Video Vednesday: Chasing the Bullet and the Royal Enfield paradox

By | February 15, 2016

Shut up, I know it’s not Wednesday, but this couldn’t wait.

It’s no secret that I don’t understand REs. I’m sure a lot of people don’t understand REs, but somehow I’ve ended up being the fucking brand ambassador. My article about why I’d never buy an RE was aimed squarely at putting my point of view out to the world, and waiting for intelligent discussions that could help demystify the paradox for me, a paradox that gets weirder the more you think about it. Needless to say, it’s a been a spectacular train wreck.

In any case, here’s my definition of the Royal Enfield paradox:

Why does a company known for not giving a single shit about its customers, known for producing sub-standard motorcycles for decades in the name of “tradition”, known for shamelessly selling the “brotherhood” bullshit for pure economic gain, keeps growing like a teenager’s pubic hair? 

Some people might think that I keep pissing on the RE beehive to create controversies and gain more traffic, and I couldn’t care less about them. It’s one of the most basic infections that plagues the human condition, that we need to know the unknown, we need to explain everything, we got to have the answers. I want to know what attracts sane homo sapiens to what can only be described as a joke of a motorcycle. I want to know what motivates RE owners to travel farther and wider than most other riders. I want to know what it feels like to put yourself in unnecessary trouble for no apparent reason, just to prove a point.

Chris Zahner is an American who last year traveled to India to create a documentary called “Chasing the Bullet“. I don’t know Chris, or why he decided to do what he did, but we were introduced by Sabyasachi Biswas of Madras Motorcycles. I have never met Sabyasachi, but we’ve spoken over the phone once, and chatted a few times. I like him, he likes REs, but he isn’t the normal, deluded kind of Bull rider that you normally headbutt into.

Chris probably wanted to get different perspectives about the RE culture in India, so he messaged me on Facebook in April 2015 to understand my point of view. Here’s the conversation.

Chris:

Hey Akhil,

Sorry for the delayed response. Hanging out with your friends here in Chennai has been great fun filming, talking bikes, writing, etc. They told me about your healthy, yet unrepentant disdain for the Royal Enfield and it is an angle in looking to cover for this film in producing.

I was hoping that you could fill me in with a little bit of back history as to why and how you got to your disposition concerning the Royal Enfield and what your relationship/history with the royal Enfield has been. Saby already informed me that you’re quite a character and should translate well to film. I have been contemplating rolling through Hyderabad and I’d like to see if maybe you could sit down for an interview.

I’m on a pretty tight schedule and I’m headed to Bangalore next — probably by the middle of this week. I need to rush back to Delhi, but I could probably squeeze Hyderabad in for a couple days, I’m also on the lookout for other stories within Hyderabad itself if you know anything.

Looking forward to your response.

Me:

Hey Chris. If you are looking for a Batman story of some guy on a Bullet killing my parents, and I vowing to avenge them by making it my life’s work to hate Bullets, that didn’t happen. I guess I hate Bullets for the same reason why Bullet-ers love them, who knows! I haven’t ridden any Royal Enfield much either, never craved to buy one ever.

The roots of my hate must start from my time spent in Punjab, especially Chandigarh. People in that city know of only 2 bikes, Bullets and everything else. The first thing they do when they get their bikes is modify the exhaust to make it sound like a firing range on two wheels. It’s a common thing to find these morons riding through city streets in the middle of the night, revving the shit out of their bikes, making loud exploding noises.

The more I got involved into the Indian biking scene, the more contempt I felt for RE owners. It doesn’t really affect me if a bloke wants to ride around the world on the motorcycle equivalent of Windows 95, but what pisses me off is their arrogance and the way they look at other bikers as plastic dildo lovers. This doesn’t mean that all Bullet owners are pompous bastards, but that’s what I’ve come to identify the community as.

Not sure is Saby told you about my article or not, but one fine day I thought I’ll just write what I feel about Royal Enfields. Here it is: http://riderzone.in/never-buy-royal-enfield/

You can go through the comments and you’ll see what I mean when I say that Royal Enfield is like a religious cult. Not only do they believe that their bikes are the only true form of 2 wheeled nirvana, but also that all others are cheap, lying imposters who deserve to rust and die.

I would love to meet up and talk to you, but I think you’ll find that I’m a much less impressive person in reality than I sound in writing 🙂

Chris:

Let me dissect this for a bit 😉

Me:

Sure, there are plenty of Bullet clubs over here that I’m sure you’ll find interesting!

I never heard from him, obviously.

The documentary is finally out today, and you can watch it here.

There are many observations that I have after watching the documentary some 4-5 times.

