If you love bikes, the thought of cruising through peaceful stretches of roads on your steely beast will mean manna for your soul. What makes it even better is if your bike has been built to suit your needs and style. The fledgling bespoke bike industry in India is charting new territory with the love for everything retro, riding high among biking enthusiasts. As the closely-knit community of bike lovers grows with every passing year, there exists a small but determined bunch of men who dedicate their energies to sculpting a work of beauty on two wheels, to bring you the feel of old-world biking.
Twenty-three-year-old Tushar Jaitly came back to India in 2013 after completing a Bachelors degree from Turin’s Istituto Europeo di Design and set up TJ Moto, a bike design studio. Bike-building, Jaitly says, is “an art form that involves mechanics, metal fabrication,design and paint”. He wants to develop TJ Moto into a lifestyle brand consisting of biker clothes, merchandise and art. Delhi-based Jaitly, who will participate in the India Bike Week in Goa in January, is remodelling a Harley Davidson SuperLow into a cafe racer — those low-ride single-seaters with large fuel tanks and mean handlebars, favoured by the ‘60s baby boomers.
Bike: Nadia is a revamped Harley Davidson Iron 883 that was the first bike Jaitly worked on. Keeping the engine and down tube (the lower part of the frame that holds the engine) intact, Nadia has a hand-beaten petrol tank. The top tube chassis goes above the tank, which is printed racing green and cream with golden pinstripes, fitted with two leather straps. A free flow exhaust, high performance air filter, 21-inch tyres sourced from Philadelphia, a spring seat made of bespoke leather and the TJ Moto logo in brass makes Nadia a mean vintage machine.
Cost: You’ll have to pay Jaitly around Rs2.5 lakh, over and above the bike’s price, to modify it.
Delhi-based Bobbee Singh and his company Old Delhi Motorcycles are legendary among bikers. Singh has modified nearly 200 Royal Enfields in a career of 15 years. His love for the four-strokes was nurtured by an uncle whose Enfield he would spend three hours cleaning every weekend. “For every four cleaning sessions, I would be allowed a ride.
When kids around me were playing cricket, I was dreaming about bikes,” says Singh.
Today, Singh has clients from all over the globe. “People are usually confused; they have an idea of a bike that’s not concrete. I spend time with them, asking things like, ‘Where do you picture yourself with your bike?’ or ‘What kind of music do you like?’,” says Singh.
“It is a spiritual process.”
Singh has recently come out with an 18-minute feature on the craftsmen who reassemble a bike, Old Delhi Motorcycles — The Film.
Bike: The dual-coloured Mother Superior is Singh’s talisman. It was gifted to him by his mother, who scoffed at his work as a ‘mechanic’. The 1968 Royal Enfield got him his eureka moment. “I realised that if I coloured the bike in dual shades on either side, it would look different from different angles. This concept fetched me a lot of clients later,” says Singh. Mother Superior, which has gone through various editions, flaunts a sexy sidecar in its newest avatar. Keeping only the restored engine and chassis, every part of the bike is handmade. It sports a hand-beaten tank in green and ivory, a single-seat in bespoke leather with the Old Delhi Motorcycles logo engraved on it, and elongated mudguards with 1930s artwork on either side of the body. “The green is inspired by the Cuban Cadillacs of the 1950s, and the ivory by the sturdy Vespa scooters,” says Singh.\
Cost: Singh, who spends three to four months on each bike, charges between Rs3-4 lakh.
For Mumbai-based Akash Das, the passion for tearing apart a bike came from not finding a vintage two-wheeler that guaranteed stable performance. “It is easy to find iconic vintage bikes, like 25-year-old BSAs or Triumphs, but there is the fear that you may be stalled anywhere, without any help,” says Das, art director at advertising firm Lowe Lintas. And so, Das and his friend went to work, building a bike with new-age functionalities and an old world look.
Das is only two bikes old, and rues the time constraints of his day job. He’s working on a 350cc Royal Enfield for a bike-loving lady friend who could not handle the height or the weight of the bike. “The weight is drastically reduced; it is about 6 inches from the ground, and has the look of a 1960s-era Army bike,” says Das.
Bike: The Dodo Motorcycle that Das built, with his friend Dixon Davies, is custom-made from a 500cc Royal Enfield 2011. “It took us 8 months to build, because we were both new to it,” says Das. Painted blue, the engine and suspension of the bike have been kept intact while the handlebars, head lamp, airbox and mudguard have been replaced with custom-made ones. Newly attached is a brass tail lamp, a wooden support for the exhaust, a Smiths speedometer, and an autostart button.
Cost: Akash, who hasn’t taken any commercial assignments yet due to time constraints, says that both the bikes cost him anywhere between Rs2-3 lakh over the price of the bike.