Words: Navroze Contractor
I am often asked what to buy and now for the past three years and more being asked again and again ‘what to buy?’ by new entrants wanting a bike from the plethora of machines available in showrooms. Just the way I have been asked about buying cameras for the last five decades, as if a photographer knows or has to know about every single camera out in the market! And, I feel even for the most veteran of us auto journalists it is impossible to make a comment on every bike available in the market today.
When my generation started getting interested in motorcycles, till the mid-1950s, a few British bikes were available on order. BSA, Norton, AJS, Matchless, Triumph, BMW, DKW and if someone had real money to spare then maybe a Vincent or a Brough Superior could be had. All one had to do was to go to one of the dealers, in my case in Bombay, make an order, pay the money and a few months later your machine would arrive by ship. As a kid, I had watched with my mouth open, brand new BSA Gold Stars, Norton Dominators and Triumph Tiger100s being lowered at the Mazgaon docks. Then, the formalities were much less and within a few hours the bike would be with the dealer from whom you had placed the order with. A few more formalities and you could ride the bike home, to a party waiting for you. There was a time limit in which you had to take the bike to the RTO and get it registered. All this, if you wanted something other than the de rigeur Enfield or the Jawa.
In the mid-1950s the imports stopped and since then getting a new bike in was a major hassle, which involved a lot of money, confronting touts and experiencing severe heart-burn. So one was left with buying second hand, or the choices were Jawa, Enfield, Rajdoot. I remember another source of getting ‘imported’ more powerful bikes second hand was from the missionaries. Many of them were interested in bikes and they got them in, especially European bikes like the Moto Guzzi, Gilera and a few BMWs.
Then there were scooters. These were not something that one walked into a showroom, picked one and walked out. One had to pay 100 per cent in advance and wait… for my Vespa(Bajaj), I waited for five years with no choice either for colour or any accessories. My ‘batch’ was olive green! All the few hundreds that came in that consignment were olive green! I had to pay extra for the mirrors. Like me, I am sure each buyer changed the colour immediately. Who wanted olive green? The ingenious mind and extreme passion of these people was worth celebrating. They not only just rode and travelled on these rare bikes but also modified and raced them. And those who dirtied their hands and dared to race the bikes became our heroes.
The phase after this was grey market bikes. If you had friends in this field they might oblige you but the risk was yours, money and all. For those decades motorcycling was what it was inspite of. All of us had second hand bikes, imported in whichever way by the first owner who had taken all the risk, or in some cases paid enormous duties and penalties. I am really glad this era ended.
Then suddenly enters Harley-Davidson and flood gates opened for new powerful machines. Harley, Honda, Suzuki, Ducati, MV Agusta, Benelli, BMW, Triumph and more, and the latest being Norton. Now there are a plethora of choices. The manufacturers have left nothing for the imagination. What suits your riding style, your mind-set, your choice of terrain or track, a ready bike is available. From simply showing off, to travel round the world or to a race track, there is a bike waiting for you. Now it is suddenly a ‘what not to buy’ confusion that has clouded a new entrant than ‘what to buy?’ Today a buyer has all the information and road tests in many magazines plus of course the ‘Google GOD’. I know, when someone asks me or my very skilled friends ‘what should I buy?’ They are just fishing. Good luck to all with their new machines.