  1. I don’t like REs, but people who I massively respect like Vijay Singh and Vir Nakai do. Either I don’t know something that they do, or they don’t know something that I do.
  2. The more you watch the video, the more you realize that all the people in it completely understand how unreliable their bikes are, yet they truly believe that it’s part of the charm.
  3. These people have no problem buying a vehicle that could very well have been fucked up from the start because the guy who built it didn’t get his breakfast blowjob. They have no problem buying a vehicle whose maintenance process is as much of an enigma to the owners as it is to the mechanics and the manufacturer. 
  4. The biggest reason why they feel REs are popular is because REs are popular. The whole rationale behind the culture seems like a self-fulfilling prophecy, autofellatio if you will.
  5. Most RE riders seem to have an oral fixation with cigarettes.
  6. Bobbee Singh is the Salman Khan of Bullet movies.

In short, I have more questions than answers after watching this thing. It’s a very well-made movie, no doubts about it, but for me all it seems to do is blow some more sand over the ruins. I believe that I understand motorcycles, and it really irritates me that one of the most popular brand, with probably the largest collection of loyal followers, is like a Latin translation of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.

One thing that I have realized over the years is that I am not a true biker, not in the juvenile sense that most online trolls seem to use it in, but in a more literal way. Royal Enfield owners, at least the ones in the video above, give much more importance to their motorcycle than the actual adventure. In other words, they don’t go to Ladakh on a motorcycle, they go on their Bullet to a place. The final aim of an RE enthusiast is not to see a new place or meet some new people, it’s to ride the damn motorcycle.

I don’t think I’ll ever understand REs, and I think I should stop trying.

  • TT

    Hi Akhil,
    To start off with, I would like to say your blog is the most unbiased one I’ve come across in a long time, and kudos to you for that! I first came across this blog of yours a few years ago, coincidentally visiting the post about why you would never buy an RE. This video was posted on a Whatsapp riding group I’m in and i thought I’ll search for it on my PC and came across your blog again (as providence would have it, I went through all your other posts and have been reading one article or the other over the past few hours, man you have a good blog!).
    Now, I’m one of those people who go out all geared up. People see me and they think I have a litre class around the corner *sigh I wish*, but no. I have a Yamaha Fazer (150 :P), which has its faults but has served me well without complaining much. Being part of a riding group, people do make fun of the bike(Jap Crap, plastic bike, cant hold a magnetic tank bag, no torque, commuter class horse power yada yada) and no brownie points for guessing which demographic comments on this 😛
    Now, I’m not saying I know shit about bikes, I only know my bike well enough to carry out minor fixer uppers. Going on some road trips, I have asked some of my friends to switch their rides with me just to understand what all the fuss is about. I really wanted to understand what makes them vehemently support this argument. And after 100s of kms on classic 350, classic 500 and Electra 350, I still don’t get what’s special about it. It has all the qualities you would expect of a bike if this was world war 2 era, that’s about it.
    What I did realize about the RE culture in general is that its just a fad. Apart from some who own REs because they genuinely love it, the rest just own it because that’s the closest that they can get to a Bonneville or an Indian without mortgaging their house or they saw someone in a movie riding one. For the vast majority, this is just a stepping stone to one of these bikes. They don’t really care about the brand as such, its just what they can afford at the moment. Ask anyone of them if they would trade it in for a Triumph or an Indian at no extra cost and the buck stops there, no more arguing for REs. It gives them the retro look, which sadly is the reason most people these days get into riding bikes. Its about the image that it gives out. Does that make them look like they are manly? Yes- to them, some of them really believe that others don’t ride REs because they’re not man enough to handle it. Chauvinism at its best. They just buy into the whole retro image. Would they buy an Ambassador in 2016? Highly doubt it. Its got the- ” its made of metal, it can fit 20 people even when its not Jan 26th, its heavy” argument going for it and it also has the fuel efficiency of a truck and a power to weight ratio that is pedestrian at best. Was it good 25-30 years back? Maybe. But car drivers moved on to modern, legitimately better built vehicles. Biking is a subcluture to most these days. Anything that’s mainstream is taboo. Now the in thing is being seen on a retro bike as evidenced by the custom bikes you see these days.
    My issue is only with the people who have the holier than thou attitude. Sure, they didnt buy an R15 or Ninja or a CBR or a Duke, heck even a Chetak scooter because they didnt like it, after all its your bike! Does that mean that the Enfield is the only bike that should be ridden by anyone on the road? No. Does that give them the right to talk shit about other bike(s)r(s)? HELL NO! So I realized that they’re all just buying into the craze and RE is making merry while it lasts. Its just like any designer that brings out something retro. Should it be insanely priced? No, but it is. Do people buy it? Yes, because it makes them feel better about themselves. Its a fad, that’s it. I’ve learned to turn a blind eye to what these supposed purists spew out about every non RE bike. It doesn’t make them any better than you and vice versa. Its his/her opinion and that’s it. If he/she believes its his way or the highway, well yippe kiyay, I’m going on a road trip on my non RE bike 😛

