The many faces of India’s growing biking culture gather on a Goa beach. The stories of the men, the women, and their mean machines.
Long before he became Bullet Bose, a racer with near-legend status in the Indian biking community, Subhash Chandra Bose was a 10-year-old watching men whiz past on imported bikes along Marina Beach, Chennai. He would run after them, asking for a ride. It was his father who let him have a go, though only on the family scooter. His legs weren’t even long enough to reach the ground. But he held on to the memory of the wind in his face and the thrill of doing something new—till he could set off on his own road trip.
Today, at 63, Bose is one of the oldest professional racers in India. He has the unique distinction of having participated in every major motorcycle race in the country, including tracks, rallies and drag racing. “When I ride a bike, I feel alive. It makes me feel younger. Even at this age, it gives me confidence because I know the amount of skill and fitness it takes,” he says. The sight of him vrooming away on his Royal Enfield Bullet is so familiar that, over the years, he has come to be known as Bullet Bose.
Despite having retired from active racing in 2007, he rides across the country, travelling on arduous routes such as his 2010 trip to the Indo-China border in Arunachal Pradesh and another trip to the Khardung La pass in Ladakh, the highest motorable road in the world. “People don’t understand why someone would give up the comfort of a car, with air-conditioning and shelter from the sun. But a biker wants to be one with the environment and feel every aspect of it,” he says.
Dressed in a white kurta with flowing white hair and a beard, and a ready smile, Bose stood out like a gentle Dumbledore amid a crowd of leather-and-metal-studded bikers at the India Bike Week held earlier this month on Vagator beach in north Goa. The first independent national bike festival, sponsored neither by Harley nor Enfield, nor other brands, it saw around 1,500 visitors, and was a mix of the bizarre and the touristy. People stared at the gleaming bikes lined up outside the venue, as eager as birdwatchers on a sunny morning: “Look, there’s a Kawasaki,” or “That’s the new Harley.”