Harley-Davidson and the city man

AS THEY travel from Los Angeles to Nevada on their bikes, John Doe and Adam Horowitz, heroes of the 1992 film, `Roadside Prophets', demonstrate the American love for the speeding metal steed and the long road.

The bike is as much a hero as Mickey Rourke or Don Johnson in `Harley-Davidson and the Marlboro Man'. Arnold Schwarzenegger's machismo is manifest in the scenes of `Terminator II' where he rides a Harley-Davidson.

Harley-Davidson, one of the most popular bikes in the U.S., has become an icon of American love for freedom.

If you can't afford to ride a Harley from Des Moines to Mississippi, the next best thing would be to get your 100cc bike remodelled to look like the American brand and take the highway from Vallakadavu to Kovalam and feel the breeze blowing across the coast!

Visit any college campus in the city and you would find guys zipping up and down the road on their single cylinder machine. Remodelled bikes are a craze among youth.

And if you thought there weren't experts in the city to give your bike a whole new look, you are wrong; there are a few mechanics who have specialised in remodelling 100cc bikes so that they look like a Harley-Davidson or a Royal Enfield.

Says mechanic S. Dinesh, "Of the students who seek my services, many cannot afford all the required accessories. In such cases, we make do with what they can buy. And then there are others who are willing to shell out even Rs. 50,000 to improve the look of their two-wheelers."

Dinesh claims that he can not only alter the shape of a bike, but also convert an ordinary 100cc bike into a racing model. A time consuming process? You bet!

One of his clients won the Shanghumughom Beach Race (1998) and the Novice Race (Thrissur-2000), riding a 100cc bike converted into a racing model. "I accompany the participant to the races so that I am at hand if the machine develops a technical or mechanical snag. Remodelling bikes is not a highly profitable business, but the satisfaction and thrill of a client winning a race on a bike that I have worked on gives me a high," Dinesh says.

Dinesh has remodelled over 300 bikes. People from as far as Kochi seek his services. "Every new assignment is a challenge and it's customer satisfaction that keeps me going," he says.

Harley-Davidson and the city man

Mechanic P. Radhakrishnan has been remodelling bikes since the early 1980s. "Among the two-wheelers remodelled then were Yezdi, Bullet, Jawa and Lambretta; 100cc bikes had not yet entered the market."

Radhakrishnan says he has customers from places as far as Alappuzha and Kottayam and claims to have re-modelled around 300 bikes.

"Selling re-modelled bikes was big business till recently, and each vehicle used to fetch a profit of around Rs. 2,000. Of late, the demand for second-hand remodelled bikes has been low."

Radhakrishnan's brother, P. Madhu, who runs a workshop at Karamana, gets customers mostly from Kollam and Nagercoil. "Some of my clients have been willing to spend any amount to make their bikes look like the foreign brands."

To be remodelled into a Harley-Davidson, Enfield Bullet is the best bet, mechanics say. Bullets can be easily re-fashioned to look like Royal Enfields.

Bike enthusiasts in the city keep abreast of the latest developments in the field. Talk to one of them, and you feel like having met the hero of `Easy Rider'! "Do you know the differences between a Ducati and a Honda?" he would ask. "Do you know why Harleys, right from the E-heads of the early 1900s to the Twin cams of 1999, are superior?"

The biker would rate the FXR models higher than the Softails. He is aware of the changes in the brand from year to year, such as "the shift from 35mm to 39mm forks on XL and FX models and the change in the clutch actuation mechanism on Big Twins".

He would reel off the names of some of the classic bikes, "74FLHB Electra Glide, FLHS Electra Glide, Buell XI Lightning, FLSTF Fat Boy... ." Phew!

Rahul, a student of Mar Ivanios College, loves such exotic bikes and spent more than Rs. 10,000 to get his 100cc bike remodelled. " I wanted it to look totally different."

Manoj Kumar, a medical representative, always wanted to ride a dirt bike to college, but couldn't. When he got a job, he spent Rs. 25,000 to give his 100cc bike a new look. "But I don't go to work on my new-look bike. I use it only during leisure." E. A. Babu, Regional Transport Officer, says, "No legal issues are involved in remodelling vehicles, provided there is no violation of the specifications of the manufacturers. Minor alterations in the body are allowed. Nevertheless, the chassis or engine of the vehicle should not be changed."

Insurance companies insist that any alterations made on a vehicle should be brought to their notice and permission obtained. "Major changes made on the vehicle require payment of an additional amount," says an insurance officer.