Parsis have a certain love affair with their two wheelers, which only they can fathom. They’ll proudly spend hours lovingly washing and polishing their prized possessions and God help you if you mistakenly crash into them. Rustom Patel is no different. The 28-year-old, eight times National Champion is just back from Taiwan, where he stood third in the ‘Scoolympic CTMSA Taiwan’ 06′, becoming the first Indian to do so. With more than 275 trophies lying proudly in his house, Rustom is no stranger to the world of bike racing. A resident of Rustam Baug, Byculla,Rustom started out when he was only six; today he’s one of the best bikers in India.
“My first bike was a 39 cc Dandy, a mini bike, which had no suspension or gears. I started participating in races against teenagers and would still manage to finish in the top three. As I grew older, I started getting better and when I was eight my dad bought me a Yamaha PV 50 cc and finally a Yamaha PW 80 cc when I was 11. Till I was 13, I won a lot of races all over India but then I stopped riding because I wasn’t able to concentrate on my studies. However, once I finished school, I took up biking with a passion that only I understood. In my very first race, I came third at the national level and it was then that my parents realised how serious I was about it,” says Rustom.
It was, however, a race in Pune in 1999 that changed his life. “I participated in the Ganesh Festival Dirt Track competition, where I was pitted against some of the best riders in the country; my brother, Zubin, a national champion himself, was a part of the race. While all riders were sponsored, I had to get my own bike and petrol and pay my own entry fee. I remember sitting quietly in a corner, while all the mechanics and girls doted over these national champs. Whereas here I was using an old 1987 Suzuki model! I don’t know what came over me but I won the race start to finish, till today I don’t know how I did it. And after that, I’ve never looked back,” he says with a broad smile. (His brother, by the way, came in third.)
For the next six years, Rustom rode for the TVS Motor Company, winning races all over the country. The association ended two years back and since then Rustom has been a privateer i.e. he sponsors himself. And just seven months back he purchased a Suzuki RM 125 cc bike, which he dotingly refers to as his baby. A sleek, yellow coloured bike, it has “the best suspension in the world”, according to Rustom. Every year there are two national championships held in the country and Rustom has been winning them all since the past eight years.
“Representing India and coming in third overall at Taiwan was an awesome experience. The moment I landed, I was treated like a king. I had three falls during the various races – bruised my knees, butt and back, but I knew I couldn’t stop. Not when I had come so far. The worst accident of my life, however, took place four months ago in Chennai, when during a race where we have to jump over small dirt mountains, a biker behind me landed on my right hand. Although I remember winning that race, I cannot recall how I landed in the hospital,” says Rustom soberly.
Although his family is proud of his passion for racing, his wife isn’t too fond of the sport. “She absolutely hates what I do and prays till the time I call her after a race and tell her I’m safe. I know she’s proud of what I’ve achieved but never lets me know that. After I finish racing, I plan to start a training school so that I can share my talent.”
So what are the things he’d advise people when riding? “Wearing a helmet is mandatory whether you’re riding on a dirt track or on plain road. Never act smart and race where you aren’t supposed to because you’re not only putting your own life in danger; you risking other people’s lives as well. If you have the spirit and the talent, show it in the right place. People call me a slow coach when I ride in the city! But I’ve seen enough accidents to know the value of human lives.”
The one bike that Rustom wants to own someday (he owns nine already!) is a Kawasaki KX 125 cc. “It’s one of the best and fastest bikes in the world and I’d love to own it in the future.” When Rustom isn’t biking, he’s found in his family’s garage modifying bikes. And when he isn’t there either, he’s busy playing cricket for his colony. “I don’t know what I’d be doing if it weren’t for biking,” he says. “It’s in my blood. And I ride to win. A second place win means nothing to me. It’s true when they say Parsis love their bikes more than their wives!”