How ‘Chennai’ is the Royal Enfield Bullet? The bike has given the big boys a run for their money and gained fans the world over, but this is its home and it will always be known as a machine from Madras
The Royal Enfield Bullet is the pride of Chennai in more ways than one. These motorcycles were being sold in India since 1949. But in 1955, the Indian government, which was looking to fit out its police forces and the army with reliable motorcycles, chose the Bullet 350 and ordered 800 of them. This was an enormous order for the time and the Redditch Company partnered with Madras Motors to form what was called ‘Enfield India’ and chose Chennai to set up shop. It was this partnership that originally assembled this cult motorcycle right here in our city. If that is something to crow about, what is sure to warm the heart of any Royal Enfield fan is the fervour with which bikers in the city have taken to their machines; be it in organising themselves to fuel their passion, or personalising their machines with well thought out customisation—not to mention the number of outlets that have come up
for bikers to build and care for their dream bikes. Eicher, which now makes these bikes, for its part has gone out of its way to ensure the Bullet rider keeps his bike thumping.
The Bullet is very much a Chennai product. While India can be proud of this mean machine, which can now be found all over the globe, there are some quintessential details that are very Chennai and go into creating the bike. According to Rudratej Singh, aka Rudy, president Royal Enfield, “You don’t have to look further than the fact that Royal Enfield is setting up its third plant in the city, to call the Bullet a Chennai product. By 2018, we will be putting out over 9,00,000 units.” That’s a jump of over two lakh bikes from what was produced this year.
It’s not just the factory, though; several Chennaiites literally have a hand in creating this classic beauty. “A lot of detailing work on the bike is done by hand,” says Singh. “The iconic pinstripes on the tank is hand-painted and, in fact, over the years, it is just two or three people from the same family, based in the city, that do this. And it’s not just this, but a lot of assembly work on the bike, including buffing and readying it for inspection, has the hand of a Chennai ‘artisan’ behind it,” he adds.
For several biker boys in the city, the Bullet is an extension of their person. According to Navaneeth Krishnan, one of the founders of the biking group, Madras Bulls, “Riding a Bullet, not only in the city but anywhere, has given the rider a sense of pride. But for the Chennaiite, it’s a perfect marriage between cultural stereotypes and biking passion. It always had a macho image around it and every Tamil boy would wait for the time he could ‘meesa muruki and Bullet voti’ (twirl his mustache and ride a Bullet). This feeling probably comes from the fact that only the police and the army used these bikes extensively, and to ride one of these machines, which were quite expensive, was a matter of pride for the Tamilian.”
This hasn’t changed much today. Even with severe competition from imported bikes, the Bullet still holds its own and its loyalists continue to grow. There are two reasons for this. “It is mainly the fact that this is one bike that’s best suited for Indian roads,” says Krishnan, adding, “Big foreign bikes that vie for the attention of the rider tend to overheat in city riding. Their service network, too, is not as extensive. If a Bullet has a problem on a long ride, a mechanic can reach it within an hour and, further more, there are enough and more local mechanics who can fix it.”
The company, too, for its part does everything possible to keep the fires of a Bullet rider burning. “We fuel the passion with several events like Rider Mania, Himalayan Escapade, reunions in every zone and even weekend rides coordinated by our dealer network,” says Singh. “We don’t really worry about the competition. We focus on the rider, his interests and his passion, and that’s what keeps us going.”
The Bullet for its part is one that endears itself to its rider by being a machine that allows for some serious customisation. And Chennaites are known to personalise their machines to suit not only their aesthetic tastes but also to customise them for the kind of rides they do.
Customisation is such a preoccupation with the Bullet owner that with almost every visit to a mechanic the bike changes to become more in tune with the rider. This led bikers Paul Pradeep and Hari Haran to take the customisation of their own bikes a notch higher. They have now set up a company that alters bikes for people. Called the Bullet Cafe, the venture started off when Paul wanted to customise his bike after his favourite superhero, Thor. “This led to people who saw the bike asking me if I could build another superbike for them. One thing led to another and now we have a range of Batman Bullets, Spiderman Bullets, The Hulk Bullets, Captain America Bullets and so on,” says Paul. Such is the camaraderie and culture among bikers basking in the communal warmth of motorcycling that while bikes take on the persona of the owners, the riders too are often known after their bikes. Paul, after his superhero bike, is known as Thor in riding circles and Hari is known as Diesel, as his first bike was a diesel Bullet.
It is exactly this sentiment that the bike fosters that makes it difficult to remove Chennai from the Royal Enfield. “It’s not possible,” says biker and programme manager David Ebenezer. “This is its home. This is where the baby was born.”
Ebenezer is also happy that the Bullet has all these support systems in the city and all he needs to focus on is his riding. “It’s a piece of heritage that I ride. Nothing comes close to the thump of a four-stroke single cylinder engine. It gives me a sense of freedom. Once you sync with the machine you can burn all your burdens on the road.” Happy riding, folks.
By Edison Thomas