Alright, there is no point staring into a white screen when you’ve got the editor waiting for your column on the other end of the phone, right? To cut a long one short, another leg injury meant a disastrous start to the summer for me. And as my motorcycles are patiently waiting for me to take them out at least for short hops, allow me to introduce one genuine motorcycle enthusiast. As far as the stereotypical images of motorcyclists go, Surjith is a total misfit. Forget leathers, unruly beard, chrome studs, skull and crossbones… and instead picture yourself a calm gentleman who is normally seen wearing a white casual shirt, a half face helmet and chugging along the streets of Thiruvananthapuram on meticulously restored Nortons and bingo, you are spot on!
And let me tell you something, I have known him for time immemorial and nothing about him has changed, apart from the number of Norton he owns. Back in my college days I wrote about the first motorcycle restored by Surjith – a BSA Bantam 125 (sidevalve) and sent it to Car and Bike International edited by, Adil ‘the bossman’ Darukhanawala himself. The sheer joy of seeing the story printed in black and white was one of the reasons I chose motoring journalism as a career. Now you know how important a role Surjith has played in my life.
He introduced me to classic bikes. Surjith’s dad had the passion for British iron and already had a couple of Royal Enfields and a BSA Golden Flash. During his college days Surjith restored Triumph Tiger Twins in his garage. I remember him waking up the neighbourhood when he decided to fire up a newly built twin without the exhaust pipes! I would ride along with him on my Kawasaki KB100 as he tested one Brit bike or the other on Sunday mornings. Needless to say, these were some of the best days of my life! As I moved to Mumbai to work for auto magazines, I also got the job of supplier of parts for Surjith. I would source rare bits of motorcycles – at times washers and on other occasions fully chromed exhausts – which eventually would complete one of his projects back home.
Fast forward to 2018. What is my friend up to? After restoring scores of Brit iron and trading them as a hobby, he started concentrating on Nortons? ‘Why Nortons?’ Surjith would shrug-off the question with just four words ‘they made best motorcycles’. For the number of BSAs, Royal Enfields and Triumphs that have gone through him, I have no reason to doubt him. Every time I visited my home town I would sample one of his newly acquired Nortons. So much so that I can be called a ‘featherbed’ veteran.
Recently Surjith let me loose on his 1968 Norton Atlas Twin Carb – the motorcycle was so early for its time, it felt like a Japanese superbike of the early seventies. Ahem! The effortless way the twin came to life, the abundance of torque from the 750cc powerplant and the smooth power delivery was enough to erase my database on British motorcycles. Add to that a luxurious ride and one starts wondering whatever happened to the British motorcycle heritage.
“The effortless way the twin came to life, the abundance of torque from the 750cc powerplant”
Fret not though. Surjith is just one of those many custodians of the British motorcycle heritage around the world. And thankfully those motorcycles were built to last a couple of life times. At least the Nortons are. My good friend in Thiruvananthapuram would agree, I’m sure.