Sport

Chennai’s biking community is back in the saddle

Chennai Royal Riders Motorcycle Club all set to explore new trails

Chennai Royal Riders Motorcycle Club all set to explore new trails | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Bullet Bose has fond memories of his glory days at the Sholavaram track when he raced on his Lambretta scooter from 1968. The septuagenarian and Chennai racing legend Subash Chandra Bose (affectionately known as Bullet Bose for his affinity with the Royal Enfield Bullet) states that he has been riding for over 50 years.

A regular on the Sholavaram Airfield circuit and later at the Madras Motor Cycle Club at  Irungattukottai, Sriperumbudur, Bose has been the most decorated rider through the decades. “Racing those days was so different. I come from a conservative family so we didn’t have any motorcycles, but my friends lent me my first bike, a Java 250 cc, in 1971 and then I graduated to the Royal Enfield Bullet and won my first race at Sholavaram,” he says.

Bullet Bose

Bullet Bose | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Bose is enjoying being back on the road, riding alongside members of the Beast Riders Motorcycle club, Reborn Riders and Madras Bulls Motorcycling club since 2005, just some among the 90-plus motorcycle clubs in the city.  “After racing for so many years I started my second innings when I joined the Madras Bulls riding club,” he says, adding, “I like riding with these groups since it keeps me young, and the other riders say it motivates them when they see a 70 year old on the road.” 

Started in April 2002, the Madras Bulls Motorcycling Club, one of the earliest riding clubs in Chennai, has a well-known legacy of its trips on Royal Enfields. David Ebenezer, moderator at the club has been on the road for 17 years. He talks about the shared love for the open road. “Riding is a jolt of passion that brings calm and admits the chaos,” he says, adding, “ We have about 100 members in the main group and there are about 1,200 in the newbies group. The newbies are folks who have the interest, but haven’t made it to the main group yet.”

Chennai Royal Riders Motorcycle Club on one of their rides

Chennai Royal Riders Motorcycle Club on one of their rides | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Charting the trajectory of riding and the advent of riding clubs in the city, Raju Eashwaran,  an actor and producer, in Chennai, says that although he is more of a solo rider, “because it challenges me and I can choose my route, and how long I stay at a place etc,” the rise of riding clubs in the city has been good for the sport. “They are great because of the discipline, emphasis on safety, and the support team, and camaraderie among the riders. When I was younger we had a group of riders with different motorcycles, but now there are brand specific groups in the city as well.”

Biker Babez, India’s first motorcycle club for women, started in 2013 in Pallavaram, for instance, focusses on riding for a cause. So far the 35 active members, who ride any geared bike of choice, have participated in blood donation camps, tree plantation drives and local community projects in addition to regular rides. Riding for a cause, to bring awareness to harassment against women, Soundari Sindy, the founder and president, covered 16,210 kilometres through 29 Indian states and five Union territories over 42 days in 2019, on her Suzuki Gixxer SF150.

Riding through her neighbourhood since the age of 10 on her family Bajaj scooter, Sindy recollects how the biking scene was not open or easy for women in the early 2000s. “In 2012, there were very few female racers, and forging a career in motorsport was unheard of, for a woman. But I truly got into my groove after 2015-16, with the support of my family, and husband Ananthraj P, who is a fellow biker. We started AS Motorsports, a motorsport team and training academy, and now parents want us to train their daughters to ride professionally. It’s a great transition,” explains Sindy, now a veteran with her Yamaha YZF R15 V3 at drag and circuit racing at the Kari Speedway in Coimbatore and at the Madras Motor Race Track, Irungattukottai. 

Soundari Sindy

Soundari Sindy | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Women’s racing in Chennai hit a highpoint on March 13, 2022 with the first of its kind Biker Babez Club All Women’s Dirt Race at the Camp Kumizhi Dirt Track in Vandalur, designed and created by Sindy, and approved by the  Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India ( FMSCI). “Social media helps bring awareness to motorsport opportunities in the city. Now there are so many riding clubs and women are a force on two wheels,” concludes Sindy. 

Sandhiya Dass, vice president of the club, has co-hosted events to emphasise on safety and independence of women riders. These include detailing simple technical fixes on the road to easy repairs. The best part about being a member of an all-woman riding club is networking and knowledge sharing, says Dass. They guide amateur riders on how to handle, service and ride a bike. This way they don’t need to rely on mechanics for simple maintenance of their bikes. “Our all-women dirt racing event this March was a big hit and we have another event for women with simple stunts, taught by trainers, coming up in July,” explains Dass. 

At the Chennai Royal Riders Motorcycle Club, members believe in “Trust. Ride. Pride”. The club has covered 1,00,000 kilometres on the road in 15 years,  with a membership roster of 300. Paul Moses, captain of the club speaks of the scenic rides all over: trails in Tamil  Nadu, weekend rides along the East Coast Road, and through the Himalayan tracks, oftentimes, for a cause.

Biker Babez Club All Women’s Dirt Race

Biker Babez Club All Women’s Dirt Race | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Explains Moses, “We have tried to spread the message of proper helmet use, mental health and more recently, The Corona Awareness Program, emphasising the use of masks, social distance and working together as a community. He adds that the group “emphasises safety above all else,” urging riders to invest in proper riding gear and helmets.

For most riding clubs in the city, events help network between clubs, and make new plans for trips. But Eashwaran and Moses concur that the highlight of the riding calendar is Rider Mania, organised by Royal Enfield in late November in Goa.

Meanwhile in Chennai, the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride, has dapper riders weave through its roads once a year, to raise funds for a cause. The ride started in 2014, in Chennai, to raise funds and create awareness for prostate cancer research and emphasise the importance of men’s mental health as well. This year’s event saw a host of women riders, as all woman riding clubs in the city are happy to let women take the wheel. 

For Sumanth Chaganti, a member of East Coast Riders, working on his motorcycles has been second nature for over 20 years. With a collection of over 80 motorcycles, which has now dwindled to 60-plus, he used his property in Krishnagiri, to house and work on his bikes. “ In Chennai, the weather corrodes the chrome on the vehicle and you have to work on it multiple times, and after a while you cannot replace a lot of parts,” he says. Helped by a few technicians, he has successfully restored vintage bikes, and is now part of multiple WhatsApp groups, “mainly to look for spares and parts that are not available on the market,” he explains.

Ticket to ride
Madras’s love affair with motorcycles dates all the way back to 1953. The office of The Automobile Association of South India (AASI) on Mount Road,  a small Art-Deco building in a fairly large compound, was the venue for a race between Rex Strong, an Englishman and K Varugis, an Indian. The race was from Chesney Hall on Commander-In-Chief Road to Catholic Centre, Armenian Street. MA Chidambaram, who was then chairman of the AASI, felt that it was best, if motorsports had a body of its own and the Madras Motor Sports Club was formed.
The first race meeting, held on  October 25, 1953 at the Sholavaram Airstrip (an unused Second World War-era airstrip), saw both cars and motorcycles share the track — a five lap race for motorcycles and sports cars, a three-lap relay for Motorcycle teams and a lap handicap relay for cars. The event culminated with a driving test with a hard and soft reverse into marked space, zigzag, garage stop and restart engine. The fastest man was John Dye, who clocked around 72mph for a lap on a Triumph Twin.


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Printable version | Jun 30, 2022 10:10:47 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/back-in-the-saddle/article65499982.ece