It was at 16,000 feet among the snow-capped mountains, where oxygen is scarce and beauty abundant, that I noticed how the bikers stand out. It was last August and the place was Zing Zing Bar en route Ladakh. The melting snow had washed away a bit of the road. And the vehicles had to deal with gushing water.
The bikers didn't leave after crossing and helped many vehicles across, including the Scorpio I was in. Three of them — they belonged to Royal Beasters — became friends as the landslides forced us to halt for two days. An unwritten motto for beasters: never leave a fellow roadster behind.
On our way back, at Zing Zing Bar, I had found myself jumping into the freezing water to help other vehicles. I came back to civilisation feeling more civilised than ever. They were regular guys next door: with families, with jobs to do. But bikes always seem to make a difference.
Unlike beasters, there are those in their 40s and above — successful, white-collared, executive types — taking up super bikes (Rs 15 lakh and above) after a long break. Unlike the young, rebel image of bikers, that Marlon Brando had immortalised in The Wild One (1953), these bikers are stable, sober and worldly wise.
For Ashwani Singla (44), MD &CEO of Penn Schoen Berland, it was a ‘yumm’ photograph of a Harley Davidson (HD) Fatboy sent by a friend that got him to biking after 20 years. “I was not waiting. The moment had arrived. And I had the means,” he says. His 16-year-old son, a car lover, thought he should’ve bought a Beemer (BMW) instead. But his wife, Sheila Vasan Singla, was only too happy.
It was for her that Singla had sold his first and the only bike in his life — a Kawasaki bajaj — when he decided to gift her a TV with cable connection for her birthday. “There was no way we could’ve had both at that time,” he recalls.
They go on short jaunts on Harley today. The weekend Harley outings are “detox rides” he says. Biking is pencilled into his routine and doesn’t eat into family time.
Arjun PK Mitra (50), President & CEO of Lakhani Apparel, has been riding HD Road King since three months. Why now? “Something that was lying dormant came back rushing when I saw the Harley bikes in the showroom,” he says. Today, he owns a Corolla and a Qualis.
The latter took him to quite a few places: Puducherry, Ladakh, Nepal and Sikkim — where his father died in uniform. His mother supported him in college and he had to wait till his first job for a bike. “After that life has been very fast. Garment industry is quite demanding. Now I can relax, so I got the bike,” says Mitra.
How different is it from a car? Robert Pirsig, the author of Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance tried to explain in his book: “[t] hrough that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame…On a cycle you’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore.”
A metaphor for success
Biking is not affecting the balance of their lives. Bal Nanda (45), a businessman, decided to retire by 40 when he was 27. He “killed all his passions” and broke his back — with a slip disc — slogging. “My life has begun just now,” he says. He got Harley’s XR 1200X Sportster last September. But not before buying a beautiful house in February, a promise he had made to himself. He is passionate about travel, photography and meeting people.
“Biking offers me all of that,” he says, “It’s like you buy something and along with that you get an entire family who understands your passion.”
For some it could mean a lot more than that. Ask Asis Mandal (43), Superintendent Geologist with ONGC Videsh Limited, who hails from a “family on the fringes of the society” in a tiny village of West Bengal.
On the day he had become a proud owner of HD Fatboy, his facebook status message read: “Thanks to all my friends that I have come to a stage where I can ride a Harley.”
At his home, it was like a “dream to even see” a motorcycle. “I can tell my grandson that I was one of the first to own a Harley in India,” he says. Mandal’s fellow rider, Titus Koshy (42), a law consultant explains thus: “I come from a simple middle class family and to be able to ride the best bike in the world gives immense sense of fulfillment,” he says. Biking is now a metaphor for a milestone in life.
Making them drool
Every weekend these born again bikers hit the national highways on their super bikes. Grown men and women, like little kids pressed against the toyshop window, drool at these machines.
It has always been the case. Way back in the 1960s, writing on the outlaw biker group, Hell’s Angels, Hunter S Thompson wrote about how the public had a “morbid fascination” for them despite their hoodlum image.
Thanks to a growing economy, disposable incomes and improving infrastructure, the market for these super bikes has been expanding — 1,000 super bikes were sold in 2010 and it is growing at 25 percent annually, according to an industry estimate.
“With the improvement of roads, there is a rise of a nascent group of elite bikers. In five years, the trend will catch up,” says Harmazd Sorabjee, Editor, Autocar. Harley Davidson came to India last July and BMW is waiting in the wings. “Biking is an extension of personality, biking tourism as a culture is developing now,” says Sanjay Tripathi, Director of Marketing, Harley Davidson-India that has sold 250 bikes since July.
Not just about speed
Anurag Ashok (45), Director, e-Smart systems, says they are caught in an unending cycle that is “home-office-crisis-success”. So he started the biker group called ‘Rewind’ to recapture youth. “What do you have to look forward to if you retire at 60?” he asks.
Before he turns 50, he wants to ride through Africa and Siberia. “In a car, you are not in touch with the elements,” he says. At the end, it seems biking is all about rediscovering small joys of life. It’s all about slowing down.