedding” that prompted her and her groom Rikhil Bahadur to opt for a destination wedding in Ladakh where the couple and their friends rode Bullets to the venue. “I compromised on my wedding attire as riding a bike was more important,” says Sharma, a Mumbai-based filmmaker. Post wedding, the couple embarked on a honeymoon on their Bullet.
Chennai resident Muthukumar’s idea of a honeymoon was a Bullet ride from Delhi to Leh with his wife. “Bullet has always been my first love. So when I got married, I had to embark on my first journey with my partner on it,” he says. They travelled with 60 kg of baggage. “It was tough. People thought I was foolish, but as a newly-wed couple backpacking wasn’t something we wanted to do,” says the 28-year-old graphics designer. The ride wasn’t without its challenges and often the uphill climb was a struggle. In his words, the travel got the couple closer to each other and the love for long rides has been passed on to his wife.
Manikoth has owned every model of Royal Enfield ever launched in India. When he rode from Bengaluru to Bhutan in 1987, he was perhaps one of the first few Indians to undertake a cross-country journey. It was a time when highways were half-broken, countryside barren and resources scant. “I survived on one meal a day, gatecrashed in military camps, and at times slept under the sky,” says the 57-year-old. His journeys are a tale of undying passion for his bikes. He recalls how once while in college, he took 10 team members for a football match on his Bullet because they couldn’t afford to hire taxis. “The traffic cop stopped us, asked all of us to get down, but surprisingly, didn’t fine us. He wanted us to show him how 11 people managed to sit on a bike, let alone drive it.”
Four decades on, his risk appetite may have mellowed but not the adventurous streak. “Now I own an Interceptor 650cc and Triumph. Both serve a different purpose and my rides depend on my state of mind,” says Manikoth. He clocks in at least 2,000 km on long trips, at least thrice a year. “The sound of the engine, the wind blowing on my face, the vibration on my pulse, as one sails through the roads keep me alive,” he says.
Leisure bikers maintain that rides on long roads break monotony, allow exploring unknown vistas and bring a sense of calm. Sukhdeep Singh, 55, explains how the ethos of his group helps riders form a strong brotherhood. “It’s important that anyone becoming a member of ROTS MC should identify with our values and maintain discipline on road,” says the Delhi resident, who alternates between Indian Chieftain and a Honda superbike. For him, a motorcycle symbolises his childhood, a vehicle that stayed with him through life’s ups and downs.
Adventure biking is often deemed an activity that depends on physical strength. But Vinod Rawat never let his prosthetic leg come in the way of his riding goals. Not just that, he is also the founder of an adventure biking club for specially-abled riders. “It wasn’t easy to ride with a prosthetic leg. But what was more challenging than biking was changing mindsets. Expedition groups were uncomfortable to allow me to ride with them. So I started my own adventure group, where people like me can travel together,” he says.
In 2005, Rawat participated in the adventure reality show MTV Roadies Season 2 and was one of the last few finalists to be voted out. A drive to Ladakh is now an annual pilgrimage for him. “My ultimate dream is to bike to London,” says the 45-year-old who works with the Jaipur Foot department in KEM Hospital, Mumbai. During the 2010 Ladakh flash floods, Rawat and his group had raised `18 lakh to rebuild the ravaged houses.
Biking enthusiasts would tell you how no injury or illness is big enough to take away the wind beneath
their wheels. Dr Neharika Yadav is a case in point. A dentist with a no-nonsense approach to work, her idea of a break is early morning rides. “It’s an expensive hobby. But the adrenaline rush and the solace is worth the cost,” she says. Yadav is currently the only professional female racer ever to compete in the 1000cc category at the Buddh International Circuit in Noida. In a country with just a handful of professional female bikers, she rides a Ducati V4 1100cc, and is no stranger to competitions where she is often the only female rider in a group of 50-60 men. She has learnt the hard way to work on her challenges. Not many would know that the woman biker zooming past them on a busy junction has just 50 percent mobility in her right hand post a road accident.
Biking gave a new meaning to Jai Bharathi’s life, a 39-year-old architect from Hyderabad. In 2019, Bharathi quit her job to start MoWo (Moving Women) Social Initiatives, an enterprise that offers two and three-wheeler driving training to underprivileged women. “Riding a motorcycle made me feel empowered. I realised if women from lower income groups learnt how to drive they could find gainful employment,” she says. Having recovered from the virus, Bharathi is now eager to get back to biking.
Bharathi also heads the Hyderabad chapter of Bikerni, an all-women biking group founded in 2011.
What started as a group with 14 members in Pune, is now 2,000-member strong, aged between 19 and 53 years. “Bikerni has become the place for so many women facing personal and professional troubles to unburden themselves. When we ride, we are free and happy. There’s a support system,” says Bharathi. One of her notable trips, which was undertaken along with three other women riders, has become part of the book Road to Mekong. They covered 17,000 km in 56 days travelling from Hyderabad to Vietnam in 2018. The group worked to provide relief in the flood-ravaged areas of Kashmir in 2014. In 2018, the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation approached the club to take rides to create voter awareness in the city.
Pace of Leisure
In the last few years, the number of luxury and premium motorcycles launched in the country has doubled to that of the mass market models. Any model over 200cc makes into the premium category and India currently has 11 premium bike makers compared to six mass segment makers. As the popularity of leisure biking picks up pace, businesses catering to it have grown.
