Looking back at Rider Mania 2019: Setting new standards for biker & cultural festivals
As you leaf through the pages of the newspaper this morning, you might lift your neck and raise those sights a tad, to look around and realise that the streets of Vagator, Goa are rumbling with droves of bikes and bikers passing through, even as you reach out for that sip of your morning cup of tea or coffee.
The same holds if you’re a biker, or a rocker, given to reaching out for a chilled brew, no matter how early the hour, with a record of Jim Morrison permanently on loop at the back of your head, belting out the lyric, ‘Well, I woke up this morning, and I got myself a beer...’
If you could actually feel the thunder, like if you were seated along the dusty stretches just off Ozran Beach Road in Vagator, those roars and rumbles are sure to make you jump, if not pointedly flick these sheets, by way of indicating deeper perusal of neighbourhood affairs.
The biker season has kicked in hard in Goa this year, and Rider Mania 2019 is doing a lot more than being a biker festival — it’s setting new precedents and higher standards, when it comes to the business of engineering events and organising cultural festivals.
Truth be told, the most impressive thing about Rider Mania 2019 had nothing to do with the bikes. For a festival that has become one of the world’s largest, and best-organised events for bikers, the first thing to make prominent mention of is the little detail that this was a completely plastic-free festival.
The hosts actually used the word ‘eradicate’ in their promotional literature, and eradicate single-use plastic, they really did.
Over the course of a fairly manic three-day outing, this reporter didn’t pick out a single plastic cup, coaster, piece of cutlery, bag or most importantly, bottle on the grounds.
Matter of fact, I did pick up a cloud-load of dust in my hair, and a few pulled muscles at the arm wrestling pit, and mouth ulcers from all the throat-hugging beer-chugging contests, even a crick in the neck from too much head-banging, and a tiny scar from laying low around the dirt track, during the races.
But, not a single plastic cup or water bottle, across the grounds of Vagator’s Hilltop hillside, the festival area, and even the parking lot clearing — with crowds of an estimated 8,000+ riders constantly on its toes, milling about in groups, and generally partying like they never have before.
Nothing here was getting tossed about in a way that you might sneer like a grouchy local.
To back that end was one of the many hashtags doing the rounds — #LeaveEveryPlaceBetter — making a case for no-littering, a promise for responsible travel, and reduced waste.
Every participant at Rider Mania received a special sipper, which they got to fill at the many water dispensers installed around the festival grounds — thereby taking out the need for water bottles, and cups.
If every biker at Rider Mania went riding back home armed with festival t-shirts, stickers, handouts and loads of other fun stuff, they were all also reassuredly packing in #LeaveEveryPlaceBetter sippers — a heartening note to make, for all the riders to be sufficiently hydrated, and also for the sake of charming souvenirs and collectibles to hold on to.
Earn your pin stripes
The best thing yet about Rider Mania 2019, now in its 11th annual outing, is that the focus remains as much on the riders, and the people, much as it is on their wheels.
And, while scenes at the Custom Zone and at the many workshops and mini, makeshift garages around indicated leanings towards new-age gadgetry, gee-whiz engineering and ratchet-and-clank tryouts, there was also a clear attempt at reinforcing the charm, efficiency and prize of good-old, hand-worked labour.
In very real terms, the sweat-and-toil manual input, in the eyes of Royal Enfield, counts as bonafide art, as much as anything else.
To make a point of sheer hand-styled value, the festival included the launch of a special, limited edition series of 200 helmets, featuring the distinct golden ‘Madras stripes’ that have for ages been a hallmark of Royal Enfield Bullets.
Indeed, the tradition of hand-painted stripes is over a century old. And, even when the newest Royal Enfield motorcycles are assembled and completed by robotic arms, the signature ‘one-brush, two-strokes’ design element that has long been a fixture on all Bullet petrol tanks, is still completed by hand — in a way that exalts the skilled craftsmanship of ace local artists, such as of the noted Kumar Brothers, who have historically bestowed their expertise for just these gleaming stripes, for over six decades now.
If you’re one of those seasoned Bullet purists, quite like us, who live for the bike's thump, and evenings of endless tarmac that disappear into every sunset, those golden stripes are something to covet — to run your hand over in hail-fellow appreciation, at every traffic light and junction that you come to a halt at, and to literally trace the sun’s lines, as you navigate the longest, scenic route you can find.
At Rider Mania, details such as these stripes make for that invaluable glint in the eye of the rider. It’s an unspoken feeling really that reaches out and grabs you, and says that you’re a part of a larger brotherhood, just as we are all equally given to seeking out silver linings on the Goa horizon, especially at the end of a back-breaking long ride.
A real carnival atmosphere
As for its growing lineup of bikes, Royal Enfield also launched the Himalayan FT 411 special flat tracker, developed in partnership with S&S Cycles USA, and essentially a stripped-down, motocross-friendly version of the stock Himalayan 401 that fans got to see in action all-around a newly unveiled dirt track arena.
Expectedly, a lot of the excitement was around the announcement of a new Slide School, and an exclusive flat-track academy that will soon commence with training courses for beginners and experts in Bengaluru (expected in January 2020), in collaboration with Big Rock MotoPark, and in other parts of the country as well.
For a crash course in flat tracking, it helps to note that most mud track motorcycles in this format come without any front brakes, even as they’re given to riding around an oval track, in counter-clockwise runs, with the riders sliding around corners in ways that can be hair-raising, death-defying and just exhilarating.
At Rider Mania 2019, there was a lot going by way of establishing the presence of a massive gathering — hair balls, leather jackets, hipster mobs and unduly ripped jeans, included.
And, just as there was a bunch of sparkling new custom bike creations to marvel at, there was many a scene too of crashed chassis dumped at the back of pickup trucks, mechanics running helter-skelter with nifty toolkits strapped to their hips, and of course, of scantily clad cheerleaders raising a hoo-ha just by showing up.
(Yes, the event did include a bikini bike wash and wax job counter, and no, there were no moral police crackdowns to complain of.)
Then again, the real festival atmosphere was really defined around the concert stage, with some powerful live performances by the likes of rock veterans Agnee, Soulmate, indie stars The Local Train (who played here last year too) and Antardhvanee.
Avial, on its turn on stage, instantly found the crowds going ballistic, and breaking into delirious bouts of improvised group jigs, while Sahej Bakshi’s Dualist Inquiry had the overall acoustics levels spiralling sky-high in soaring crescendos of light and sound.
It was Parikrama, ultimately, that brought the house down with star guest spots by Bruce Lee Mani of Thermal and a Quarter, and Luke Kenny, popping in to work their magic on the crowd.
Nash Jr and DJ SA also played their part to keep the crowds on their feet, and by the time all the flashlights and cigarette lighters were turned on and held aloft en masse in the grand finale, in a spectacular show of support for the hosts’ efforts, the unified message was loud and clear — this is how cultural festivals ought to go down.
And, with our sippers intact, we are sure to be back for the celebrations next year.
The writer was at Rider Mania 2019 by invitation.
— Jaideep Sen