Chennai’s cycling community is back in the saddle

With over 90 motorcycle clubs, the cycling community in Chennai is constantly growing. Meet the men and women who inspire more people to experience the love of the road

With over 90 motorcycle clubs, the cycling community in Chennai is constantly growing. Meet the men and women who inspire more people to experience the love of the road

Bullet Bose has fond memories of his glory days on the Sholavaram track when he raced on his Lambretta scooter from 1968. Septuagenarian and Chennai racing legend Subash Chandra Bose (affectionately known as Bullet Bose for its affinity with the Royal Enfield Bullet) states that it has been riding for over 50 years.

A regular at the Sholavaram Airfield circuit and later Madras Motor Cycle Club at Irungattukottai, Sriperumbudur, Bose was the most decorated rider over the decades. “Racing back then was so different. I come from a conservative family so we didn’t have motorbikes, but my friends lent me my first bike, a Java 250cc, in 1971, then I graduated at the Royal Enfield Bullet and won my first race at Sholavaram,” he said.

Bose Ball

Bose Ball | Photo credit: special arrangement

Bose enjoys being back on the road, riding alongside members of the Beast Riders Motorcycle Club, Reborn Riders and Madras Bulls Motorcycle Club since 2005, some of the city’s more than 90 motorcycle clubs. “After racing for so many years, I started my second ride when I joined the Madras Bulls riding club,” he says, adding, “I like riding with these bands because it keeps me young. , and other runners say it motivates them when they see a 70-year-old man on the road.

Launched in April 2002, Madras Bulls Motorcycling Club, one of Chennai’s first riding clubs, has a well-known heritage from its journeys on Royal Enfields. David Ebenezer, moderator at the club has been on the road for 17 years. It speaks of the shared love for the high road. “Riding is a jolt of passion that brings calm and admits chaos,” he says, adding, “We have about 100 members in the main group and there are about 1,200 in the beginners group. beginners are people who have interest, but have not yet joined the main group.

Chennai Royal Riders Motorcycle Club on one of their rides

Chennai Royal Riders Motorcycle Club on one of their rides | Photo credit: special arrangement

Tracing the trajectory of horse riding and the advent of riding clubs in the city, Raju Eashwaran, an actor and producer, in Chennai, says that although he is more of a solo rider, “because it challenges me and I can choose my route, and how long I stay in one place, etc.” the rise of riding clubs in the city has been good for the sport. “They are great because of the discipline, the focus on safety, the support team and the camaraderie between the riders. When I was younger we had a group of riders with different bikes, but now there are also brand-specific groups in the city.

Biker Babez, India’s first women’s biker club, established in 2013 in Pallavaram, for example, focuses on riding for a cause. So far, the 35 active members, who ride any gear bike of their choice, have participated in blood donation camps, tree planting drives and local community projects in addition regular hikes. Riding for a cause, to raise awareness of harassment against women, Soundari Sindy, the founder and president, rode 16,210 kilometers across 29 Indian states and five union territories for 42 days in 2019, on her Suzuki Gixxer SF150.

Riding around her neighborhood since the age of 10 on her family Bajaj scooter, Sindy recalls that the bike scene was not open or easy for women in the early 2000s. “In 2012, there were very few women drivers, and a career in motorsport was unheard of for a woman. But I really got into my rhythm after 2015-16, with the support of my family and my husband Ananthraj P, who is another biker. We started AS Motorsports, a motorsport team and training academy, and now parents want us to train their daughters to ride professionally. It’s a great transition,” says Sindy, now a veteran with her Yamaha YZF R15 V3 at drag and circuit racing at Kari Speedway in Coimbatore and Madras Motor Race Track, Irungattukottai.

Soundari Sindy

Soundari Sindy | Photo credit: special arrangement

Women’s racing in Chennai reached a climax on March 13, 2022 with the first of its kind Biker Babez Club All Women’s Dirt Race at Camp Kumizhi Dirt Track in Vandalur, designed and created by Sindy and endorsed by the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India (FMSCI). “Social media helps spread awareness of motorsport opportunities in the city. Now there are so many riding clubs and women are a force on two wheels,” concludes Sindy.

Sandhiya Dass, vice-president of the club, has co-organized events to emphasize the safety and independence of female riders. This includes detailing simple technical fixes on the way to easy repairs. The best part of being a member of an all-female riding club is the networking and knowledge sharing, Dass says. They guide recreational cyclists on how to handle, maintain and ride a bicycle. This way, they don’t need to hire mechanics for simple maintenance of their bikes. “Our women’s dirt run event in March was a great success and we have another women’s event with simple, trainer-taught stunts coming in July,” says Dass.

At Chennai Royal Riders Motorcycle Club, members believe in “Trust. Stroll. Pride’. The club has covered 1,00,000 miles on the road in 15 years, with a roster of 300 members. Club captain Paul Moses talks about scenic rides everywhere: trails in Tamil Nadu, weekend rides on along the East Coast Road, and across the Himalayan tracks, often for a cause.

Biker Babez Club All Women's Dirt Race

Biker Babez Club All Women’s Dirt Racing | Photo credit: special arrangement

Moïse explains: “We have tried to spread the message of good helmet wearing, mental health and more recently the Corona awareness programme, with an emphasis on the use of masks, social distancing and work. in community. He adds that the group “emphasizes safety first”, urging riders to invest in proper riding gear and helmets.

For most riding clubs in the city, the events help to network between clubs and make new travel plans. But Eashwaran and Moses agree that the highlight of the riding calendar is Rider Mania, hosted by Royal Enfield in late November in Goa.

Meanwhile, in Chennai, the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride, has dapper riders criss-crossing its routes once a year, to raise money for a cause. The ride started in 2014, in Chennai, to raise funds and awareness for prostate cancer research and also highlight the importance of men’s mental health. This year’s event saw many female riders, as all the women’s riding clubs in town are happy to let women ride.

For East Coast Riders member Sumanth Chaganti, working on his bikes has been second nature for over 20 years. With a collection of over 80 motorcycles, which is now down to over 60, he used his property in Krishnagiri to house and work on his bikes. “In Chennai, time corrodes the chrome of the vehicle and you have to work on it many times, and after a while you can’t replace a lot of parts,” he says. Helped by a few technicians, he has successfully restored vintage bikes, and is now part of several WhatsApp groups, “mainly to search for spare parts and parts that are not available on the market“, he explains.

Ticket to ride

Madras’ love affair with motorbikes dates back to 1953. The Automobile Association of South India (AASI) office on Mount Road, a small Art Deco building in a fairly large complex, was the location of a race between Rex Strong, an Englishman and K Varugis, an Indian. The race was run from Chesney Hall on Commander-In-Chief Road to the Catholic Center, Armenian Street. MA Chidambaram, who was then President of the AASI, felt that it was better for motorsport to have its own body and for the Madras Motor Sports Club to be formed.

The first race meeting, held on 25 October 1953 at Sholavaram Airstrip (an unused World War II airstrip), saw cars and motorcycles share the track – a five-lap race for motorcycles and sports cars, a three-lap relay for motorcycle teams and a handicap lap relay for cars. The event ended with a test drive with a hard and soft reverse in the marked space, zigzagging, stopping at the garage and restarting the engine. The fastest man was John Dye, who lapped around 72mph for one lap on a Triumph Twin.

Wiley C. Thompson