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BSA M20 Custom - Diamond in the buff

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The only way I used to see getting a classic motorcycle to life was to restore it as its maker had intended. Yet, here I am, riding something that the old hands at Birmingham Small Arms would have never thought about. To them, this model was their contribution to the war effort. To them, this motorcycle was going to keep their kids from learning German in school. To them, this two-wheeler was a tool, forged in the fires of war, and not much else.

I’m clicking down the road at what seems to be about 60 kph. I don’t know for sure, as there is no speedo to refer to. The 500cc, 13 bhp, single-pot, sidevalve motor is chuffing along comfortably, but it takes forever to hasten its pace. And then its time to turn.

 Grip is something most car drivers take for granted. Motorcyclists, however, know of the term more intimately. In any case, the huge Avons offer ship loads of the stuff, so much so that getting the bike to change direction is akin to convincing Anna Hazare to go off a hunger strike. The large tyres tend to catch and exaggerate every rut, even the smallest of ones that go by. It can get unnerving at times, but then almost as quickly as that thought of crashing flashes through your head, it’s over and you’re back to enjoying your ride. It does take a little getting used to, this motorcycle. I’ve ridden rigid rear ended, girder forked bikes before and yet, I couldn’t go about plodding around without a care in the world simply because the tyres have changed the riding dynamics to such an extent that it rolls like no other M20 around. Not that its bad, just different. Very, very different.

 

Ride quality is typical hard-tail fare and severely not recommended to anybody with a history of back problems. The under-saddle springs do soften things up a bit, but there’s only so much that a pair of steel coils can do, really.

Rajputana customs isn’t about all show and no go, this M20, lovingly named ‘Laado’, is a classic case in point. Few M20s that I’ve come across sound and run like this one. Heck, I have to admit, neither does mine. This bike starts with one kick almost every time, and that too with the original Amal carburettor. It clicks into the right gear, albeit with the typical heavy right foot, and sounds divine with absolutely no abnormal grinding or knocking sounds.

Since the brakes haven’t been tampered with, they are alien to the concept of panic braking. Pull them in today and they will begin to function only on the next working day. Of the next week. 

But they say the devil is in the details and, in the now-expected Rajputana Customs tradition, there’s plenty of the stuff on this motorcycle. Take the control levers, engine inspection cover plate and the brake pedal, among others, for instance. First, brass is cast into the rough shapes, which are then finished and machined. Then, the components are sent to a local artisan who painstakingly etches onto the surface by hand, using various chisels and hammers. The floral impressions are so intricate that

 

it’s almost sacrilege to utilise them on a motorcycle – a museum would seemingly be more befitting for these masterpieces.

Then there’s the fancy leather work. The seat is embossed with a very ornate design along with woven work along the edges. I assumed it had been done using a press and a die, but Vijay Singh Ajairajpura, the force behind Rajputana Customs, says that doing so would have been too easy. How else can it be done? Well, by hand, of course. Again, chisels of various sizes are used to impress the pattern upon the hide and the procedure has been the same for hundreds of years, although earlier, the skilled leather workers would decorate horse saddles instead.

Delicate strips of supple leather are used on the grips and the kick starter lever, wrapped around the shafts with a steady hand such that each twirl does not overlap with the next, but is still close enough to hide the metal beneath. I can tell you this: all of this work takes time and a lot of dedication.    

 

However, Laado has been built to be ridden. Compared to my awkward lumbering on the motorcycle, once Vijay is at the helm of things, the M20 moves like it was made just for him. As I click away on the camera, its maker is grazing the footrests around every traffic island. And when I follow him on the way back to his place, he keep pulling away from the jeep I’m driving, effortlessly sifting through the morning traffic of the Pink City, proving that Laado, indeed, is more than just a piece of jewellery.

To purists, I assume, Laado is a profanation of what the M20 was. But Vijay loves his motorcycles, and it shows. No welds or cuts have been made on the original frame of the M20, and reverting it to stock requires a simple swap of the front girder forks and bolting on the requisite tinware. Oh, and those huge Avons would have to be replaced with saner 3.25x19 rubber. 

Quite frankly, if someone were to tell me that they have customised an M20, I’d be horrified. But with Rajputana Customs, they know how to get the lines right and the detailing, as you can see, is simply out of this world. Looks like the ol’ blighters at the Birmingham factory should have thought much more of the M20, after all.