It’s a passion for Bullets, Jawas and RD 350s that brings the city’s bikers together

North of Chennai, dawn breaks with a roll of thunder. Rain has silenced the birds and kept them in the trees. The only other sound comes from Bullets ridden by a closely-knit group out on a weekend trip.

Cut to Monday. Leather jackets have given way to neatly ironed terry-cotton shirts, scruffy jeans have been replaced by well-creased trousers and flamboyant sneakers by staid black shoes.

This metamorphosis is a routine phenomenon in any group in the city that is built around a cult bike — the Madras Bulls (Royal Enfield Bullet), Roaring Riders (Jawa & Yezdi), V40 (Royal Enfield Bullet), Chennai Jets (Yamaha RD 350) or Gear Force (Yamaha RD 350). These biking clubs don’t like mixing the week with the weekend.

“Each city lends its unique character to its motorcycle groups. Those in Chennai show an exemplary sense of discipline and balance,” says V.P. Senthil Kumar, a senior member of Madras Bulls. “Fifteen years ago, a long-distance biker was invariably a middle-aged man. The profile of the long-distance biker has changed considerably. Today, most educated youngsters, who have just embarked on a career, can afford a bike. These youngsters are not rash or immature. Ninety-nine percent of those in the Madras Bulls have bought their Royal Enfield machines with their own money. They know the quality of their weekend depends on how well they fare through the week.”

“In the West, biking clubs embark on riding tours that keep them on the road for months. That’s not possible here,” says Sabyasatchi Debnath, moderator at Roaring Riders.

Biking in the city is in its nascent stage. The clubs are of recent origin — founded in 2002, the Madras Bulls is probably the oldest of the lot. Though there is no motorcycle-driven subculture, every group has strict rules and regulations. And idiosyncrasies (For example, members of Roaring Riders shout “Let the music begin!” in unison before a group ride). But none has an unhealthy hold over its members.

“It’s only a love of bikes that brings the group together — we meet only once a month and our bikes are the sole focus of the meeting,” says Arun Krishnamurthy (aka Bobby), founder member of Chennai Jets, a 48-member group of RD350 owners and aficionados.

Despite a proliferation of new motorcycles, these bikers remain committed to their retro bikers. As these motorcycles require extensive restoration, club members engage in technical discussions. Apart from joint rides, these learning sessions make for bonding.”

“But we don’t let these friendships take over our lives,” say bike club members, stressing that their outfits are far removed from those such as the Hells Angels or any other club that demands total allegiance.

“Aided by misinformation and the media’s obsession with outlaw motorcycle groups, bikers are widely seen as non-conformists and law-breaking rebels,” says Sabyasatchi. “Bikers are like everybody else — except that they love their machines a tad too much.”

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