Bringing the Yezdi back to Indian roads
Shortly after completing Class XII, Boman Rustom Irani from Mumbai spent a month in Mysuru, making long drives to Ooty and Coorg on his trusted Yezdi Road King. He still remembers the 42 hairpin bends on the narrow Mysuru to Bangalore road, rocking the sturdy bike so abruptly that its muffler would scratch the tar.
This was in the mid-1980s. His family then owned the Yezdi brand, which evolved from the iconic Jawa, the two-stroke motorbikes that reigned on Indian roads in the 1960s until the mid-90s, before liberalization, Honda-Suzuki-Yamaha, four-stroke engines, and fuel-efficient 100cc bikes were relegated to memory. âWhatever you want to do, the whole universe conspires to make it happen,â Irani explains. âWhen the company went bankrupt in 1996 – my father passed away in 1989 – I knew that one day I would roll this bike back. “
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More than two years after relaunching the Jawa Motorcycle, Classic Legends Pvt. Ltd plans to bring the Yezdi back to Indian roads. The lifestyle car company, which aims to reintroduce marquee brands, starting with motorcycles, recently unveiled the third of its motorcycles, the BSA Gold Star 650, in the UK. âWe envisioned the Yezdi and Jawa together,â says Anupam Thareja, co-founder of Classic Legends, who joins forces with Anand Mahindra, president of the Mahindra group, and Irani, president and CEO of real estate company Rustomjee Group, to reinvent these brands.
Sitting in the ITC Gardenia business center in Bangalore, Thareja, also a founder and managing partner of private equity firm Phi Capital, wears a t-shirt with the Yezdi logo on it. On a Zoom screen, Irani joins the conversation from Mumbai, pointing to the Yezdi logo on the wall behind him. It’s an oft-told story: how his father drew the logo with a pencil on their dining table, how the name can be attributed to their family’s roots in Yazd or Yezd in Iran.
Boman’s father, Rustom, and his partner Farrokh Irani created Ideal Jawa in the 1960s and began importing Jawa motorcycles from what was then Czechoslovakia through a licensing agreement. As sales increased they set up a manufacturing unit in Mysuru and for a decade from 1961 they built the bikes. Jawa morphed into Yezdi, who lasted longer as a brand than Jawa, and is therefore more recognizable today.
When Thareja and Mahindra started talking about bringing back vintage bikes over ten years ago, the former had already been instrumental in the rebirth of the Royal Enfield of Eicher Motor Ltd., when he was director. of the company from 2005 to 2008. Mahindra had also entered the two-wheeler segment by taking a controlling stake in Kinetic Motor Cycles Ltd in 2008 and a controlling stake in Peugeot Motorcycles in 2015. When Thareja contacted the son from Rustom Irani, Boman, to buy out the family’s interest in the brand, Irani wanted to join us, not sell. âEveryone uses their motorbike as a canvas, they play with it, they do whatever they want,â says Thareja, 48, who exudes the stereotype of the biker with a beard, long hair, a T-shirt and a Jeans. âBoman lives in Yezdi. When we designed it, it was an integral part of the brand’s philosophy. An unrepeated part of his being would say that this is how it should be. It’s more of a Boman story than our story.
Back from the dead
Thareja knows how to use words, using them with the skill of a copywriter at an advertising agency. âWe don’t sell motorcycles, we sell motorcycles,â he says of Classic Legends.
He describes the Jawa as understated, chic, retro, full of stories. âI keep giving this mythological link: for us, Jawa is Ram, Yezdi is Kishan. One is (Bjorn) Borg and the other is (John) McEnroe. If you are a fan of Sholay then Amitabh (Jawa) and Dharmendra.
Irani intervenes with his own euphemisms: âYezdi has zing, he’s the young prince, cape and sword, pulls out sword in hand and slices all the nonsense of life. Jawa has class, style, that regal allure.
Thareja further explains: Yezdi was 10 times bigger than Jawa for no other reason than the fact that he came later and stayed longer. âIn the 1970s, you bought a bicycle when you were making money. The younger ones rode their father’s Jawa, but when they bought it was Yezdi.
When the reborn Jawa was released to customers in early 2019, it encountered delivery issues, with the delay sometimes exceeding six months. Thareja says they “weren’t prepared for our own success”. Reservations were three times the number they had expected.
In the first 12 months of operation, they sold 50,000 bikes, although the first day of opening had 100,000 reservations. The 2020 national lockdown to limit the spread of covid-19 has dealt the company yet another blow.
âWe were supposed to launch our second brand in 2020 and the third at the end of 2020. We had no parts and no time for development, which resulted in delays. But we’re probably the first automaker in the world to break even in the first year. It’s the kind of beauty we were sitting on, âThareja says. There were other technical issues as well, like rust, and Jawa bikes were trolled on social media.
Haresh Kumar Hirani, a fitness trainer in Pune, had issues with the fuel gauge and drum of his new Jawa, both of which were replaced at the service center, within a year of delivery.
Sreejith KS, who owns nine vintage Jawa-Yezdi bikes, had planned to purchase a new one when he was invited to a launch event in Kerala. But he was not impressed. âIt looks good but it’s not comfortable. In addition the parts are expensive. All the people who have the new Jawa, not even 10% of them, are happy. When I go for long walks (with other owners), I see problems.
Thareja says if he had to start over he wouldn’t take so many reservations. âWe misinterpreted the market in terms of demand for a product like this (Jawa),â he says. âBecause we couldn’t accelerate properly, we hurt a few. We don’t have that right. We had about 50,000 cancellations after one year, 30,000 after 18 months. “
Ride towards the sunset
Hirani had grown up hearing stories about the Jawa and Yezdi from his father, who used to borrow the former from a friend and the latter from a relative for walks. Senior Hirani couldn’t afford his own set of wheels.
So when the Jawa was reintroduced, Haresh Hirani immediately reserved one. Months later, when he received the delivery, he took it home and showed it to his father. âI said it was yours. I used the same phrase he used on me, the famous phrase old Parsis used to say in Gujarati: Khawa na hoye toh chale, pan Jawajoiye (If I can’t eat it’s fine, but I need Jawa). “
Much of the demand for the Jawa and Yezdi is fueled by nostalgia. Irani, in response to whether his decision to partner with the company was commercial or emotional, said it was a romance. âTo keep the romance alive, there has to be a practicality,â he says. âAnupam brings this to the table. I’m still the lifelong romantic who sees this as a trick. We need to make ourselves loved by the right number and the right kind of people and enjoy the ride. “
Sreejith, who works for a pharmaceutical company in Thiruvananthapuram, obtained his first Yezdi while in college in 1993-94. In 1999, new to work as a medical representative, he could not afford to maintain the bike and sold it. Since 2003 he has bought nine used models. “Feeling,” he said, as an explanation for having so many. âIn 2003-04, when I bought the first one, everyone laughed. By the time I completely restored it, the bike shone like a gem. After seeing this, a lot of people started to buy them.
Sreejith admits he doesn’t know how to change a cable, let alone restore a bike, but knows all about his bikes. When he makes long journeys from Leh to Kanyakumari, he carries all the spare parts. In the event of a problem, he entrusts the vehicle to the nearest mechanic. âI know what to do but not how to do it. The workshop is generally shocked to see a Raj Kapoor ke zamane ka Bicycle (a bicycle from another era) “, he says,” but that’s the confidence I have with the bike. ”
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