They are the Bullets, each made like a gun, which mesmerise and murmur-ise thousands of viewers each time they perform the displays and stunts. They are the favourite of the Indian security forces. The army, BSF, and CRPF have several motorcycle display teams that enthrall their audiences. In this part, we talk about the machines, not just their mechanics and forces, but also their hearts and souls. For a machine, like a motorcycle or car, is like a human or animal. It connects with the rider in emotional ways.
Indian forces’ tryst with Royal Enfield (RE), the maker of Bullet bikes, began 67 years ago. In 1953, the former acquired a few to monitor the sensitive borders in north and west India. The relationship thrived and, hence, it wasn’t unusual that the brand became the most sought-after one by the display teams. Several riders maintain that the Bullet is powerful and stable, maneuverable and heavy, and eccentric and intelligent. Thus, the machine behaves in ways that the rider wants it to, and in manners that she hopes it to.
Most bikers maintain that the Bullet will continue to be the first choice for the Republic Day-kind of displays. One of them explains, “If you have ridden one, you will know that even if you do not shift down at times when you slow down, the Royal Enfield will pick up the pace as you accelerate without having to shift gears too much.” According to her, the maximum torque in Bullet 500 “is delivered at RPMs as low as 4,000. Torque is what pushes a car or bike forward, a higher BHP figure will translate to how fast it will go.”
Display- and stunts-people tried many bikes, but found the Bullet to be the most dependable. This was crucial for there is a bond between the human and machine, a trust that develops over time. As one of them says, “Owners notice that whatever may be the crisis, a Bullet never breaks down mid-way; if it does, it happens after one has reached the immediate destination.” Another one adds, “It can be stubborn; it may not do the superficial weaves. But if you show your love and loyalty, it can perform unbelievable acts.”
There was the reason of nationalism and ‘Make in India’ even then. In 1956, Madras Motors manufactured the brand for the first time in India at its Tiruvottiyur factory. According to the RE website, “Initially, these machines are shipped from England in kit form, and then assembled. A total of 163 Enfield India Bullets are built by the end of the year.” The small beginning turned into an obsession and passion for the owners. In fact, the machine was their true love, as indicated by the ‘Yeh Bullet meri jaan’ jingle.
Obviously, the teams need to make several modifications to the bikes for the seemingly impossible displays. For example, as per one rider, the bike has to travel constantly during the performances at a minimum speed of 20 km/hour. “If the speed drops to 15, it can stall or go awry.” When the maneuvers are more difficult, like more members on more machines in a pyramid form, the speed may need to increase. Hence, regular adjustments are required.
In addition, riders may make modifications on their specific machines. They will tinker with the gears and torques for specs that suit their acts. As you must have seen at India’s Republic Day Parade, when the rider stands at the top of 15-feet stair mounted at the rear-end, the centre of gravity of the machine changes. This has to be balanced or the bike can flip backwards. In fact, a few Bullet fans replace their cranks and engines with those from the older versions to increase the overall weight of their bikes.
As one must have noticed, or possibly failed to do so, the bikers who perform different and larger formations like pyramid and lotus on multiple machines, have to use integrated frames among the latter to support the dozens of people. In some cases, the number of people in a formation is over 200. But there are also displays where only human limbs act as connectors and support base. In effect, this is akin to flying in the air as you ride along the road.
Given such close linkages between the security forces and RE, the latter has celebrated the partnership. In 2018, the company came out with models, Royal Enfield Classic Signals, which were inspired by the bikes “in service and those who ride them”. The Air Force variant was dubbed Classic 350 Airborne Blue, and the army one, Classic 350 Stormrider Sand. Each bike came “with a unique serial number blazoned across the side of the tank”.