The Indian motorcycling culture can be split into eras. The first one being of high octane tuned up bikes of the early independence years pitted against one another at tracks like the famed Sholavaram racetrack and the lesser known Agara and Sulur airstrips. The other being the contemporary age of high performance motorcycles and bikes that are more laptop than a motorcycle.
Motorcycle Races were a hot item at the Sholavaram Track
The former had motorcycles being customised for one thing and one thing only, outright speed and performance. Anything that could be done to shave a kilo here and few hundred grams there, was applied. The drivetrains were taken apart and worked on to squeeze as much power as possible out of them while keeping the displacement within class spec.
The latter saw the influx of Japanese speed merchants in the form of the Hayabusas, R1's, GSXR's, Kawi Z's and the odd Italians in the form of Ducatis and Aprilias. However, in between was a period of time where the motorcycle culture took a back seat to many of the problems that came with living in a developing economy.
Riding a bike is a visceral experience, its like jamming on a guitar or surfing. Your entire focus is fixated solely on one task, which is the task at hand, riding the motorcycle. The look and feel of the motorcycle plays a big part in enhancing the rider experience and turns it into an occasion that awakens all your senses and plunge you into a zen like state of mind.
Here is where a very few individuals and custom shops in India come in. Where numbers and performance figures mean nothing and a motorcycle build is a process that is not bound by time. These shops follow what is a slow but rewarding process of painstakingly handcrafting each and every panel, shaping them and sculpting them to get the lines just right.
We got a chance to spend a day with one of the O.G. custom shops in India, the awesome guys from Rajputana Customs. RCM came about a time when custom motorcycles meant a souped up version of a motorcycle or overwhelming the machine with all sorts of aftermarket parts. There were however, very few people who practiced the true art of building bespoke, made to order custom motorcycles tailored to suit the rider. There is uniqueness in bundles, be it custom made panels, tanks, custom ergonomics, you name it!
Each motorcycle has a story and an inspiration behind it. They stayed true to the reason why motorcycles became cool in the first place. They were an extension of the riders personality and were just pure fun. The paint job, type of motorcycle and the state of tune all pointed to something the rider prefered.
RCM is the brainchild of Vijay Singh Ajairajpura, a man of very fine taste in Motorcycles. Raised by a father who was a motorcycle enthusiast himself, Vijay fell in love with two wheels from a very young age and got into the nitty gritties of handling a motorcycle before most his age could converse properly.
"The conception of RCM stems from my burning desire to have a motorcycle of my own, one that is truly mine in every sense of the word. I had just graduated college and had some time until I started my job in Mumbai. I wanted a motorcycle for myself, but was just not excited by anything I saw on offer in India. So I wrote to the folks at Royal Enfield for just the engine with the view to building the motorcycle of my choice around the newly launched UCE powerplant. After a lot of exchanging calls and mails back and forth, they sent me a brand new engine and I started work on 'my motorcycle'. This is how the Original Gangster or O.G. came into being. From there, the ball was set in motion and 11 years later, I find myself looking back and feeling content to have stayed relevant and to build up the shop in a niché that hasn't been kind to the people who engage in it. Custom motorcycle building, especially in India, is a very thankless job as it is mostly impossible to make both ends meet as the consumers are only willing to pay so much money and simply do not appreciate the man hours and craft that goes into making bespoke custom motorcycles.
Vijay iterates that RCM is an extension of himself and is reflective of the culture and the vibes of his hometown, Jaipur. Their bikes are usually peppered with slices of Rajasthan, be it the inlays of Damascus Steel engraved with Koftgari, the subtle woodworks and the use of mild colours have set them apart as the aristocrats of Custom bikes in India.
Everything at RCM goes under the microscope and the attention to detail is infectious. Nothing exists if it doesn't serve a purpose, let it be functional or aesthetic. Vijay says that apart from basic Bobber custom motorcycles based on the Ranisa platform, they generally do not give out a timeline on a build. To give out a timeline in his words is to put an unnecessary constraint or a shackle on what they can do to a motorcycle. He insists that making a custom motorcycle from scratch is a laborious and time consuming process. Each part may require several iterations being made until it is deemed fit to go on the motorcycle.
RCM follows the noble tradition on passing on their skills by running their custom schools as well as taking in Interns to develop and hone their craft under the watchful guidance of Vijay and the master craftsmen at RCM. They give each and every opportunity to learn every aspect of building a custom motorcycle, right from shaping metal and conceptualising to taking them through all the lessons they learnt from 10 years being in business.
Computers in motorcycles will talk only to computers and this means the role of the Human operator is reduced. The motorcycles these days are such a pain to work on as everyone has a computer in it and has sensors coming out the wazoo. Here we have shops like RCM, who keep the fires lit by sticking to the old school ways and keeping the art of making things by hand alive. However, that is not to say they are a one trick pony as they engage in everything from Vintage restorations to building state of the art high performance motorcycles, having the latest cutting edge components, while still holding on to their core values.
Shops like RCM are a great motivation to any builder out there trying to make a name for themselves. They have shown that one can carve a niche of their own by sticking true to one's core values and by sculpting machines that are a reminder of the good old days. Where a rider had two wheels and and a right old thumping engine in between their legs. And everything that happened once the key got turned was pure mechanical chaos followed by two wheeled ecstasy.