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Iron to gold in 2 strokes

Why are young Indians scouring junkyards from Chandigarh to Bengaluru and spending thousands on restoring bikes dating to the '70s in an age of fuel-efficient Japanese superbikes? Vintage durability, we gather

Prashanth Kumar is not an industrial heir. He is a 33 year-old IT professional based in Bengaluru. But Kumar is the owner of 17 motorbikes. It all began in 1995 when he was still a student at St Joseph's College. For the princely sum of Rs 15,000, Kumar bought a Yezdi Road King. Since then, he says, these beauties on wheels have become his obsession. Over the last 16 years, he has bought 17 Yezdi and Jawa models, ranging from a 1947 to a 1984.


A senior bike enthusiast at the Bengaluru edition of International World
Jawa Day 2011, celebrated worldwide on the second Sunday of July
every
year. The day is popular among vintage and classics enthusiasts.

Pic/ Anish Joseph 

When the Indian Overseas Bank auctioned vehicles and spare parts from Mysore's Ideal Java factory in 2004, Kumar got his hands on two Yezdis that the company had used for the famed Sholavaram races. "For me, it's not the number that matters. The uniqueness does. All the models I own are different from one another. It's my attempt at preserving history," he says.


Chandigarh-based Deep Sharma says the fact that old machines, like
these at a Jaipur junkyard, have survived despite lying unused for decades,
speaks volumes about their ruggedness and reliability


Kumar isn't crazy. Neither is he alone. He's part of a fraternity of enthusiasts who work to ride, and ride to work. As recently as five years ago, the only people who'd offer you a deal for a Yezdi gathering dust in your backyard would be metal scrap dealers. Now, all you have to do is put out word on a social networking site or bike forum and you will have offers thrown at you. In 2006, freelance photographer and bike enthusiast Anish Joseph, with his first BPO pay cheque,  picked up a Yezdi Road King for Rs 5,500.

"You won't get that bike today, in running condition, even for Rs 25,000," he says, smugly. Kumar puts it down to a general trend towards owning vintage; whether clothes, LPs or furniture. "It's suddenly a cool lifestyle choice."  What makes the Yezdi and Jawa popular is the price. A British manufactured bike from the 1960s or '70s would cost you a cool lakh, without taking into account, the restoration cost. "A Yezdi on the other hand, is yours for Rs 50,000, bought and restored," says Kumar.

As a kid, Joseph wanted a classic 2-stroke bike with two silencers, that looked powerful. The only options he had were the Yamaha RD 350 and the Yezdi. The RD 350 starts at Rs 80,000. A Norton or BSA would come for a few lakhs. "So, Yezdi it was," he shrugs. Interestingly, one reason for the heavy demand for Yezdis and Jawas, can be traced back to Kolkata. Often, sturdy Jawa and Yezdi frames are melted to make tuk tuks (three-wheelers with diesel engines) that run in cities like Kolkata.

Deep Sharma, a 24 year-old student and biking enthusiast based in Chandigarh, points to dealers in and around New Delhi who are on a constant lookout for BSAs, Triumph and Jawas, which they source from remote villages for as little as Rs 8,000, restore and sell in the international market, especially Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, for as high as Rs 80,000. "They hold on to the bikes to make sure supply doesn't match demand, and prices stay high," he says.

Looking at the brighter side, Sharma says it's good news anyway because "someone, somewhere is passionate and will take care of the bikes. At least they won't be melted down." Still wondering why price-sensitive Indians are scouring garages for 30 year-old junk and spending a fat sum restoring it? Meet Sahil Ambre. The 21 year-old filmmaking student from Mumbai is an active member of the Mumbai edition of the Yezdi and Jawa Owners Club of India. Ambre says he had his heart set on the old machines since he was little. "My friend in high school happened to have a Yezdi, and so did my grandfather. I was hooked."

After a long wait, Ambre stumbled on a good deal in a garage in Govandi, and bought his first 250 cc Yezdi CL II in 2009 for Rs 11,000. He spent another Rs 17,000 (minus the chrome that costs an additional Rs 5,000) to restore it. You look quizzically at Ambre, and he explains his decision by calling 4-stroke economical bikes as "Chinese babies". "The new bikes aren't solid. You fall from one, and they break down. They don't make bikes like Jawas and Yezdis anymore."

