When it comes to customising motorcycles, India is unashamedly making up for lost time.
The last decade has seen a huge surge of interest among young riders from Kashmir to Kerala, all desperate to make their mark on their bikes.
Colour and vibrancy have always gone hand in hand with individuality in this part of the subcontinent, and those attributes inform the commissions that the workshops receive here.
Customisers like TJ Moto in Delhi, Verdenchi Motorcycles in Mumbai and Rajputana Customs have rapidly gained a reputation for creating something entirely different
Customers frequently want something with a British twist, maybe in a nod to the old days of Empire, when Enfield and Triumphs were the officers’ bikes of choice. Now anyone can own one.
Vijay Singh, boss of Rajputana, is a case in point: “My dad put me on my first motorcycle – a BSA Falcon aka a BSA Bond – when I was seven. From then on I was always on the motocross track and my love for motorcycles has grown a hundred fold.”
After returning from university in Canada six years ago, Vijay spent around a year convincing his family – and himself – that following his custom motorcycle building dream was worth a shot.
The machine that you sit on tells the world exactly where you stand.Unknown
Eventually, inspired by the mantra ‘the machine that you sit on tells the world exactly where you stand’, he set up a garage in Jaipur.
After clearing out his grandmother’s storage room, he started the shop with the gardener’s son Tappan and a metal fabricator named Abdul.
Their first bike, Original Gangster, was four months in the making and as soon as it took the stage at the New Delhi auto expo in 2010, the well-proportioned 350cc custom Royal Enfield prompted a deluge of commissions.
Rajputana’s second bike, Lightfoot, followed and was a testament to Vijay’s determination not to let aesthetics compromise flawless functionality. “The bikes we build are a direct representation of our aesthetic sense.
Being from Rajasthan, one has grown up seeing beauty in minimalism. My dad’s side of the family are all Rajputs, so there’s definitely a direct link to naming the shop Rajputana Custom Motorcycles.”
Five years on and they have moved into a purpose-built workshop and employ 14 people, including six metal fabricators, two painters and, crucially, a runner, who procures parts and raw materials from the market.
However, the transition from college kid with a love of bikes to one of the country’s most inspirational custom houses wasn’t that straightforward.
Vijay admitted: “My initial concern was my very limited knowledge of building custom motorcycles and its financial feasibility. As the years have gone by we’ve learned a fair bit on the job and the projects we take on seem less intimidating, but still challenging.
“We’ve also come to find that a lot of Indians have a deep love for two wheels and with the growing global popularity of customisation, there is a thriving market for custom bikes in India.”
The move towards customisation is still in its infancy in India, but where once it was limited to small motorcycle garages run by metal fabricators with exceptional skill and limited design sense, now it’s increasingly populated by youngsters with an eye for style and passion to make it their profession.
Vijay said: “There’s immense potential to grow and develop customisation here. With the internet flooding us with images of custom bikes across the world, we’re steadily seeing a shift in build quality and overall design sense of Indian chop shops and the clients they cater to.”
From the outset Rajputana were constantly on the lookout for projects that were different from the last. Vijay’s first year résumé of a chopper, bobber, cafe racer and board tracker is testament to that.“I started doing it because I thoroughly enjoyed the whole process of building and customising a motorcycle. It was never about trying to standardise the process of custom bike building, but more to do with taking on challenging projects and learning from them,” he said.
“We’d anticipate a particular project would take a few months to complete, but that could easily go up if we faced hurdles or made mistakes. Having the bike built to the best of our abilities was the goal, irrespective of extra man hours or a client’s desire to have his bike.”
The firm’s latest success is Jordaar, a full-scale custom bike built for the India Bike Week build-off competition last year.
Vijay said: “We started with a brand-new Harley 883 engine, which was given new RSD rocker covers, and matte black wrinkle finished primary and clutch covers.
We also built a new hard tail frame, linkage front suspension, exhaust, handlebar, gas tank, oil tank and seats.” So was his decision to turn his back on a career in communications – his chosen degree – the right one?
He said: “It’s been very challenging and rewarding. We have just begun to scratch the surface of custom bike building and it’s satisfying to know that these machines have plenty in and around them to keep me ticking for the rest of my life.
Looking forward to a whole lot of racing the on the Triumph 675R & taking on a few exciting projects. And yes, they will be different to what we’ve done before.