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The Rise of Superbikes in India

Snapshot: Here is our take on the Superbike segment in India that is booming at a phenomenal rate. Different reasons and how they changed the game for many of the motorcycle manufacturers across the globe.

My fascination with superbikes started neither because of a distant cousin who lived abroad and came twice a year to make us feel more horrible about our lives by showing us pictures, nor there was a guy who had it and lived on my way to school so that I could take a sneak peek from the space between the walls and the gate. In fact, all the memories I have of a two-wheeler from my childhood contain a green Bajaj Chetak which took us to every marriage, every birthday my parents thought was important enough for all four of us to attend. I won't say I was ashamed of it, because almost everyone else known to us was doing so. We had a black and white TV back then and cable TV was something we had just heard of. The 90s must be the black era Indian cinema, but was probably the most glorious one as far as quality of TV shows were concerned. It was then when I stumbled upon a show on a Thursday night and an affair started. Affair with what? I don't really know, but it was something for sure. Street Hawk was not just a show for me. It was a larger than life phenomenon. It was bigger than the questions like life or death. It was a guy dressed in black riding a motorcycle, and was immortal. Will always remain, for the people who have seen the show. I could never find out which bike was it or what engine it had, but it surely sounded different from the motorcycles I had been seeing all my life. Years passed by, I came to Delhi to become a Software Engineer and Delhi, as a place, did everything to nurture this love that was lying unattended in me somewhere. Seeing a superbike those days was not as common as it is these days. And the reason why I am saying so forms the base of this article. What happened in the last decade or so that made these superbikes find a place in a not-so-happening locality? Was it just movies like Mission Impossible 2, Torque, Dhoom etc. that made an Indian buyer spend so much on a set of two wheels where he could buy probably 2-4 cars with the same money, or was it just the image these motorcycles promise you?

If I am not mistaken horribly, India always had motorcycles that were also being ridden around the world too. In the 50s and 60s, when the country was trying to walk swiftly after its newly found independence, brands like BSA, Triumph, Norton, Matchless were very much familiar. In fact, I now have many friends who fondly remember their childhood being spent on such motorcycles. Most of them also have a picture somewhere in their houses where the father or the grand father is standing proudly next to his prized possession. If you notice here, however, that most of the brands available that time were British. We cannot rule out the fact that during that time British motorcycles were probably the best and meant reliability. Most of these brands had come to India to cater to the British nationals who were in India before independence, but stayed once India gained independence. The princely states and the royal families accounted for a good amount of sales these motorcycles clocked. The 70s and 80s saw things developing at a different pace. Import duties were not exorbitant, but getting an imported motorcycle to India needed as good an effort as flying to the moon. Things changed a little with Radoot-Yamaha's RD 350 - a motorcycle that, as considered by many including my own self, was ahead of its time. RD 350 probably does not meet the criteria many have set for the definition of a superbike, but it was a risky affair to ride it. Many state governments bought it and gave it to their police, and the policemen, who had been very happy with their Royal Enfields since forever, failed to tame that two stroke, twin cylinder Japanese marvel. Many died and it was soon withdrawn from the system. This thing also marked the end of a legendary era. Nothing marvelous happened till mid-nineties, when Hero Motors decided to bring BMW Funduro 650 to India. Like many other ambitious players in the market that time, BMW also wanted to swim with the tide which was the booming Indian economy. But it failed to access the situation correctly and invested heavily in what seemed to be the beginning of a very promising era. The year was 1995 when the first lot of Funduro 650 arrived. BMW had wanted to sell almost 700 units to consider it a success, but the pricing went a little wrong. The Funduro 650 came with a price tag of Rs 5 lakhs, which accidently, was very close to Maruti Esteem's price tag that time. The bike had a Rotax engine, which was liquid-cooled and delivered 48 bhp. The 180 mm of clearance meant the Funduro could go anywhere under the Sun, but India was not willing to spend 5 lakhs on a two-wheeler back then (well, it still is hesitant). Had it been launched 10 years later i.e. in 2005, I really feel that it could have changed the game for BMW. At the end of a very short affair with Indian market, BMW managed to sell just 200 F650s. Another 100 were sold at half the price, and some friends happily told me a few days ago that few lucky ones even managed to get one for 1.5 lakhs.

The decade that started with year 2000 made dreaming easier. The internet made information available without writing long letters to some motorcycle manufacturer with its office a few thousand kilometres away. Cable TV had started penetrating not only homes, but also minds. I hate to admit it, but the movie Dhoom also played a major role in starting a trend in this part of the globe. It also started the trend of 'modifying' a motorcycle. So, it was very common those days to see a disproportionate version of a Hayabusa with an exhaust note no better than that of a Bajaj M80. The salaries were refined and more and more jobs gave more hopes to people who wanted to buy a motorcycle with some superpower. In Delhi NCR, I witnessed a boom in the property sector, which in turn created a different segment of customers. These were the people who sold their land and became millionaires overnight. Sounds fancy? Then figure this out. These people, who woke up one fine morning on a bed of gold, did not really know what to do with that money. So they started buying expensive cars and motorcycles. It was probably a sign of who had what kind of money. A Yamaha R6 meant a little less land sold, a Fireblade probably meant 4 more acres sold. Never mind, so this category did not know much about the brands or the engines or the performance. The only criteria for it were to look expensive.

But the working segment also could see and spend now. The culture of saving money was slowly on its way out of fashion. Yamaha was the first one to tap the potential in 2007 when it launched MT01 and R1. R1 did not need any introduction. Internet was in every house and at a given time, some or the another channel was showing a movie where some superstar was riding around a Yamaha YZF R1. Dreaming was now affordable. Suzuki and Ducati soon followed the suite in 2008. Whereas Suzuki survived, Ducati packed its bags and went back to Italy after a short but painful stint. Honda soon followed its Japanese cousins and arrived riding a Fireblade.

The superbike market, which was still in a nascent stage, had its roots shaken in 2010. It was this year when Kawasaki decided to get its iconic Ninja 650R via the CBU route and with a price tag of Rs 5 lakhs. It was the same year when the bad-ass American, Harley Davidson decided to come to India. I won't get into the numbers here, as we all know how good or bad HD is doing in India. With the launch of Street 750 - a bike that is made completely in India to keep the production cost low - Harley has accepted the fact that in India, passion does matter, but money matters more. According to what I read a few weeks ago, the Street 750 accounted for 60% of Harley's sales for the month of April. Seeing the impressive growth of Harley, Polaris owned Indian also took the plunge and moved to India with the legendary Indian. BMW Motorrad, Moto Guzzi and Aprilia wasted no time in packing their bags and reach the Indian shore.

It would be a little abrupt to call the arrival of Triumph as a new-entry in the segment. I would call it a comeback, rather. But whatever it is, every single eye is on them in some way or another. The line-up is something that will cater to almost every category of motorcyclists. Pricing has been right and the dealership network is increasing like no one else’s. The way Triumph has been aggressive with its approach, it's evident that they are very eager to reap what the market has to offer.

To make these motorcycles all the more lucrative to the ones who drool at them, various banks have  come forward to help such customers. Triumph, for example, has ties with HDFC Bank that should be readily available to help you out with minimal paperwork and attractive interest rates. Harley Davidson has a tie-up with ICICI Bank. Needless to say that once this market starts booming, it also would mean a rise in second hand motorcycle market, which is something many are eyeing as of now.

Well, the recent time has made us sure of one thing if not anything else. The prayers have been answered. The enthusiasm has been arisen once again. Dreams have been provided with wings. There is no better time than now to move up the ladder without any divine intervention, into the haloed world of superbikes!

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