    But like a coin that has 2 sides, I know bikers who ride Bullets because they cant afford a Triumph. They bought a Bullet for touring and they’re happy with what it delivers. They don’t have an issue with anyone at all. You could be riding a moped for all they care, they will respect you. They are bikers in the true sense, embracing every road user regardless of what they drive or ride. It should always be about the man more than the machine. The machine doesn’t define your identity. Travelling, even by a bicycle or on foot should be treated with the same amount of respect. Its about getting to know people and culture, exploring. Anyone who thinks that a machine anyone uses defines them has got an identity issue.
    To all the purist RE owners out there, just show some respect to others. That’s all anyone asks. Any biker worth his/her salt would understand that everyone is different, have different tastes and for the ‘n’ number of reasons you chose an RE, the rest chose a non RE bike for their own reasons. No one is superior or inferior just because they chose something else. Its just something you bought with money- after weighing your options. You weren’t born to ride an RE. Anyone with that amount of money can either buy an RE or something else, its their choice. Choosing the RE doesn’t define anything other than your taste in bikes. It does not make you a better biker or road user by default. That is something you learn, not buy into.
    To sign off, I don’t hate RE as a brand, just that I wished they gave us something better. And yes, I would gladly buy an RE if/when they make something better suited to my tastes. Until then, I will happily stick to being someone who is not “Man enough to own an RE” on my tiny Japanese touring bike 🙂
    Suit up, crunch miles and ride safe everyone 🙂
    Tom

    • Akhil Kalsh

      If we ever meet, you will realize that I sound angry and frustrated in my articles, but in reality I just don’t really care. Many of my friends are RE riders, a hardcore RE guy who once gave me the middle finger now regularly chats with me. I have taken help from, and given help to many Bullet riders in the past.

      Having said that, I don’t really believe in the respect everyone theory. I don’t care about those superbikers who rev the shit out of their machines, but I certainly don’t respect them.

      The motorcycle is just a means to an end, and that’s probably my biggest problem with RE owners, in the sense that for them the motorcycle is THE end, not the way.

      • TT

        Well said 🙂

  • Athul

    RE is something I don’t have the time or patience to get right now. I think it is like love. You wouldn’t understand why your friend is in love with the bitch he is in love with. It’s just that multiplied a thousand times. There is no logic to these things.

    What puts me away are those assholes who bilieve blowing the ear drum of other bikes is the best thing in the world. And those who say if its not metal, its a toy mate. Damm you lot.

    As far as I think, RE is a city bike. Yeah. I said that.. A comfortable one you can ride without stressing too much. Just that on off days, you will never reach the office. Just cause she decided to have a break down.

  • RAV

    These folks love how this “Machine” shakes their bones and rips off their ear drums. call it love or craze or whatever. Sad part is the pedestrians also are forced to get their ears ripped off. Waiting for the time when Police will actually start fining people and enforcing the rules for Noise pollution.

    • Akhil Kalsh

      It has already begun in some areas, but the problem is that our police is not smart enough to understand the difference between a bad bullet exhaust, and a good superbike exhaust.

  • RakeshKN

    Yes, I am in the same boat. I don’t think I’ll ever understand REs, what the fun on that machine gives 😉

  • Manas Kumar

    The reason Royal Enfield is selling like anything is either:

    1. They have seen their parents not able to own back in the days and these bike have carved a special place in their heart. Almost like an achievement which has to be taken.
    2. People are a royal asshole. Nothing but a show-off-on-budget.

    Whatever be the reason, honeymoon ends rather quickly once you buy RE. The true bikers, be it tourer or adventurer or speed lord, do not have a motherly affection for their bikes, their love is for what they want to do with it. Bike is just a medium to do stuff they like.

    Form people who look into your eye and say stuff like “RE is the bike man, nothing else will do” and other sentimental shit, stay far away, very far away.

  • Dhawal

    11:44 seconds. That is how much I could handle these half ass wannabe bikers. My conscience does not allow me to call them motorcyclists.
    All I understood in that time is that they buy these Royal Enfield’s to see a guy who is working on the same bikes and has spent most of his life conning thousands of dickhead’s trying to solve the problems and had failed miserably at it.
    They buy these motorcycles literally to feed these ‘loyal’ Royal Enfield mechanics’ houses who have learnt the trick of the trade from the British. Seriously? How many more fucking years does a person need to know that all the Brits did to us was fuck us in the asshole!

    Fuck this. Ever had a moment when you say to yourself ‘Fuck, Bhenchod I shouldn’t have done it’ ??
    That’s what I felt after I regained a bit of courage and watched it the entire 22 mins.

    • GaribNawab

      RE mechanics are not at fault. These bikes are badly designed, so even the best mechanic in the world won’t be able to completely fix the bike. It’ll keep breaking down. And that’s exactly what the owners want.. They look forward to it breaking down, so that they can fix it