April 05, 2020
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The Wild Ones

Indian adherents of the death-defying cult of speed worship Superbikes

The Wild Ones
The Wild Ones

"Faster, faster, faster, until the thrill of speed overcomes the fear of death."
—Hunter S. Thompson, Hell's Angels

A 300 km per hour bolt of chrome and rubber, at first a little whining dot in your rearview mirror. But before you can look again, it's already a full-throated roaring mass of streamlined blue steel electrifying the road under you, travelling much too fast for man, cop or God to catch. Intermittent glimpses of a helmet flashing on and off as it catches the streetlights down the length of the road, and in a poof of grime, dust and fumes, he's gone. Welcome to the little-known but utterly unhinged world of superbikers.

The latest must-have among young, adrenaline-craving speed junkies are superbikes. Ducatis, Hayabusas, Yamahas and Kawasaki Ninjas: these four-cylinder road monsters that can ignite the road at speeds of up to 300 km per hour are lusted upon by the biking fraternity. But, since each one has to be imported, and a 100 per cent duty paid, they can burn up your savings account even faster, costing anywhere from Rs 6 to 10 lakh—money that could buy a Honda City or a Toyota Corolla.

There's also something about superbikes that sets our Bollywood heroes' pulses racing. John Abraham, Salman Khan, Dino Morea, Uday Chopra and Hrithik Roshan are all self-confessed bike nuts. So if you're on the streets late at night in Mumbai and you see a blur of sculpted hair and biceps zoom by, chances are you just caught a glimpse of one of their ilk chasing real thrills after a hard day of shooting simulated thrills. Our cricket team's latest action hero, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, is another one who numbers amongst the clan of famous bikers.

John Abraham was a motorcycle junkie well before becoming famous as a model and actor. And he certainly takes his bikes seriously. "My first bike was a Yamaha RD 350 which I bought when I was 17 years old," he told Outlook. "It was a second-hand bike that I bought from a Parsi gentleman for Rs 17,500. I looked after her so well that I got more money for it when I sold it two years later. I'll let you in on a secret—when I sold her to this heartless man I actually broke down and cried. He kept pointing out flaws in my baby!"

One of his dreams was to break into the 300 km/h club. "That's the fastest I've ever gone. I had to add so many after-market parts—I increased the bike to 220 bhp, replaced the stock muffler with a power commander. Only then could I quite literally burn rubber." And he nominates the MotoGP circuit in Brno in the Czech Republic as the coolest place he's ridden his bike.

Sandeep Gajjar, a Delhi-based graphic designer, claims to have been a bike fanatic for all of his 26 years. But he only got onto the superbike craze about eighteen months ago, when he bought his gleaming Honda Fireblade. He also runs the Indian motorbiking portal www.xbhp.com. He declares enthusiastically, "The community has grown to over 29,000 registered members since we started it in 2003. There are definitely a lot of bike lovers out there." Gajjar travelled around the country on his bike, even hitting 265 km/h once on the highway from Jaipur to Udaipur. He adds, "Delhi is the best place to ride in India—we have the best roads in the country. I was quite surprised when I saw how good the roads were in Vishakhapatnam too."

The Yamaha R1 seems to be the favourite amongst the young Bollywood brigade. John Abraham, Dino Morea and Uday Chopra all have that mean-looking model. Uday Chopra, who did his own motorcycling in the biker flick Dhoom alongside John Abraham, explains: "My R1 is phenomenal—it's drop-dead gorgeous to look at and rides likes butter. But I once hit 240 km/h on a Hayabusa on the highway—it was exhilarating in a very near-death kind of a way. I certainly don't recommend doing it to anyone because I was doing it under controlled conditions while shooting for Dhoom."

Keeping the bike in tip-top shape can be extremely demanding. Dino Morea is one of the breed who believes in doing it for himself. "Of course I look after my bike myself. I don't touch the engine but I do everything else—changing the cables, cleaning the brakes, the whole hog." And he doesn't miss an opportunity to fly high on his bike. He says with a laugh, "When I first got to Mumbai I used to ride my bike to shoots. I'd wear a bandana on my face, a cap on my hair and a scarf around my neck but my face would still be absolutely black with soot by the time I got to work. I don't know how it happened, but that's Mumbai!"

John Abraham is another who will not let just anyone touch his bike. He reveals, "Earlier I used to change the air filters and oil filters myself. I'd shop for them whenever I was in Singapore or Hong Kong. But now I'm so busy with work I can't do it as much as I would like. Still, I can be a little crazy about it. I make sure that the watchmen and staff in my building and my parents' place take off all their rings, watches etc when around my bike because I don't want it to get scratched. They thought I'd lost it at first, but now they respect what I say. After all, they've seen me run outside when it's raining to take out the battery and cover the tyres with plastic!"

Most avid racers agree that the best time to ride their bikes is well after dark, when the crazy traffic subsides. As Chopra explained, "In the day it's really a pain to ride these bikes cause they tend to get overheated and then you're in a mess. My favourite time to ride is either early in the morning or late at night. I love cruising down the Bandra Worli Sea Link, you can really open up your bike there at night."

Jagdish, a Delhi-based Hayabusa owner says, "There's an old biker maxim that I love: I'd rather be riding my bike thinking about God than sitting in church and thinking about my motorcycle." There are a growing number of young Indian men and women who are finally beginning to see what the fuss is all about.

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