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    Wednesday, December 30, 2009

    YOU are waiting at a red light in the midst of noisy traffic and suddenly you hear the distinctive thumping beat of an engine approaching. You turn around in the seat of your 100cc tiddler and gape at the beast bearing towards you like a prehistoric monster arisen from the dead... 

    Familiar feeling? Not likely, at least not in Ahmedabad, a city known for many things but not a passion for classic and vintage bikes. However, much in contradiction to popular belief, the city is home to a number of bikes of vintage — ranging from the early 1930s to the late 1970s. If you looked hard enough you could find BSAs, Triumphs, Matchless’ (true to their name), Royal Enfields, a Laverda, BMWs and indeed many more. 

    The owner of one such ‘prehistoric beast’ is Harbhajan Singh Khalsa. A resident of this city for long, he is the proud owner of a 250cc 1979 Laverda. To be sure, the only Laverda in the country, with a certificate from the company to prove it. An automobile enthusiast since his childhood, he recalls his first set of wheels — “It was sometime after I was 14 that I got a 1950 Royal Enfield with a 500cc twin cylinder engine,” he says with a smug grin spread across his face. Beat that for a Kiddies bike! 

    He recounts all the bikes that he has owned. “I owned a 1940 Norton, with a sidecar, a 1952 BSA Goldenflash 650cc, a 1961 Triumph Thunderbird, a BMW 750cc and a Suzuki 750cc.” His passion however, can not burn as brightly as it used to: “There’s no one to take care of the bikes. They have to be ridden you know. I had to sell off all my bikes, and now whenever I see them I wish I could buy them back. But who will sell such classic pieces?” he laments. His next dream machine is a 1500cc Honda Gold Wing SL, which he hopes to own in the not too distant future. 

    A similar enthusiast is Jayantibhai Panchal, the third generation of a family of mechanics which moved from Karachi to Ahmedabad at the time of the Partition. Having worked on virtually every type of motorcycles that ever came to India, he is recognised as one of the most talented mechanics in the region. 

    “We had some great bikes coming to India, but there is hardly anyone who is interested in all this anymore. People are used to 100cc bikes and when you drive out on a vintage piece, all they ask is ‘what’s the average?’ Nobody respects the bike anymore,” he says. He’s glad however that his son, Ketan, is following in his footsteps, carrying this family of highly skilled mechanics into their fourth generation. 

    Jayantibhai finds most of today’s riders go for looks over true build quality and engineering, “There is no comparison between the bikes available in India today and the bikes of old.” However there are serious collectors about, he reports, chiefly from Hyderabad, Mumbai and Calcutta. His two gems — a 1936 Triumph and a 1940 Norton have fetched offers of over one lakh each, but he sure ain’t selling, he’s here for the love of the game. As are the likes of Harbhajan Singh Khalsa, “I got my first bike when I was 14,” he says, “now I am 56.” What a way to ride through life! 

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