02 Sep 2016
10 min read
Pramod Shrestha (Goofy) of Himalayan Enfielders talks to VMAG’s Alok Thapa about Himalayan Enfielders and all things Enfield
When did your love for motorbikes begin?
I was 10 or 12 years old when bikes caught my fancy. I would take my brother’s bike, without his permission, and endure falls and mishaps, which I would try to hide. Later on, I got myself a Bajaj Chetak, but I never really got a kick out of it—perhaps because it was missing the ‘thump’ factor.
Tell us about your first bike, ‘Kanchi’ (the youngest).
I bought my first bike with my own earnings, and it’s been 20 years of togetherness. Royal Enfield has always enticed me with its history, build quality and that thump factor. My friend knew a guy whose motorbike was rotting in a field; apparently he couldn’t ride the it properly and was not satisfied with her—I guess, they didn’t click. So I made a deal of Rs 25,000, and since then ‘Kanchi’ and I have been making awesome memories. There’s no feeling like the privilege of riding a classic bike with a distinctive appearance and smooth temperament.
Who rides an Enfield?
If you like to go out on long trips, then the wanderlust in you will thank you for choosing this bike. Yes, it’s a heavy bike, but it’s this quality that makes it safer compared to other light, and speedy motorbikes that skid easily. If you’re into aesthetics, then nothing can beat its classic look. Also, there’s no other bike that makes the sweet sound that the Royal Enfield does. There are bikes with bells and whistles, and then there is the brooding bulk of Royal Enfield.
How challenging was it to refurbish an Enfield bike in 1995?
It was next to impossible. Back then, if you wanted to buy a Royal Enfield, you had to make a pilgrimage to India, and making matters worse was the fact there was no workshop for maintenance in Kathmandu, so obtaining spare parts was extremely difficult. I remember when we used to go on a date we would make sure everything was working properly because there had been times when our girlfriends would end up pushing the heavy bikes, and those incidents definitely took a toll on our relationships. In fact, it was this frustration that led us to open a workshop for Enfield bikes.
When we started, it was more like a garage in the middle of a paddy field, and the shed could barely fit five bikes at a time
How were the initial workshop days?
We were a bunch of friends with a mutual admiration for Enfield, and we had been brought closer by the nightmare of having to keep our rides running smoothly. So you can say a frustrated group of friends—Siddartha Gurung, Rakesh Prasai, Sabin Basnyet, Chandra Man Pun, Binod Chhetri and myself—finally decided to open our own personal workshop. We got a mechanic from Nautanwa, India, to look after our bikes. Initially, we didn’t plan to open a workshop; but slowly people started coming to our place with their problems, and we realised that our passion could be turned into a business.
So passion led to your profession. Was it an easy transition?
When we started, it was more like a garage in the middle of a paddy field, and the shed could barely fit five bikes at a time. But what mattered was we finally had a mechanic who knew how to tame the mood swings of our Enfield bikes and had the necessary tools and parts to keep them rolling on the road. But news of the garage spread like wildfire among other Enfield bikers. I guess, they were relieved that there now was a place where they could bring in their bikes for maintenance. Soon people started coming on a regular basis, and the garage became a hub for like-minded bike lovers to share stories, plan adventures and get their bikes fixed. So finally in 2001, we decided to officially open Himalayan Enfielders.
How has the Bullet scene changed over the years in Kathmandu?
When we started in 1999, there were barely 15 Royal Enfield bikes on the streets of Kathmandu. Every bike has its distinct fingerprint thump sound, so we could tell who was approaching before we even saw them. Back then it was a rarity to see, or hear, an Enfield, but now you see loads of them cruising around. Now we have more than 6,000 Enfield bikes in Kathmandu.
So the workshop inadvertently helped increase the number of Enfield bikers in town?
Absolutely, the shift in the mindset of bikers was quite apparent from day one, when we opened the workshop. Like I said earlier, for many, the challenge of owning an Enfield had to do with the lack of a proper place for maintenance. We could see that people were getting more confident about owning an Enfield, and when we started our rides, people started following our every move. And soon it became almost a pop-cultural thing to own a bike that ‘thumped’.
With so many Enfield outlets in the city, how do you stay ahead of the competition?
The bike scene has changed drastically over the years, and business-wise, it has gotten tougher to stay on top of the game with all the new players. Fortunately, we have our own niche market and a loyal group of bikers who come to us to avail of our services at Himalayan Enfielders. We don’t advertise, and all of our marketing is done word-of-mouth; I think people come to us because we provide good customer service, and you can feel the tangible human element at our workshop—it’s the brotherhood of biking that binds us all.
Let’s talk about managing the logistics of your business. Has it gotten easier over the years?
Getting the spare parts is comparatively easier now, but it’s still tough. Previously, we used to go to India on our own to procure parts, and the biggest challenge was getting them through the borders. Of course, the price of all the parts gets tripled by the time it hits the local market due to the exorbitant taxes. People used to be reluctant to shift to Enfield as it was not cheap, but now they are starting to see that Bullets are definitely sturdier, and safer, than other bikes, so there’s been a shift in the mindset.
What was your first long trip?
Our first venture together as a group was the Peace Ride to Pokhara in 2002. The country was going through a tough phase, and we wanted to bring the youth together. Fifty of us went to Lumbini and then made it to Pokhara via the Tansen route. It was also the first time that many bikers got to travel in a group on the highway; the best part is always bonding with each other. We have gone to Lhasa, Bhutan, Ladakh, and many parts of India, but the trip that will be forever etched into my mind as the most memorable trip was our ride to Lhasa in 2003.
For many, the challenge of owning an Enfield had to do with the lack of a proper place for maintenance
How long does it take to organise bike tours?
First we select a destination, and then the real work starts. That can take anything between a couple of weeks to a year. Before the advent of social media, we used to go meet all the bikers at their homes and plan for the trip. The biggest challenge was to convince people about their safety. In terms of management, the Peace Rides are always a challenge to organise, as it involves a lot of bikers, and we need to get sponsors. Similarly, Poker Run, started in memory of our friend Binod, has also been our premier ride, which attracts a lot of people every year. We started out with 15 bikers, and over the years, the ride has gathered a cult following. A total of 400 people took part in this year’s Poker Run.
What’s the most sought after destination amongst the young riders?
The young riders today prefer to explore Nepal, and that’s what we try to promote as well. The roads have improved considerably over the years, and we’ve always given local rides more importance. We live in such a beautiful and geographically diverse country; every few kilometres you get a completely different experience. We gather bikers for border-point rides: we have gone from the far west to the eastern edge of Nepal, and to the desolate Tibetan borders. Jomsom and Manang are some of the challenging rides that many partake of, and with better infrastructure and roads, I have a feeling Rara will soon be another must-go-to destination.
Dispel some of the myths surrounding Enfield bikes and their riders.
Regarding safety, I would say the Enfield is the safest bike you’ll find in Kathmandu. It’s heavier than other light and speedy bikes, so it won’t skid and is a pretty stable machine. Over the years, the bike has become more rider-friendly and is also more fuel-efficient, but of course there will always be a pocket of riders who will oppose the new crop of ‘easy’ bikes. Image-wise, I would say we are not a bunch of gangsters who go around creating mayhem. In fact, Himalayan Enfielders has been involved in so many initiatives and campaigns like anti-suicide programmes. Recently, we were also busy with earthquake-relief work.