I remember seeing a poster when I was in grad school and it read something like ’Driving a motorcycle gives you a sense of freedom that your car can’t. Your senses get a whole new level of significance.’ I used to own a Bajaj Discover 125 DTSi back home in Madras. And I realized how much I agreed with that poster. It had been eight years this past August since I’d sat on two wheels and driven like a king of the road. Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not a motorcycle maniac who drives speedily and scarily. I just love the whole feeling of freedom when I’m riding a motorbike. And I missed it a lot.
I was a little short of being a motorcycle freak back home in India, thanks to TLC and the Great Biker Buildoffs and the American Choppers. I know that riding on a motorcycle is one of the most mundane yet exciting things in India for anyone on the roads. If you don’t trust me, ask any motorcycle owner/rider. I’ve test ridden some really cool motorcycles and probably the coolest looking motorcycle I’ve ridden is a Bajaj Eliminator. I’ve driven motorcycles from Hero Honda (the Splendor is my favorite in that family), Bajaj (Pulsar stays unbeaten), TVS ( the Apache was awesome), Yamaha (The RXZ was my dream bike back in 1997), Honda (Unicorn was one of a kind and was an exceptionally good bike except for the girly name), LML (Anyone remember the Energy?) and of course, the Royal Enfield Battalion (Thunderbird, Electra). I’ve seen Rajdoot and Yezdi motorcycles and wondered how they stopped making them (I did get a chance to drive a restored and modified Yezdi in 2003). I was infatuated with Harley Davidson till my cousin introduced me to Aprilia and Ducati.
Despite all that, I loved my Discover and I nicknamed it “Comet”. My best bud Ramki would make so much fun of me asking me if I rode “Vaal Natchathiram” to college everyday and honestly, it was funny but I liked calling my bike Comet as to me, it was like a person. I’d had so many wonderful experiences driving the Comet and not only did it delight me, but also all the others who got a chance to drive it.I took extremely good care of it and was sad to see it being sold off after I came to the states.
All my experiences and short lived glory moments on these motorcycles aside, I’ve always pined for a Royal Enfield Bullet Classic. It was the most expensive Royal Enfield back in 2002 and it still seems so. The sheer vintage military styling is enough to make a biker’s eyes pop. India has two variants of the Classic Bullet as far as engine displacement is concerned - the 350 CC single cylinder and the 500 CC single cylinder. And in India, if you’re riding a Bullet,you need to be on a 500 CC, you need to be customarily dressed to ride it with a silk shirt,a gold chain dangling on your neck, well oiled hair, a sickle style moustache and a dhoti folded with your boxers being visible and you should be known as a “Miner”. Ask any Tamilian what “Miner” means in Tamil and you’re sure to get a smug reply. Leaving the idiosyncratic stereotype aside, most Tamilians and Indians alike know that if a person drives a Bullet, they are respected very highly especially because people thought they were like knights capable of controlling and riding a extremely wild royal steed. That was fascinating enough for me. I wanted to ride and own one since I learnt to drive a motorcycle.
But, here in the states, I was sure Harley would be the way to go and I changed my dream machine to a Harley Iron 883. Then somebody drove a military green Royal Enfield past me in New Holland, Pennsylvania and I found out that there is a huge Royal Enfield following in the states of Texas, Illinois, Wisconsin, California, New Mexico and Arizona. After I moved to Arizona, I was very intent on driving a motorcycle since this place is a haven for bikers. So I set off enquiring about getting a Royal Enfield here in AZ when I spoke to a person at Classic Motorworks up north in Minnesota who is the OEM stocker and assembly for RE here in USA. After an hour long discussion where we basically exchanged the history of Royal Enfield and their modus operandi here in the states, he directed me to a dealer in Chandler AZ. I didn’t do any homework about this dealer. I was too excited about seeing a Bullet and highly hopeful of riding one. So off I went to this dealership and met with a manager who happened to be a burly man in his 40s with a typical Franz Josef moustache and photos on his wall of multiple Indian motorcyles. Note that ‘Indian’ is a brand of motorcycle in the USA. It came as a surprise to him when I asked him if he sold REs and he was like ‘I haven’t sold one in 3 years and you’re the 5th guy this month asking me about one of those’. I was surprised that there was even such a demand for the Bullet. The salesman, Mr.David was a cheerful man in his sixties who had owned and driven almost 30 different motorcycles in his hometown of Odessa in Texas. When I told him about buying the bullet, he went on to show me a Classic Military in the showroom and asked me if I want to ride it. Heck Yeah! I rode the Classic 500 around a test track and was beyond happy compared. So I gave him the description of the model I wanted, got the quote and made up my mind to buy it. One week later, I was back at the dealer’s paying my advance for the motorcycle with my mind going yeehaw. Three weeks later, after being manufactured at Oragadam,Chennai and shipped to Classic Motorworks for assembling, the gallant steed was brought to AZ. And I was the ecstatic and proud knight of the Royal Enfield Classic C5 Silver.
In a land known for Harleys and Triumphs and Victorys, I was the lone ranger on a Royal Enfield and here’s what I did - I made heads turn. No, I’m not gonna wipe that smug look on my face. Ever since I rode my motorcycle on that asphalt, I’ve had atleast 5 people ask me about my bike on a daily basis. Here’s some of the reactions/questions that people showed/asked to me on the roads at signal stops
1. Some college kids - Whoa, where’d you get that bike?? Dude, check that out!
2. Another biker - Hey man, thats a cool bike. How long did it take for you to restore it?
3. An old man riding a Victory - That’s a cool looking vintage cruise. How’d you get it?
4. A guy driving a Ford F150 - That thing’s single engine? and 500 CC? Awesome!!
5. A businessman driving a Honda Accord - I did not know Royal Enfield sold bikes here in US. Where can I get one?
6. An old biker with a bandana driving a Harley Big Boy - Man, thats fuel injected huh? Mine still has the carburettor. (he was referring to his RE)
7. A pretty girl in a Honda Civic- Thats a cool bike, whats your phone number?
8. My rider coach - Do you ride with a group here in Phoenix?
9. One of the guys at Intel - Is that custom made? Do you build these?
10. My colleague at work -Thats a good thump man..but just 500 CC? And single engine? meh..I don’t know.
11. Another colleague - Whats the mileage? 80mpg? Are you kidding me????
12. Some guy driving a Ducati - Its British? And its made in India? Whoa….
As for my reactions, I’ve been driving it for a little over 2 months now and everytime I sit on it and feel that thump resonate with my heartbeat, its something that I’d associate with the call of the highway roads. And not to mention, Arizona has awesome roads and scenic highways (and some dangerous drivers). Even some of the city roads have beautiful scenic layouts. I will do that Leh trip sometime soon.
I love the Hamara Bajaj song and I’ve been hopelessly trying to sing that song for my Classic 500. It just doesn’t fit…Need to compose something cool for the Bullet. Thump thump thump…