Riders on the Storm: In Conversation with Vijay Singh of Rajputana Custom Motorcycles

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Bespoke creations born from the heart, soul, and sweat of our country’s finest innovators in the automotive arts, Jaipur-based custom design workshop Rajputana Custom Motorcycles has an illustrious history in the Indian automotive industry. We got talking with Gearhead Vijay Singh, founder of RCM and die-hard motorcycle enthusiast, as he told of the company’s storied history, and shared with us his passion for bikes and speed.

Founded in the year 2010, RCM has created commissioned custom designs for celebrity clientele, and strives for quality over quantity. This ethos of non-conformation to the average demand-and-supply of business operation ensures that every single one of RCM’s creations is tended to with care, love, and ample time. “The important thing to understand about bike-building is that it’s a platform for functional design. To a layman, a chair is a chair, but to a designer, it presents a challenge; a balancing act between functionality and aesthetic.” says Vijay Singh

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Born in Jaipur and raised in Rajasthan, Vijay had his first encounter with the world of motorbiking at the tender age of seven, when his father put the young child in the driver’s seat of a dirt-modified BSA Falcon. From then on, there was no looking back. Learning the ropes on a motocross track which has since been converted into Jaipur’s Central park, Vijay was soon participating in 75cc class races alongside adult racers, an experience that has since earned Vijay the title of 600cc National Champion for three consecutive years.

Having fallen deeply in love with the adrenaline and rush of being on a motorcycle at such a young age, Vijay knew that motorbikes would forever remain an integral part of his life. Having completed four grueling years studying mass media and communication at the Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, Vijay returned to India in June of 2009, where he began working on building himself a bike as a summer-project in his down-time. Little did he know; this little hobby-project would snowball into something far greater than he had ever expected.

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Taking a shot in the dark, Vijay decided to further explore his love for the machinery by setting up his own garage in Jaipur by the advent of the following year. New to the industry as a whole, Vijay soon realized that there were many hurdles to achieving his dream.

“The biggest struggle starting out was the fear of the unknown- there was no industry of which to speak, there were no clients or a client base, there was nothing in terms of local knowledge or experience. There was nobody to go to when we faced a problem, you can’t google this stuff.” Vijay reveals. “When it comes to the automotive sector, these things are like the dark arts, they’re carefully guarded trade-secrets, held by fabricators, by mechanics, machinists, and people who are from the trade. It’s really hard to pick this stuff up off-the-bat unless you are training under somebody.”

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Though his own personal relationship with motorcycles and motorcycle-enthusiasts aided in smoothing the learning-curve, Vijay soon realized that his bikes needed more than just exceptionally crafted metal-work and paint-jobs, and so, began to explore locally available options to elevate his creations. He soon encountered a network of underappreciated miniature artists, who painted intricate lines and breathtaking images with the strokes of their brushes, and met with small-time engravers and etchers, whose work was similarly undervalued, both monetarily and societally.

“I guess the details came out of necessity, because I had to make my bikes look good, and this was what was available locally- we didn’t have fancy airbrush artists like you find in the West, and deadly chrome guys or plating chaps- we worked with whatever limited resources we had” Vijay says. “They genuinely added a lot of extra value and unique aesthetic appeal to the bikes. which is why we stuck with them, and still utilize their craftsmanship to this day.”

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Owing to the skilled handiwork of his newly-formed team of machinists and artists, RCM’s first creation, the ‘Original Gangster’ was showcased at the New Delhi Auto Expo 2010, where it met with an overwhelmingly positive response from an audience of enthusiasts and industry professionals, who appreciated the value of the distinctive Rajasthani touch that RCM’s creations boast, a characteristic that Vijay attributes to his locally-sourced team of professionals. Their second creation, ‘Lightfoot’ commissioned by actor John Abraham was the one that truly put RCM on the map.

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When asked about his proudest memories and designs from the road so far, Vijay reveals that the most challenging projects are the ones that are most rewarding. “The ones that take the longest to complete, the ones that have us burning the midnight oil, the ones which take night after night for weeks on end, the ones that make you forget about your family and friends, food and sleep- the ones that keep you fully involved in building the bike until it is done, those are  the ones which are the most fun, and make for the most memorable moments.”

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However, bike-building in the Indian market can be a thankless job, as Vijay reveals. “The general public isn’t aware of the hard work that goes into these creations. These boys are highly skilled, but are disregarded as being manual laborers with few qualifications. In reality, they are master metal-fabricators and machinists, people who are committed to their jobs and work for 10-12 hours a day. People always talk to them about price and not about value, always short-changing them and snapping at them at half a chance, which is disheartening, but we hope to change this in the future by spreading our knowledge and awareness”

Having spent 10 long and successful years in the industry, RCM aims to inspire innovation amongst the next generation of bike-builders, and today operates their own custom detailing teaching initiative. A bi-monthly, six-day crash-course training program which instructs students on the intricacies of mechanics, tool use, engines, design, material studies, motorcycle dynamics, stability, physics, and the history and practical functionality of motorcycles, the program aims to leave their students with a functional knowledge of bike-building and design.

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RCM has also been developing a range of custom parts tailored to fit stock-made Royal Enfields, to be launched exclusively on the official RCM website on the 26th of October, along with a range of other products and kits. These parts are intended to add immense aesthetic value to an otherwise stock bike, and are carefully designed to enhance both the look and feel of the ride.

Under Vijay’s careful and loving gaze, the future for Rajputana Custom Motorcycles has never looked brighter. “When we first began, we feared the unknown. I didn’t know if there was a market for this, or if I would have any design ideas left after my first two creations, but we’ve done about 100 bikes and have only scratched the surface. There’s so much more to do! Having done this for 10 years, we have abandoned those old nagging inhibitions. I am sure of the capabilities of my team of boys, as well as myself, and believe that we can do good work. We’ve gone wrong and fallen flat on our faces, but at the same time, we’ve come a long way, and we have learned a lot. We will change things in this industry- we have so far- and will continue to do so.

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All the images used in this article are courtesy of Vijay Singh.

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