The Throttle Shrottle Cafe, a popular 24x7 bikers cafe started in Gurgaon in 2014, is one such example. Besides being a cafe, the place offers a DIY workshop with tools to fix bikes and several motorcycle companies run promotional campaigns at the cafe. They now have branches in Kolkata, Thailand and Manesar (Haryana).
For some adrenaline junkies, biking has led to new vocations. Redesigning premium motorcycles has accelerated. They are modified to meet specific needs—both for utility and beauty. Catering to such requests is Mumbai-based Adil Dumasia, who modifies bikes from scratch. “Once I have worked on a bike, most often, except for the engine everything else is changed,” says the 45-year-old who has redesigned 76 bikes till date. His versions, in many cases, have more in common with posters on people’s walls than in garages. “Initially, I worked with Royal Enfield. Then in 2016, I customised a Harley-Davidson for myself and it won an award. It opened up doors of various bike models to be redesigned,” says Dumasia, an ex-merchant navy mariner. He is the first ever Indian motorcycle designer to compete at AMD Intermot World Championship in Germany in 2018, a prestigious event. He was ranked 25th, no mean feat for a newbie who showcased his creation along with 106 experienced designers from across the globe.
Leisure biking has also led to a spurt in the lifestyle and accessories market. At BMW Motorad, the latest range features Ride, Style, Vintage and Pro-Race Suit collections. The accessories include a comprehensive range of original parts and equipment. “With the segment of leisure motorcycle riding in India on the rise, we noticed that the market for accessible and credible apparel and riding gear was underserved. So we have been rapidly investing in developing products for varied riding needs, different terrains, and weather conditions,” says Malik.
Meanwhile, who would know the value of cool merchandise than members of ROTS MC. “Our fluorescent riding jacket has a visibility of 300 metres and is like a uniform for us. Our bikes may be different, people riding it may belong to different professions and ranks but the riding gear and discipline for members on road have to be without any divisions,” Sehgal says. That’s some vroom for thought.
Additional reporting by Manju Latha Kalanidhi
“I compromised on my wedding attire as riding a bike was more important than a heavy bridal outfit.” Shachi Sharma Filmmaker, Mumbai Their desire to have an “unusual wedding” prompted her and her groom Rikhil Bahadur to opt for a destination wedding in Ladakh where the couple and their friends rode Bullets to the venue.
“There’s a certain calm that comes with a full throttle. It can only be experienced and not explained.” SUSHANT sharma, Entrepreneur, Jalandhar Mean machines: Harley-Davidson Street Glide, BMW GSA
“It’s an expensive hobby. But the adrenaline rush and the solace it brings with it is worth the cost.” Dr Neharika Yadav Dentist, Gurgaon The only professional female racer ever to compete in the 1000cc category at the Buddh International Circuit, Noida Mean machine: Ducati V4 1100cc
“We are part of ‘Pune Brotherhood Riders’, a year-old group (@pune_brotherhood_riders on Instagram), and were waiting for the lockdown to lift so that we, owners of superbikes (800-1200 cc), could ride away to the mountains.” Chaitanya Rathi Emcee, Pune On July 11, 40 group members set out on a ride from Pune to Kaas Plateau in Satara district and back, covering about 275 km Mean machines: BMW GS, Triumph, Hayabusa, Honda Gold Wing, Ninja
“The last two months, I was dreaming of my next trip. I am planning to ride through the Eastern Coast, starting from Delhi, and return through the Western Coast.” Sukhdeep Singh Delhi
Mean machines: Indian Chieftain, Honda superbike
“The passion started with riding my first Bullet from Bengaluru to Mysuru where my mother lives.” Jai Kishore Digital Marketing Professional, Bengaluru Mean machine: Ducati Scrambler
“There were both criticism and praise for my daredevilry of sorts.” Aesha Upadhyay Vyas now lives in Canada In 2016, the then 26-year-old Ahmedabad resident rode a Bullet, wearing a heavily embellished lehenga and sporting aviators, to the wedding altar
“It wasn’t easy to ride with a prosthetic leg. Expedition groups were uncomfortable to allow me to ride with them. So I started my own group, where people like me with a passion for biking, can travel together.” Vinod Rawat Jaipur Foot Department, KEM Hospital, Mumbai In 2005, he participated in MTV Roadies Season 2 and was one of the last few finalists to be voted out. A drive to Ladakh is now an annual pilgrimage for him.
“Bullet is my first love. When I got married, I had to embark on my first journey with my partner on it.” Muthukumar Graphic Designer, Chennai His idea of honeymoon was a Bullet ride from Delhi to Leh with his wife. They travelled with 60 kg of baggage.
“Riding a motorcycle made me feel empowered. I realised if women from lower income groups learnt how to ride they can find gainful employment.” Jai Bharathi Architect & Head, Hyderabad chapter of Bikerni, an all-women biking group In 2019, she started MoWo Social Initiatives that offers two- and three-wheeler driving training to underprivileged women
“For most of our customers a motorcycle is much more than just a means of transportation. This is why we don’t talk only about model series but about riding experience worlds.”Vikram Pawah President,
BMW Group India
“There is strong resonance and affiliation among consumers for Royal Enfield in the premium motorcycle segment as we have a 96 percent market share in the mid-sized (250-750cc) segment in India.” Lalit Malik Chief Commercial Officer, Royal Enfield