It all started with the desire to own a new bike. I was going to receive a substantial amount of money as an incentive from my company, and I had zeroed down buying the Hero Honda Karizma to replace my aging TVS Fiero F2 for a thrilling ride. As the time to receive the money drew near, I started looking for a showroom to buy the bike from.
And then it happened... My friend allowed me to spend 5 minutes with the all famous Yamaha RD 350 – the bike I had heard so much about! But I never really had the chance to experience what the ‘fuss’ was all about. I don’t think I need to rave and rant about the exhilarating experience I had – we all remember our first ever RD ride, don’t we! The intoxicating drone of the twin exhausts, the backward thrust felt when I accelerated (mind you, I was literally nursing the RD around; I was nervous and didn’t know what to expect), the respect given by people playing cricket on the road when I approached by voluntarily giving way, the concern evident on the owner’s face when I returned after a good 5 minutes; all were a part of the awesome experience. That was the moment I knew I had to have one.
The hunt for an RD which was not in pristine condition started in January 2007. I did not want to own a spanking machine right from the outset since I had seen many RD owners simply waste the machine away because of the so called ‘troubles’ they suffer at her hands. ‘Troubles’ are only faced if one does not treat her like a high – maintenance mistress and regularly give her what she needs. And one of the most enjoyable parts of having a mistress is the period of courtship; or so I am told. That is why I decided to lay my hands on an RD which needed some work to be done on it along with demanding me to roam around looking for good quality parts which would make their way onto the bike. RDs had started costing anywhere between a good 30,000 – 45,000 rupees and sellers were attributing it to the DHOOM phenomenon. I was prepared to wait it out and ensure I lay my hands on one which would cost below 25k.
Finally, in April 2007, I found her. The RD was not in the best of conditions (quite appalling, actually) and had been standing still for above 5 months. However, 3 kicks and she lazily came to life. My friend who accompanied me is an expert on RDs and told me the bike did not respond the way an RD should under heavy acceleration. However, RD prices were soaring at almost twice the inflation index and I was beginning to get concerned. The owner settled at a figure of 20,000 bucks and encouraged me to get work done on it; of course he would, he had still not gotten the papers transferred onto his name. I still followed my instinct and went through with the deal. I now owned the bike; all I needed to do was to ensure she would end up in the condition she deserved to be in.
Preliminary inspection revealed that the RD did not remotely resemble itself from its heydays. The mudguards were made of fabric, maroon in colour and cracked. The fuel tank had gold sparkle and the head and tail lamps were of the Royal Enfield Bullet. The bike would sometimes run faultlessly for long distances, but more often she would either sputter up and stop or not start at all, sometimes leaving me stranded on the road with no option but to tow her for kilometres. Repeated visits to a certain expert mechanic yielded no result. “That is what an RD is all about”, “Sell this one and buy another one in better condition even if it costs more”, “The hassle is simply not worth it”, etc. were things I was hearing and I started losing heart. Thankfully, I stuck to my resolve of restoring the very same bike and not giving into easier (but possibly more expensive) options.
Enter Krishna Kadam a.k.a. Balu. A medium heighted, bespectacled, unassuming person with the upper button of his shirt always open, he did not exactly look like the person who would turn the bike and its fortune around. He informed me that he was going to stay in Mumbai for only 3 weeks more, after which he would permanently be moving to Bangalore. Balu inspected the bike and informed me that the problem mainly lay with the electrical and ignition wiring. To add to the woes of horrid cosmetics, there were issues with the clutch also which would not allow the bike to idle rev and she would keep moving if in gear. The lights, indicators, etc. were not functional, the silencers were mismatched (one was of an LT & one of an HT), engine firing was way off and I was apprehensive of even riding her myself, let alone lending her to someone else for a ride. Hell, she has been working great for the past 2 ½ years and I still generally say ‘NO’ to most people asking for a test ride.
The next 3 weeks were probably the most hectic weeks of my life, and also the most productive and fruitful. Since I was working in a BPO, I would work night shifts and the days were spent in buying items for the bike and working on her. Balu and I visited Suraj Auto at Grant Road where we picked up the alternator, magnet, meters, mud guards, tail lamp and wiring to replace the existing shoddy parts in and on the bike. The cam key, alternator housing plate, bend pipes, one silencer, tail lamp mounting and the ‘ears’ above the front forks were bought from Chor Bazaar after days spent on searching and negotiating for them. Kiran Bhide provided us with the TCi kit that would be (and still is) used for the ignition mapping on the bike. Along with these, Balu bolted on the original clutch spacer, chain guard and rear U – guard onto the bike; some things I would have struggled a lot to find if it were not for him. Nominal items like petrol corks, filters, cables, tubes, etc. were being bought consistently while all these items were been installed onto the bike side – by – side. The wiring for the electricals and ignition, the new parts that were bought were all installed onto the bike with 3 days to spare; all that remained now was to fix the awful looks of the bike. Balu said I could get the painting done at my own pace, but accepted when I told him I wanted to get it done under his inspection. Frankly, that turned out to be another excellent decision. We started, as earlier stated, with 3 days to go by choosing the colour I wanted on the bike (which was a Chrysler blue and was quite similar to the Yamaha blue) and then handed the fuel tank, the ears and the panels over to the painter, who completed making the paint and applying it onto the bike in 2 ½ days. That very evening, we took the painted parts to the person whom Balu knew for getting the taping done. After the taping was completed which took around 2 – 3 hours we again rushed back to the painter to get lacquer applied onto the items. Thanks to Balu knowing the bloke well, he agreed to apply the lacquer that night itself (it was already 10 pm by then) and have it ready for us by morning. The final day arrived and we were called by the painter to collect the parts at around 12. Once we got those parts, we hurriedly ate lunch and then settled down to load all those parts onto the bike. Along with the new parts, the rear tail mounting, the tail lamp and new silencer (with the mud guards and bend pipes, which we had gotten chromed alongside all these activities) were slipped on. By the time we were finished, it was 9 pm and Balu had just 1 hour to board the bus to Bangalore for good. Now that’s what I call getting work done in the nick of time. I left Balu to the bus stand, bid him adieu, and slept peacefully after a long time that night.
Today, my bike may not be the best looking one in the group; but she sure was the pioneer in getting my fellow RD owners enthusiastic about getting their rotting machines restored. I felt a deep sense of satisfaction when my friend rode my bike after she had been restored and said “Take the keys of my RD. I want you to supervise the entire work of getting my bike up to as good condition as yours.” People who see the bike marvel at its looks and raw power she so conveniently produces and keep questioning me about where I found the parts and how my bike stays in such great shape. All I can say is that I now believe in that age – old saying “You can even find GOD if you care to look.”