Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A visit to a faraway shrine

Every religion has its godmen, shrines and places of pilgrimage; why should it be any different for the followers of the Royal Enfield Bullet? Most become followers in their youth, but with passing years, marriage, children and few accidents later, some repent and either convert or are forced to convert. Some succumb to the lure and inert stability of four wheels, while others migrate to lesser motorcycles, and the scum, those destined for motorbikers Hell, Jahannum, Narak -settle for scooters! When questioned, they come up with lame excuses and specious arguments, like “cannot bring home the grocery on the bike!" Or "wife’s sarees get soiled!” Only the honest confess that they do not have it in them anymore! Their mojo has vanished!!
Sorry for the digression, but it is necessary to prove one’s genuineness, authenticity etc, whatever! However, with five score and one year on life’s odometer, three Bullets at different times- the latest being a Classic 350 and at least six other motorcycles of different marques at different times, one is often dismissed as a crank, an outlier, and a reckless and irresponsible person! This, notwithstanding the fact that one has been married to the same person for thirty-two years and counting, acquired the higher academic qualifications, achieved a position in a reputed abode of higher learning and brought up one well-educated daughter in her thirtieth year, married. To put it bluntly, I am an unabashed, die-hard Bullet lover! As one of the many pithy sayings found on the WorldWideWeb, “I would rather be on my bike thinking about God, than in the church thinking about my motorcycle”! Huh! Walt Whitman said it better, about being on the open roads (on a bike- italics mine):
 "I am larger, better than I thought,
  I did not know I held so much goodness."
                        While travelling in Greece and France this June, during free time I would click parked motorbikes. The better half was indeed chuffed at me, neglecting to snap a picture of her against the famous landmarks. While sitting on a bench near Palais Garnier, lo and behold, a new red Enfield Café Racer! An unforgettable sight amongst the BMW, Suzuki, Honda, and some Moto Guzzi and the odd Triumph, and myriads of the mongrel abomination which currently seems to be sweeping Europe- the maxi-scooter! The very sight of the Café Racer evoked a heady mix of pride, nationalism and other indescribable feelings. But alas, no pictures, as I was almost transfixed by the unexpected!       
Every religion has its written dogma and fluid folklore. The folklore about Fritz Egli first came out in one such Indian automotive magazine, with glossy pictures of what he had done to our desi-Bullet, with details of the bumped up power and torque etcetera, somewhere in 1990s. Other than being a super mechanic/designer he also held some motorcycle land speed record.  It only added to the lore and aura. Since then, Fritz Egli’s name would crop up in one magazine or the other. The significant thing was that Bullets tuned by him were a totally different creature, performed admirably, sold for a packet and quite popular in distant Switzerland! So much so, he had a dealership for Royal Enfield Bullets in Switzerland!
                    Life sometimes plays strange tricks, and often restores the faith of the believer. Within a week, I find myself in Geneva at the invitation of UNCTAD. Sense of duty and propriety be hanged, on a dreary afternoon, when experts are grinding away eloquent at how to improve the competitiveness of Basutoland or some such, yours truly slinks away to the nearest train station under Geneva Airport. 
          The kindly lady at the railway booking office listens very attentively, charts my route by train, including changes at Neuchatel and Aarau to a distant small town called Lenzburg and the final bus journey from Lenzburg to Bettwil! The 2nd class ticket one way costs a whopping Euro 84 and I am on my way on a train journey through a picturesque route. Lunch is forgotten and I wait at the Lenzburg bus station gnawing at an apple waiting for Bus 910. An interminable 45 minutes later the bus comes and another 40 minutes or so later I am deposited at Bettwil. It is a tiny village and the road stops there and Haupstrasse is the only street! Finally, I am before the shrine.

An earlier phone call had confirmed that the deity was away in sunny Italy, but the next person Mr Lindeman had given me an open invitation to visit. Soon, I was shaking hands with the head priest of the shrine and a conducted tour ensued. One heady moment after another! A Brough Superior, made famous by Lawrence of Arabia. His was a Superior SS100, 1000cc v-twin, famous for its power and handling and demonstrated ability to ride hands-off at 100mph (160kmph)! This was the smaller sibling SS80- 800cc, impressive none the less. There was this handsome Enfield Interceptor, 735 cc, parallel twin and one of the hottest British twins competing with BSA, Triumph and Norton. It had been worked upon- aluminium tank, redesigned swing arms, dry clutch, disc brakes and other bells and whistles! There were the classic Norton Commando- last of the great British twins, with a great fan-following in the States, in avatars from 1970s till present resurrection!  Mr Egli runs the dealership for both Enfield  and Norton in Switzerland. There was a Norton Manx 500cc single, the most definitive of British racing singles. From early 1970s was a beauty, Honda CBX1000, all 6-cylinders gleaming, tuned by Egli.  There were an oddity or two- A Chinese flat-twin, copy of the Russian Ural, which itself was a bad copy of the BMW! There was a Sunbeam, the daddy of shaft drive motorcycles.

There was this Super Bullet 1000 Egli,    complete with dry clutch drive via rubber belt,   Brembo anchors built around the old cast iron engine, custom front shockers from forged aluminium billets, an Egli frame with swing arm made from square tube, short clip on handle bars.with added instrumentation for engine rpm, engine oil pressure and temperature and painstaking attention to details. This bike was probably the Egli interpretation of the original Café Racer, and granddad in spirit for the current!
There were four Moto Guzzi singles, with their sloping cylinder and fire-engine red livery and a rare BSA Rocket 3. Rare because it was one of the few transverse triple made in Britain and although Norton and Truimph have been resurrected in Britain, Royal Enfield in India, but not BSA. The new avatars of the old marques are still producing Triumph Bonnevilles and Norton Commandos. Mr Lindeman fired this one up and the triple has a distinct cadence, so very different from twins and tranverse-fours!
All good things come to an end. So ended my pilgrimage and soon I was on my way back to Geneva. Wish I can go back there once more!

No comments:

Post a Comment