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Motorcycle Diaries

One calls it the Beast,another calls it the Dodo and the third got himself a Fat Boy look-alike.

Written by Shiny Varghese | New Delhi |
July 15, 2012 10:23:13 pm

One calls it the Beast,another calls it the Dodo and the third got himself a Fat Boy look-alike. Each of them have a common passion – designing motorcycles. The Harley-Davidson and the Royal Enfield engines set the stage for some awe-inspiring designs,specially crafted to suit individual fancies. Thirty-seven year-old Mandeep Singh’s family couldn’t understand his extended romance with bike parts and aluminium alloys. “I built my bike from scratch,” says Singh. “In the initial phase,we hardly met with success,but in the end we nailed it. My family couldn’t comprehend what the fuss was about since I had nothing much to show. All that changed when I fired up my bike for the first time. What I have today is a replica of the Harley-Davidson Fat Boy.”

He’s just one among a number of biking enthusiasts who are doing to motorcycles what Dilip Chhabria does to cars. One trait common to all these self-made motorcycle designers,who build for themselves,is their passion for tinkering with machinery,for them it is a hobby. Never mind that they haven’t been formally trained in the nuances of bike design. Ahmedabad-based architect Gurjit Matharoo grew up in Ajmer,watching his father dismantle and assemble a BSA 500 Twin. “My brother and I watched him do this several times,we would pass him tools,generally hang around. While my brother learned the trade of setting things right,I asked too many questions. Some I got answers for,some I am still asking,” says Matharoo. His bike,the Bestiale,comes with a 750cc four-cylinder engine. “We wanted the body to be slim,yet monstrous,such that the massive engine resembles the ribs protruding from the skin of a wolf,for instance. The bike has thin ligament-like areas binding its muscular parts,” he says. This kind of raw energy required research,time and money,Matharoo admits. “We have tried to use large capacity engines as a primary shell,on to which other components are directly bolted — saving weight by eliminating frame. It is said an extra coat of paint can alter the outcome of the first two positions in Formula 1. Imagine what excluding 10 kg can do in motorcycles that are much lighter than Formula cars,” he says.

Akash Das also cut out the unnecessary in his Dodo motorcycle. His love for old racers saw him strip the Enfield of all its trappings,save the chassis and the engine. The fork was lowered for the thrust and pickup. “Thanks to my friend Dickson Davis,who worked with me on this project,I was able to explain to the metal craftsmen what I wanted. I was keen on a particular type of Pirelli tyres which weren’t available on the shelf,” says the Mumbai-based creative director at Lowe Lintas.

“It took less than a year to get the Dodo motorcycle on the road,” says Davis. “Akash wanted a vintage look so we opted for brass and leather in the fittings. We initially tried brass handlebars too,but it wasn’t practical since they were not sturdy enough. We customised the wheels as well,” he says.

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Das tested his motorcycle over a 800 km ride in Garhwal hills before he got it painted. “It was the ride of my life as we were testing the bike for the first time. We checked for safety on high speeds and ground clearance on really muddy stretches,since we have used shorter suspensions. We also had to check the fuel injection system on the handmade tank. The bike is much lighter than the original Enfield and I was really happy the way the Dodo performed. I enjoyed the look and the thumbs up people gave me while I was riding,” says Das.

Rubber-burning-tarmac experiences set Suresh Sid’s heart racing too. The 31-year-old armed his self-designed chopper with a 500cc cast iron engine that would carry him to the mountainous undulations of Ladakh. “Orange County Choppers (seen in TLC’s American Chopper) and Vardenchi (leaders in motorcycle customisation in India) have always been my first point of reference when it comes to customising bikes,” says the project manager of a US-based research firm. “The main part lies in the concept or theme of the design,followed by the impact on the bike dynamics in cities and mainly on highways. Then the mechanic and fabricator need to understand the limitations,and the pros and cons of customisation. Colours and cosmetics play a role too,” says Sid. He altered the chassis by a few inches and widened the rear swing arm to get the chopper profile. Fork rods were extended and Mag wheels installed with a broader rear tyre for stability at high speed,added a sleek broader tank to hold more fuel and put in custom-made mudguards and heavy exhausts (dual) in sync with the profile and shape.

Bangalore-based Love Joshi’s passion was kindled in childhood when he’d wake up to the smell of a bike exhaust. He says,“My love for motorcycles is in my genes. My dad has been a very adventurous person and always took a fancy to fast machines. Being in the Indian Air Force,he wanted to try every vehicle,from a bicycle to an aircraft. It’s funny to have a dad who is more flamboyant and passionate than you,as a college student.” Joshi customised an Enfield Thunderbird,modified the gas tank,so it could hold 20 litres (the standard is 14 litres),changed the seat and backrest,added crash guards,and upgraded the carburettor to a higher diameter,besides other cosmetic changes.

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But he wasn’t as lucky as Singh,who is in the business of making precision testing equipments and so could build his bike at his own workshop in Bangalore. “A lot of teamwork went into creating the bike. Expert advice in design,development and component manufacturing came from Prashanth,my business partner,without his help and support the bike parts would still be sitting in cartons. Our in-house welder did a fine job too. Quality checks were managed by a combination of instinct,visualisation and our background in creating precision equipment,” says Singh. He also experimented with materials such as aluminium,titanium and carbon-steel. Having spent about Rs 11 lakh over seven years for his designer bike,the 37-year-old is proud of his steed and is formalising plans for another one.

Matharoo too has plans. “I picked up a four-cylinder motorcycle from a junkyard with the registration number: MAD. I found it an amusing starting point. It has new components from Ducati. At my design studio,we are calling it Mad Honda 650 – ‘MA’ for Matharoo Associates and ‘D’ for Ducati. We’ve already done the modelling and the components are fitted. But,my most revolutionary project is a hub-centered frameless bullet. It is so strange that anybody who sees it can’t imagine it ever working. Once done,I will have to risk the ride and find out,” he says.

Some of his designs have also received international feedback. In 2001,when Sir Alan Cathcart,(a famous motorcycle journalist) saw his designs crafted in miniature wooden models,he said,“I compliment Matharoo on his imaginative ideas. Though some appear to have been more from a desire to be different than for practicality of purpose,examples like the Irerai (Integrated Ram Air,Radiator,Exhaust Induction) are a different matter. I believe this design needs to be taken further.” Being a serial designer,Matharoo has also been studying alternative fuels for motorcycles. Though he agrees,in motorcycles,there isn’t enough surface for solar cells,and hydrogen is still some years away. “Logic aside,none will ever come anywhere close to the mad cacophony of the cylinders firing at intervals,like the drums of Led Zeppelins’ Bonham,” he says.

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So,while the Hondas,Ducatis and Harleys battle it out in the showrooms,those with a mad passion are creating bikes that carry their personal signature.

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First published on: 15-07-2012 at 10:23:13 pm

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