For Mumbai's 'Musafirs', it's always safety first

Rather than riding wild, safety first is what motivates Mumbai’s ‘The Musafirs Motorcycling’ group leaving for Ladakh and Spiti on June 13

At night we ride through the mansions of glory in suicide machines
Chrome wheeled, fuel injected, and steppin' out over the line
Oh-oh, Baby this town rips the bones from your back
Sprung from cages on highway 9,
It's a death trap, it's a suicide rap
We gotta get out while we're young
'Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run
- Bruce Springsteen (Born to Run)

If you love Springsteen's Born to Run or even Steppenwolf's Born to be Wild, if your idea of motorcycling is enjoying the wind in your hair and that of biker gangs is big tattooed guys in leather attire, then 'The Musafirs Motorcycling' is definitely not for you.

Riding to Hampi
The Musafirs Motorcycling group riding to Hampi

'The Musafirs' is a gang, which likes to explore places on their bikes. But one that unlike the general perception of biker gangs believes in the adage of 'Safety First'. It has some other firsts to its name too. They claim to be the first biker gang that has a girl - Mumbai-based Sharmishth Chakravorty - heading mixed-sex groups.

The Musafirs Motorcycling group Ladakh
The Musafirs Motorcycling group in Ladakh

Sharmishth aka Shona for friends describes 'The Musafirs Motorcycling' as a platform for long distance motorcycle touring enthusiasts that came into being in December 2010 and took their first trip in January 2011. The 31-year-old, who's a senior manager with an acid-plant EPC company during the week, says, "At that time, Mumbai did not have any mixed-manufacturer biking clubs.

Sharmishth Chakravorty will lead bikers from the city to Ladakh and Spiti on Saturday
Sharmishth Chakravorty will lead bikers from the city to Ladakh and Spiti on Saturday

The ones that existed were the brand loyal ones. That is when I, along with a friend Nishan Chandran, formed the club. We launched at a time when there were extremely few organised biking groups in Mumbai. 'The Musafirs' struck out with a difference."

She elaborates, "This is an open group. Unlike other groups which require the riders to have a particular make of bike, 'The Musafirs' welcome with open arms any and all enthusiasts who are passionate about biking and not about any particular brand." So can anyone join this 'family'? It's not that simple according to Shona.

While they are open to newcomers, they do have a selection process. Discussing their criteria for new members, the mechanical engineer goes into nostalgia mode, "Our first ride in January 2011 saw just around 15 motorcycles, we have come a long way since then... but today, the family has around 500 members.

"Not everyone who joins us on their first ride makes it into the family. Every first timer is assessed to ensure that their wavelength matches with the others because we do not want ego clashes on our rides.

One may be riding a Harley or a Dazzler; one may be a CEO of some company while other may be a clerk; but when on the ride, every rider is a fellow Musafir because while motorcycling, especially in difficult terrain, everyone should be able to trust the other in the group and believe that each one will stand by the other and watch the other's back in case of an accident or mishap. We have evolved into a tight-knit family that readily accepts like-minded motorcycling enthusiasts."

Ask her why she started this biker gang and she says, "I am a biker and love to explore the unexplored. Before 'The Musafirs' happened, I had a routine life. Over a period of time, I realised that I was not doing justice to my existence and wanted more.

The difference between then and now is that even though I have a full time job, now the monotony doesn't set in..." Nishan Chandran aka Nicc, a PR professional, joins in and shares the fact that they were school friends and reconnected almost 11 years after school to form 'The Musafirs'. Nicc says, "Me and Shona are school friends.

We were not in touch since 1999 and reconnected in 2010. We came together to create a platform which has evolved over the past five years into a family away from family for many Musafirs." Talking about their strict safety policies, Nicc articulates the point through an example.

"Just a few days back I was reading a motorcycle touring event posted on the internet on which it was mentioned 'Every rider should wear a helmet. Helmets are not necessary for pillions.' Wow! It made me think, are pillions born with? Iron skulls?

In the past, I've seen pictures of riding formations in which people are riding in shorts and floaters - it makes me utter only three words - God Bless Them! A few first timers who have joined our rides too have shown up in shorts and floaters oblivious of the damage that can be caused in event of a fall.

Such riders are made aware of the risks involved and from the next ride they show up in complete gear. It is the club admin/moderator who should take up the cause of safety for its bikers." He elaborates, "Right from the first ride we have had zero tolerance to riders participating without helmets, shoes, etc. Biking clubs should be absolutely besharam and adopt the 'best-practices' seen in other clubs, they should not feel inferior about doing so."

Sajesh Sreejayan, an IT professional in the media industry, who has done over 30 rides with 'The Musafirs Motorcycling' mentions, "I have been riding with the Musafirs for the past four years.

The safety and fun aspect is what keeps getting me back on the ride because I know that irrespective of what happens, there is someone to watch my back while on the road. Every month, not just me, but numerous other Musafirs eagerly await the ride - those days of the month when we unwind, rejuvenate and ride miles away from the chaos, stress and routine work."

For Shona, riding is the ultimate form of mediation. "People, culture, experiences are different everywhere and the more one travels, the more one connects with oneself. But then the question, why on a motorcycle and not on any other means of transport? Because when I am riding, I am with myself. I can dig deep within. It is a state of meditation. It provides a sense of high!"

She has led over 50 motorcycle expeditions for 'The Musafirs' from Mumbai that include several places in Maharashtra and some in Goa, Karnataka and Gujarat. She has also led the group to Jammu & Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. What's in the future for Musafirs? Well, the open road with Shona leading an all-male pack of 22 bikers from Mumbai to Ladakh and Spiti from June 13.

Story highlights
>> The first ride in January 2011 saw just around 15 motorcycles.
>> Today there are around 500 bikers who are part of the group.
>> Shona has led over 50 motorcycle expeditions from Mumbai ranging between 300 kms to 3000 kms distance.

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