Once a rage on Indian roads, the Yezdi motorcyle and its cult are stronger than ever
That sound," begins Pranav Rastogi romantically, his eyes glinting and head tilted in the direction of a spotless Yezdi 250 Oilking parked proudly in his verandah. "It is like music to the ears. I would buy 10 more of them just for the sound. This is no ordinary motorcycle," he says.
Seated cross-legged in his modest living room in Delhi's Lodhi Colony, Rastogi talks about his bike, a 1979 model, like a new-found love. On his side table, placed next to a tall amber-coloured lamp, is a tiny photo album with pictures of Yezdi models from down the years. "It's a bit of a tradition. My father started doing this. I'm carrying it forward," says Rastogi.
Ideal Jawa, the Mysuru-based company that manufactured the Jawa and Yezdi bikes, stopped production in 1996. But much before the company's inevitable demise, the ubiquitous Yezdi was a constant feature on Indian roads throughout the 1980s and the early 1990s. "There were three motorcycles at the time: the Bullet, the Rajdoot and the Yezdi. But the Yezdi was the most popular. It was really trendy and the youngsters loved it," recalls 54-year-old Pradeep Kakkar, whose youth was speckled with memories of his beloved Yezdi. "You ask anybody who went to college at the time and he would have definitely ridden a Yezdi. It was that big a rage," he recalls.
The Yezdi Roadking
The Yezdi Roadking Jawa was originally a Czech company founded by František Janecek in 1929. Production in India began only in the early 1960s, with the Mysuru factory coming up in 1961. The collaboration with the Czech company ended in 1968. By then, Ideal Jawa had developed its own expertise and started producing the bike under the brand name "Yezdi".
Demand at one point was so high that the company was manufacturing 130 motorcycles daily. Most of the older models now have become collector's items.
Even as the bike has stormed its way into sunset, collectors and old-timers such as Kakkar, who reluctantly sold his Yezdi two decades ago, are keeping its mystical legacy alive. "In hindsight, I should never have sold it," rues Kakkar. "It is such a big regret."
In the last few years, a number of Yezdi clubs have mushroomed across major Indian metros. The demand for these bikes has also grown exponentially. Hassan Iqbal, a Delhi-based Yezdi restorer, says that his workshop is regularly swamped by people looking to get their hands on a Yezdi. "Youngsters who could not drive it then want to experience it now. It's a classic case of anything vintage," he says. Some models are even available on Quikr and OLX.
The Yezdi Monarch
Like all locomotives manufactured at the time, the Yezdi's fuel efficiency is barely satisfactory and it lacks the kind of power punch that bikes these days come laden with. But then it has a slick, retro body that takes you back in time; the kind of alluring work of art that mighty modern-day vehicles seldom offer. "It's a slightly strange love affair," confesses Harpreet Singh Shergill, one of the three founders of the Jawa and Yezdi Club of Chandigarh. "But it is totally worth it." Riding a Yezdi gives you a stirring, unexplained thrill that sets the pulse racing and the head spinning; a wallop of ecstasy and nostalgia.
In 2006, on now the almost forgotten social networking site, Orkut, Brian Ammanna struck a friendship with three fellow bikers from Bengaluru. A couple of months later, the four ended up founding the Bangalore Jawa and Yezdi Motorcycle Club (BJYMC), which has now become the largest bunch of fanatic Yezdi lovers in the country. Bengaluru, in fact, has the highest number of Yezdi riders for any major city in India.
What started as just an "idea" is now a conflation of motorcycle insights, spare part hunting and long group rides in the hills of southern India. The club not only holds weekly breakfasts but also organises road trips to different parts of the state every few weeks. Earlier this year, on the International Jawa CZ Yezdi Day, which is celebrated on the second Sunday of July every year, BJYMC paraded as many as 650 Jawa and Yezdi riders in Bengaluru. It has a membership of over 1,600.
So what makes the Yezdi so special?
It is low maintenance, says Ammanna, and is extremely versatile. "It can go pretty much anywhere. And if it breaks down, it can be fixed easily," he explains. Then there are the other elements that the purists adore, such as the single-cylinder-twin-exhaust, the auto clutch, the kick-starter feature and the interchangeable tyres. Shergill says that you can ride one for long distances and your shoulders won't hurt.
Shergill, who also owns three Royal Enfields, prefers his 1978 Yezdi Roadking to its beastly counterparts. Every once in a while, Shergill and his friends from the Jawa and Yezdi Club of Chandigarh take off to encounter the unforgiving terrain of Leh. "Sometimes, the Yezdi can travel places the Bullet can't even think of going to. It is that steady," says Shergill.
In a city like Chandigarh, where the Bullet is almost like a routine way of life, the Yezdi, for long, was a forgotten commodity. Even if people had one, they would stack it away in some corner of their garage and let it blight in dust. Not anymore.
The JAWA 353 250cc
"When the three of us started out, we did not know how the response would be," reminisces Shergill. "But when we hit the road, people would come up to us and ask us about our bikes. It picked up after that."
Spare parts for this charming machine though are still difficult to find. Since production was halted 20 years ago, some parts are nearly extinct. And others are only available through this close-knit community of Yezdi riders. "You need to have a good back up. Reserve parts are very important," feels Rastogi.
More than the astounding sturdiness, however, Shergill attaches huge sentimental value to his bike. "My father passed this on to me. I practically grew up sitting on its fuel tank," laughs the 45-year-old.
It's not only the older generation that is embracing the vintage motorcycle. Even the younger ones are smitten by it. Srinivasan Kasyap, 33, is one of the founders of the Chennai-based Roaring Riders, another club dedicated solely to Yezdi bikers. The Bank of America employee uses the Roadking every day to shuttle between office and home. He owns four others, including the Yezdi 250 Deluxe 'D' Type. Much like Shergill, he too inherited the Yezdi romance from his father.
"We have grown up seeing our fathers drive this," says Kasyap. "I use it every day and it is the perfect bike. None of the current motorcycles can match up to it," he adds.
The Yezdi cult may not be as gargantuan as the one the Royal Enfield enjoys, but it is an endearing fascination that makes you believe in all things classic. For most fans, beneath the Yezdi's gleaming frame is a concoction of old memories and friendships. As Rastogi aptly explains: "This is something you cannot let go of. It is an obsession. It will always form a very big part of me."