Sharma, who started the popular 3 Bikers Club, an exclusive Jawa and Yezdi bikers group, in May 2010, testifies to their sturdiness. "The fact that they have survived despite lying unused in junkyards for decades speaks volumes about their ruggedness and reliability."  Shave off the explanations and what you really get is an inexplicable addiction. Sharma should know. He spent a year's salary on collecting 10 antique bikes including a 1971 Jawa 250cc.

A major difference is that these bikes have "a forever value" unlike the new bikes that have a depreciating value. "You could purchase these bikes for Rs 10,000 from a kabadiwala and restore them, but a few years later these bikes may just cost Rs 1 lakh," says Sharma.

Having said that, Sharma and Ambre both agree that getting spare parts for these bikes that have gone out of production is a pain, especially in Mumbai. But they don't mind the hunt or the wait to get the spare parts that will bring their love back to life.

The acquisition blueprint

Where to begin the hunt

According to Deep Sharma, who has an enviable collection of rare bikes, getting hold of the machine is more challenging than restoring it. Most Yezdi and Jawa owners are part of clubs in Bengaluru, Pondicherry, Chandigarh and other parts of the country, and it's through networking that they gather information about good deals. As for Sharma, he looks online to find vintage bikes lying with owners who have neither the time nor funds to restore the old war horses, before he has them transported to Chandigarh for a makeover.

Online clubs that could help you in your search:
>Bangalore Jawa Yezdi Motorcycle Club http://www.3bikers.in/
>Jawa and Yezdi Owners Club of India
>Yezdi and Jawa Owners Club of India (Mumbai)

Restoration and sourcing spares
Two stroke engines are simple, and it's the old mechanics in every city, who can figure their insides best. Some mechanics, like Bengaluru's Musa Khan, specialise in restoring Jawas and Yezdis. Together with younger brother Firoze Khan, he runs a garage in Shivajinagar that is a favourite haunt of 2-stroke bike owners.

The two give credit to Iqbal Khan, their 'guru', and after a 20-year stint, are now pros at handling vintage bikes. Bengaluru is the city to scout if you are looking for original Jawa and Yezdi parts at affordable prices. Back in Mumbai, Devashish Garage 2 and 3 on Bharucha Road, Dahisar (E) is a favourite with the city's Yezdi owners. The likes of Khan and Aspi of Devashish Garage arrange for most spares but at times, parts need to fabricated from scratch. 

Restoration costs
According to most seasoned Jawa and Yezdi owners, the average cost of bringing an old bike to its original factory avatar is anywhere from Rs 18,000 to Rs 30,000, depending on the condition of the vehicle, and your imagination.

Here's the break up:
>Good quality chrome will cost you between Rs 4,000 to 5,000.
>Paint job, Rs 5,000.
>Labour charges, Rs 2,000 (depends on the amount of work needed, of course).
>A chainset would cost Rs 1,000 and if you need to change tyres, it'll cost you an additional Rs 4,000 (front and rear).
>Seats, lights and brakes depend on the condition of the vehicle.

The history and the classic case of marketing myopia
Jawa Motors, a company from then Czechoslovakia, introduced its first model on October 23, 1929. Over the years, it gained popularity across the world. They gradually began to be manufactured or assembled outside Czechoslovakia, and the largest production plant under license was realised in India.

In the mid-fifties, motor cycle imports were prohibited by the Government of India, but the assembly of foreign machines by domestic engineering establishments continued. Mumbai-based Rustom Irani, an import agent, decided to establish his own motorcycle production under license, and on March 5, 1961, the first motorcycle left the gates of the Ideal Jawa Mysore plant.

In technical collaboration with Jawa Ltd. of Czechoslovakia Ideal, Jawa put up a good performance and
achieved good profit. The collaboration agreement with Jawa of Czechoslovakia ended in 1968, by which time Jawa had established in-house expertise for achieving indigenous manufacturing technology. Sometime in the '70s, Yezdi was launched.

The turning point of the two wheeler market in India came in the 1980s. Japanese technology entered the market through joint ventures, and the market saw a deluge of 100 cc bikes that were fuel efficient and easy to ride.

Ideal Jawa turned a blind eye to changing market forces while customers were lured by better mileage, style and comfort. Yezdi later launched design changes in models like Road King. But it was a case of too little too late. Following a damp market and labour problems,  Yezdi was laid to rest in 1996.

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