Do I look like a monkey? And that’s precisely why these bikes were called Monkey Bikes — because the rider looked like a monkey with arms and legs contorted at weird angles while perched atop the tiny bike, though not everybody would be hunched so dramatically over the ’bars in an effort to make it go faster. The monkey bike was first done by Honda in the sixties and was wildly successful in Europe and later on in America — it was cheap, the size made them easy to store and easy to ride, and it was absurdly awesome fun to ride. It inspired engineers at Rajdoot to cobble together their own Monkey Bike, though their motive had more to do with using the parts littered around their factory.
The small wheels and most of the cycle parts came from the Rajhans, a Lambretta-style scooter that Rajdoot had made to take on the Chetak that had a waiting list stretching nearly twenty years. It flopped. The tank came from the Galaxy, another flop. And the engine came from the Excel-T, a bike that the Escorts group found behind the Iron Curtain and used to kick off their bike-making journey in the sixties — this one a big success, especially up north, selling some 1.6 million units before emission norms killed it off nearly five decades later.
And Bobby? It’s unlikely it was a deliberate piece of product placement but the movie that launched Dimple Kapadia’s career had her being charmed by Rishi Kapoor on this Monkey Bike. And from then and forever more the GTS 175 was always called Bobby. It made it a cult bike before cult bikes were even a thing. And some say it was the reason it hardly sold, because parents didn’t want their kids being a ‘hero’.
Even today it looks like nothing else. I spent the longest time just ogling at the thing — a bike born out of circumstance, a proper mish-mash of parts. There’s a Soviet-era headlamp atop which is the ignition key, a small cylinder the likes of which I haven’t ever seen. The fenders are ill-fitting, a tube routes exhaust gasses away from your bum, and there’s a big fat motorcycle seat atop something so tiny. You have to remember that back in those Socialist times, engineers had access to absolutely nothing, yet, it all just seems to work.
And it is hilarious to ride! It is obviously small and cramped but instead of irritating you, that is actually what makes it so much fun. The 175cc 2-stroke is surprisingly potent for something so tiny (the original Honda Monkey Bike had a more appropriate 50cc motor), and with the 2-stroke farting away to glory, the non-existent brakes, the manoeuvrability better than modern scooters — it makes you hoot like an absolute monkey.