Coffee and the Art of Motorcycle Curation

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A lone rider turns his passion for biking and vintage bikes into a quaint café-cum-museum enterprise

Bikers are known to be a weird lot. It takes more than a casual interest in bikes to gain acceptability within their exhaust-fume fortified group. The men and their machines live in a secret world to which few are ever invited. So when the slighest chance presents itself to sneak your way in, it’s foolhardy to miss it. And something of a chance has come in the shape of a motorcycling museum and café that’s revving up to throw doors open in Bangalore. Called Legends Motorcycling Café and Museum, housed in a stone building on Wheeler Road, Cox Town, it has been set up by veteran biker and collector SK Prabhu. It’s a place to exchange motorcycle diaries, he says. “Bikers follow a different culture altogether. Their nomadic lifestyle apart, they are particular about a whole lot of things—their attire, accessories, music, down to what they eat and drink. I want the café to become a watering hole,’’ adds Prabhu, who’s invested his life’s savings in this venture.

As biking in India shifts gears with the entry of superbikes and American cruisers, there’s a lot to be discussed, says Vinod Raju, best described as a biker among bikers. A loner ever in search of an adrenalin rush, Raju owns a 1,000 cc mean machine, and has taken his pair of wheels all over the Himalayas. “For most bikers, having their own café and museum is like having a territory of their own. A place to come back to after every outdoor activity,” he says.

Prabhu dreamt up the idea of a café-cum-museum just gazing at all the motorcycles and hard-to-find parts lying in his garage. “All they needed was some spit and polish,’’ quips the man who has earned himself a reputation over 20 years for restoring and dealing with vintage bikes. “I can achieve all this as I am still a bachelor,’’ says the forty-something with a hint of mischief.

Legends’ ground floor café serves sandwiches, coffee, tea and assorted snacks. It has antique tables, chairs and counters. Even the twin-blade and four-blade fans overhead are vintage pieces. An antique refrigerator in the corner gives the place an old-world charm. Once done with their gupshup and cuppa, bikers can climb upstairs to feast their eyes on Prabhu’s collection. The first floor is a biker’s wet dream. The walls are covered with biker memorabilia, framed photographs and quotes. On display are motorcycle parts, some of them in working condition, and 20-odd vintage motorcycles. “Most of the motorcycles are in working order. I have been riding some of them on city roads,’’ says Prabhu.

The first floor, where the museum is, also has a designated wine bar. Prabhu has applied for a wine licence for customers who’d like something stiffer than the regular brew to unwind. Again, the décor is all about bikes—the bar table is held up by a series of motorcycle tyres stacked one atop another. The lighting above casts its glow from wheel hubs, complete with spokes.

Bikers Nikhil K and Rohan C are visibly excited to be here. “It’s the first such place in India we’ve come across. We wish there were such cafés on all highways to rest,’’ they say, impressed by the display. A 1960 US-made Whizzer and a 1962 UK-made Fantabulous hang from the walls.

Prabhu also plans to sell biking gear, apart from refurbishing and selling some of his vintage bikes. “The place can be a point of exchange for bikers wanting to sell something or looking for a specific part,’’ says Vikram, an antique collector and biking enthusiast.

Among the UK-made bikes displayed in the museum are a 1924 BSA 250 cc with a round tank and carbide lamps for headlights, a 1928 BSA 500 cc flat tank model with carbide lamps and a side car, and a 1934 BSA 500 cc with a hand-gear lever. There is also a 1966 Sherpa with its original paint and invoice on display. Another UK bike, the Corgi, is a 1962 model that can be folded into one-fourth its original size.

Prabhu’s favourite are BSA bikes. He’s got a Bantam 1953 and 1962-make and Bantam D1 1966 and 1962-make that occupy centrestage in the museum. Most of these sport their original foreign registration plates, which he discovered after peeling off the Indian ones superimposed.

His rare collection of five UK-originals made for military use are a must see. They are a BSA M20 1942 500 cc, Norton 500 cc 1942, both used in World War II, a military Matchless 1947, James ML 1942 with hand-gear, and Paratrooper that was used by despatch riders during that war—it later earned its nickname ‘Well bike’ for its popularity in circuses where riders performed dizzying acrobatics riding the inner walls of a ‘well’.

There are rare German models too, like the DKW Hummel, an NSU and a Florette, all 1962 makes. Prabhu got these vintage machines from as far as Virudachalam, Theni and Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, Kuppam in Andhra, and Bangalore and Tumkur in Karnataka. He has a network to source them for him. It also helps keeping in touch with bike zealots in the UK, Bahrain and New Zealand with whom he exchanges hard-to-come-by parts.

Prominent among his exhibits is a red and cream-coloured scooter, the Cezeta, a 1962 model made in Czechoslovakia. Its delinked trailer too is on display—large enough for a week’s camping gear. “There are only two such in the country. I picked up both from an auction at the Jawa factory in Mysore. They were sample pieces. The model was not allowed to be mass produced by the Government as its fuel tank was above the front wheel and juts out in front—the first point of contact in case of a head-on crash. I sold one of them and have displayed the other.’’ Among other treasures is a rare 1960s’ original twin-port Jawa racer with faring on the sides, and an Italian Lambretta Innocenti that still kicks in with a moped-like purr.

While some of the models are unheard of on Indian roads, they are all in running condition, assures Prabhu. Biking buffs would be pleased to hear that. But just how many of them, really, are there anymore? Isn’t biking beginning to go out of fashion? “No, it’s like reading,” says Prabhu without a wince, “People take to it at different phases in life. Only the machines are changing, with the entry of foreign manufacturers, but we still have the Jawa motorcycle club which is doing fine. Recently, the local Jawa club organised a ride from Bangalore to Kolar and back—a ride of 120 km—on a Sunday, in which around 100 Jawa enthusiasts participated. Before they were flagged off, they congregated at the café.”