At the India Bike Week in Goa, Catherine Rhea Roy discovers a brand-new brotherhood.
When the kindly German asked her if she rode bikes, she cringed and admitted, “Well, to be honest, I’m not sure if throttle is a verb or noun.” “Then you’ve come to the best place to learn,” he said and smiled encouragingly. The German and she, along with 6,000 others, were recently in Goa for India Bike Week, the first of its kind in the country.
Bikers had come together from as far as West Bengal on their motorcycles — and in the air-conditioned cab that chauffeured them to the venue, she watched as he flipped through an automobile magazine, dusted his riding gloves, prepared his camera, and she felt like a flake, a fake! She stood at the gates and the apprehension sank like deadweight to the pit of her stomach. Wait, was that music? There she heard it again, from inside it strained to reach her, “At least we have music in common,” she thought hopefully as she walked past motorbikes lined up like bulls ready to charge. Without purpose she ambled, memorising the names on banners, skimming through brochures and scanning pamphlets, chanting “Throttle, piston, torque, suspension…” just in case she was caught off guard. Food and drink and music, it was a party in a parking lot, or not. The stunt area was getting warm, an audience had gathered to watch Team RSA. With startling lack of grace she clambered onto a stack of hay to watch young boys as they risked breaking their necks and the rabid crowd screamed for more. She watched and learned that a “burn out” was to keep the bike stationery while the rear wheel continued to spin, the machine screamed and the acrid smell of burning rubber singed the hair in her nostrils. There was a stir and it moved in her direction, “Ladies and gentleman, presenting the Waai Too Kayy!” the host’s voice pierced the air, followed by the whistling of the turbine engine that powered this super bike from 0 to 320 km in five seconds. They brought it to the centre and she pressed with the crowd to see the mad machine that won a race against a jet engine. The voice continued to shrill, “A computer system that detects the turbine engine, 320 horsepower,” she got closer, “and about 700 to 800 degrees of heat,” when a hot blast of air whipped her in the face.
Bikers have stories to tell, like the story of that omelette they ate at that tea stall on that ride where they skirted that forest. Or the tale of the two Thunderbirds who were held up on that mountain pass because of the herd of yak that didn’t have a herdsman. She eavesdropped and the boy who wore a t-shirt that read “I Rode Mine To IBW” said, “That time we rode to Coorg na? Short trip, about five hours but insane boss! Mera pehla baar tha, meri toh phatti!”
Evening sneaked in and from the central viewing deck she had a square view — the stage in front, stalls that glowed in their corners and clusters, display areas for old bikes, new bikes and all kinds of rare bikes. The buzz got busier, bikers bonded and the bonhomie was infectious.
Faces were slick with sweat and browning in the sun on day two of India Bike Week. Everybody had a smile to share, a light to lend and spirits were generally high. The bikers are a mixed lot; it’s not all tattoos, leather and born to be wild. For instance, it was Mr. Birju Singh’s brightly coloured paggar that caught her eye. Bent over as he tinkered and tightened he was oblivious to her curiosity or questions and when he was done, his grey moustache bristled with pride as he announced, “From Jaipur, 1942 BSA with side car. Where do you want to sit?”She made friends, and none of them cared that she was unsure what the function of crank was. And when the man at the Polaris pit looked at her suspiciously they vouched for her. Positioned to destroy, she revved and released, they make it look easier than it actually is, she noted, as bystanders dived for cover. “Please sir, may I go once more?”
The rejection at Polaris was hardly devastating, there was much left to do. On stage they paraded a bike and biker who were on their way to the Bonneville Flats to set a world record. And on the field it was an education, “The Enfield is the most unreliable bike. Just like a woman, you need to take care of her,” said one biker. “The difference between a bike and super bike is the difference between man and superman,” said another. And someone else said, “Ride a Harley and you will never ride any other bike again.”
Lou Majaw sang his ode to Dylan while the crowd prepared for Mattie Griffin — known for street bike freestyle riding — he was also the highlight of the evening. Push came to shove but we had secured our spot and Griffin had begun — he teased the bike as though it were a child’s tricycle — wheelies, somersaults, wheelies and somersaults, and some good old burn out. He could make the motorbike sing show tunes if he wanted, instead he showed off with neat pirouettes, plies, and posing with jazz hands. The show was over, there was no debate about dinner and Pentagram was still singing, somewhere.
The promise of the best pizza in Goa was sufficient but to get there, a choice had to be made — red bike or black bike? She chose her destiny, the red bike or (as she later found) the Ducati Multistrada, if you please. It’s a super bike, you don’t merely hop onto it and sail away into the sunset, and similarly you don’t reduce it to a mere choice of colour. Was she afraid? “No, because you live more in five minutes on a bike like that, going flat out, than some people do in a lifetime,” said Burt Munro (1899-1978).
The motor came to life with a low, impatient growl and from there on, it was all very quick. The bike had speed and power, she illustrates, “The bike zipped forward with my bottom, the rest of me followed after a two-second time lapse.” With every shot of throttle, the bike challenged you and made a sound as if to say, “Only so much?” She braced herself for the wind was strong, the adrenaline coursed through her veins and Goa was pretty even when it was just a blur. “There’s more to biking than petrol and pistons, it’s a relationship — a brotherhood,” the biker said to her.
The mozzarella was still melting when they tore the chorizo pizza at J&A’s and they talked about life, love and the ride back home — and this was it, the brotherhood. And from where she sat, it looked like a tightly knit unit, where there is no criteria to belong, where there is always room for pillion and all you need is a helmet.