ON THE WINDY SUNDAY MORNING OF 13 JULY, Vivek Kumar—“Roadking” to his friends—wound his way through the streets of Bangalore on a curvy, red motorbike with a glinting chrome fuel tank, a large domed headlight and an exposed, dull-silver engine. He rode at a stately pace into a school ground in the city centre. A crowd of over two hundred people greeted him with cheers and whistles, and heads turned to follow him and his machine—a 1967 Jawa 360—to a corner of the venue. Kumar, a 27-year-old mechanical engineer, parked facing a line of almost a hundred other motorcycles of varied shades and appearances, but all sporting either “Jawa” or “Yezdi” on their fuel tanks. Small groups milled around, photographing the bikes with their phones, and even a handful of policemen posted at the gathering couldn’t help but gawk.
A banner welcomed participants to International Jawa-Yezdi Day on behalf of the Bangalore Jawa-Yezdi Club. Founded in 2007, the club now has 25 registered members, but it often brings together close to three hundred Jawa enthusiasts at its events. Originally designed and built by an eponymous company founded in Czechoslovakia in 1929, the bikes came to India through a licenced local subsidiary, Ideal Jawa, in the early 1960s. That official alliance ended in 1974, but Indian production of Jawa and Jawa-inspired models continued under the Yezdi brand. Today, these motorcycles enjoy cult status among fans across the country, and there are dedicated groups in cities including Pune, Mumbai, Chandigarh, Bangalore, Puducherry and Mysore. There are also clubs in other countries, and every year, on the second Sunday of July, Jawas and Jawa-inspired bikes hit the road all over the world to mark International Jawa Day.
By the banner, I met 32-year-old Amrit Appiah, an IT professional and co-founder of the Bangalore club. Appiah told me he got hooked on Jawas after he first rode one at the age of 11, and related some Indian Jawa history. Mysore became the seat of production in 1961, he said, and the Ideal Jawa factory was innaugurated by the Maharaja of Mysore himself. The facility started out assembling bikes from imported components, but by 1963, after Czechoslovakian engineers had trained local staff, it was producing machines from scratch. The Jawa 250, a 250-cc motorcycle, and the Jet Jawa, a 50-cc moped, were among its earliest models.