A web of blue twinkling lights canopies two seemingly rundown motorcycles parked in a South Delhi verandah. A curious passerby would be excused for feeling confused at first glance – a mini junkyard with a festive vibe? Inside the house, past a bean bag, next to a high table is our man Samik Chatterjee, an ace bike customiser to reckon with.
He was born into a family of artists and grew up with an aesthetic outlook that led him to study fine arts, and then follow his passion for bike customisation. In his own words, “There was an imaginative rev meter in the head since the pedalling days, with Street Hawk’s intro score blaring into the ears from the walkman.” Even in his day job as a strategy planner in a leading ad agency, the accounts he handles tend to be of two-wheelers or related brands.
From under the blue lights, this is how Samik tells us his story…
IB: How did your journey with bikes begin?
The graduation was almost predictable – tri-cycles, little cycle, bigger cycle, better cycles, motorcycles – and then the choice of mobility just stopped. I reached my anchor. We travelled a lot as kids with family; it did not wane – only grew with age. I never had the patience to walk around to experience places, so motorcycle and moto-touring just seem to tick the right boxes as adolescence set in.
Customisation starts in the head much prior to an actual physical modification. It also follows a predictable journey, starting from one’s own bike, knowing it, fixing it and establishing a relationship with it to start with. I built my first bike around final year college (2006-7) – Motokraft Customs came about much later.
IB: Modification or customisation? Tell us more about what you do at Motokraft Customs.
Motorcycles and customisation are nothing new. Customisation starts with the first sticker that gets pasted on a bike after rolling out of the showroom. The extension of this sticker often leads to a complete custom project.
At Motokraft Customs, we only take up projects that excite us, be it aesthetic or performance oriented. One would never see a repeat or rehash of an executed idea. We mostly build ground-up projects, retaining very little of the donor bike. A design is locked after a thorough briefing or brainstorming with a respective client. As the project progresses, we improvise, only to improve.
None of our projects are laden with massive amounts of sheet-metal that reduces agility. We monitor the weight to keep the moto-dynamics is place, if not better than the base product. Customisation is the cause, and modification the effect. In essence, they mean the same, though ‘customisation’ is closer to our hearts since the word seems much more humane. We consider motorcycles as good as living beings with specific characteristic traits and quirks.
IB: Where does the bike customisation scene stand in India?
The customisation scene in India is confused between the incremental ‘accessibility of super-bikes’ and the ‘personal zeal to create something’ – completely one-off. In most cases the former gets more precedence – since patience is not a virtue and millennials want everything yesterday. Custom projects require nurturing and time. It is more of an immersive experience which is almost alien to most people today.
However, this rift would only aid to generate a niche pool of clients with considerable conviction, who would have effectively convinced themselves to enter the world of customisation with their time and money. This in turn challenges the builders to push their respective thresholds to the next level and further. Indian builders are being acknowledged at the international fora now; that goes on to show the extent of our journey.
IB: What are the economics like? Can bike customisation sustain one on a full-time basis?
From a personal perspective, I build bikes because I love motorcycles – and anything around them seems to keep my sanity in place – be it touring, writing about them or building. Hence, economics never stood a chance in the way of love. I have built bikes where I barely broke even – but the satisfaction was paramount. ‘Sustenance’ sounds kinda gloomy… one thrives on the process of sculpting a rolling artwork – the feeling is unquantifiable.
There is always place at the top, but the top cannot have everyone – I guess that’s how the custom world is poised. There are a thousand custom outfits beginning their first projects as we speak, the extent of their love for motorcycles will decide their journey.
IB: Do you perform any Batman antics in the dead of a Delhi night?
If re-routing a 5km journey into an 80km ride qualifies as antic, then yes! Motorcycling is meditational, more so when the rev-range is on the higher side of 7,000-8,000 rpms. Faster corners and quicker straights (moto jargon) makes for great photo/videography – well almost resembling the Dark Knight, ain’t it? Those are generally the calmest moments of our days.
IB: We hear you paint; is that connected to bikes or a deviation from it?
Painting/illustrations make my life a little easier as a builder – a clear outline always helps, but they are not necessarily convergent. I scribble, draw, sketch almost all the time, though not necessarily bikes. I try to travel at the slightest opportunity (I get), and a sketch-pad and 5 black pens are the first items that go into my saddle bags’ safest pocket.
IB: Speaking of travel, what do you think of Enfield becoming everyone’s choice of ride to get out of town?
For the love of riding, any bike is as good as the rider. Enfields have been the only option in the lack of options for the longest time in our country. The choice rests with the rider, to decide whether he is a motorcycling enthusiast or an Enfield-loyalist. The market is buzzing with new moto-propositions, it would be ignorant to restrict to only one flavour (of riding) that the mighty Enfield is known for.
The Indian moto-diaspora has recently woken up to the ‘joys’ of exploring the length and breadth of this massive country on two wheels. Clichéd as it may sound it’s really easy to get addicted to the wind against the face, though the effect of the drug varies from person to person.
IB: Any wise words for millennials?
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Photo credit: Mervyn Titus