• Past Present, Future Perfect

Perfectly maintained classic motorcycles are a treat, scooters even more

If you take care of something, it lasts forever. This old adage has been lost in the current culture where smartphones are replaced every year and cars in five. So it is incredibly rare that you’d meet a scooter older than yourself, 45 years to be precise. We did find one such treasure and incidentally, it turned out to be in our own backyard. The Bajaj Priya scooter you see on these pages belongs to Dr Sudheer Phatak who has been Ed’s family doctor for over 40 years. According to Abhay, Dr Phatak has a meticulous approach to his patients and that kind of explains the pristine condition of this scooter.

The Bajaj Chetak is hailed as the scooter that moved the Indian middle class in the 90s but scooters like the Priya played an important role as well. The Priya has a storied past as well. Bajaj Auto started selling scooters in India under licence from Vespa. Once that alliance ended, Bajaj collaborated with Maharashtra Scooters Ltd to make a homegrown version of the Vespa scooter. The first product of this tie-up was the Priya scooter which was soon followed by the Super and Chetak. In essence, it was the success of the Priya scooter that paved way for others, including the Chetak.

In order to meet a scooter with such an illustrious past, I needed to have something interesting to take along no? That’s where the Ola S1 Pro steps in. It is undoubtedly the most talked about scooter currently and according to Ola will revolutionise scooters, maybe the way the Priya did?

Ed takes us to a quaint bungalow inside a matrix of lanes and it feels like we have stepped back in time. Besides the Priya, there is also a Bajaj M50 in the parking which is just as well-preserved and even regularly ridden by the doctor’s wife! We talk about the Priya over tea and biscuits. “The scooter is doctor sahaab’s first love”, his wife jokingly quips before adding that the scooter is lovingly called as ‘Amchi Priya’ in their family circles.

Dr Phatak acquired his Priya in 1977 at a then princely sum of Rs 4,800. In fact, he won it. In the 70s licence raj, with waiting times counted in years, the only way to own a car or scooter early was by lucky draw and our doctor drew the number 440! As we head outside, the doctor’s grand kids swarm around the Ola but soon retreat to the familiar comfort of the Priya. No amount of cajoling has them step onto the Ola, not even its tablet-like screen or music playing from apron-mounted speakers.

Our conversation soon turns to its colour. This unique shade of green is similar to the one the Priya originally came with. In fact, the scooter was once painted in a bright Mango Yellow colour before being restored to this colour. The restoration process took three years and was done by Sathe Garage, run by Suresh Sathe, an ex-motocross rider. And it’s a job well done. Everything on the scooter feels period correct, from the rack in the footwell to the spare wheel in the back. Dr Phatak even has the original documents and user manual in pristine condition. Didn’t I tell you he is quite meticulous?

It even starts with one kick. Heck, my current scooter does not do that! In fact, the kick start was so effortless, I did not miss an electric starter at all. Dr Phatak was gracious enough to let me ride it, so off we went, Abhay on the Ola and me on the Priya.

Starting off, it feels like revisiting my pre-college days when I would sneak out on my dad’s Bajaj Cub scooter. The spring seat has me seated high while the low set handlebar has me crouch a bit. My right leg sits on the central hump on the floorboard for better reach to the floor mounted brake. I twist my left wrist up to shift to first and gingerly balance the clutch and throttle for a smooth getaway. At signals, keeping it from stalling is an art due to two-stroke motor’s erratic idling. I had fun, having Abhay think I stalled it before proverbially bringing it back from the dead. On open roads Abhay would zip away on the Ola, but I didn’t mind. There is no point in trying to win races with the Priya. I’m pretty sure its 150cc two-stroke motor with its three-speed gearbox was quick in its heydays but now it ambles along leisurely leaving a trail of blue smoke and I am actually liking that! It teaches you to be patient in today’s fast paced world where everyone seems to be in a hurry. Oddly though, no one seems to honk at me despite my slow pace. In fact, I’m turning heads and everyone is breaking into a smile looking at the scooter, giving me a thumbs up! I also wonder if they are jealous of this bloke riding away in total abandon, with nowhere to get to in a hurry.

As we park the scooters I can not help but notice how the Priya and Ola could be the opening and end covers of a book on the progression of Indian scooters. Like the tiny watch-dial like speedometer which has evolved through decades into the S1’s large and bright colour TFT display which can be customised with the latest MoveOS update. The screen has a keypad to unlock the scooter and displays navigation besides allowing you to control music on the go. The 45-year old Priya has a few tricks up its sleeve too. Like a small lockable storage area hidden in its left rear fender which also hides a toggle switch to disable the electricals, a theft deterrent. The Ola S1 Pro crosses several leagues with its geofencing features and sends alerts to your smartphone if anyone tampers with the scooter. It even tracks your scooter’s location via the dedicated app!

Scooters have gotten convenient as well. Tanking up the Priya needs more than just petrol. Its two-stroke motor demands a serving of 2T oil mixed in petrol to keep engine internals well-lubricated. In contrast, you simply plug the Ola into a wall charger like your smartphone and track the charge via your smartphone. 

There however are some areas where progress has taken a left turn. The Priya’s hand gear setup does leave little space for switches on the handlebar so the right switchgear is a hodge-podge of different styled buttons. In early scooters, these were not insulated either and I remember being treated to an electric shock in the monsoons, every time I tried to use the horn. While you do not suffer that ignominy with the Ola, its pushbutton switchgear is confusing as all buttons offer the same tactile feel.

Abhay could not resist the charm of the Priya either and took it for a spin. It is a comical scenario, the tiny scooter getting totally dwarfed by our large bodied Ed. To the scooter’s credit, it seems fine with the added heft and was in a way designed to carry large loads. I still remember my parents riding to the market every Thursday on our scooter and returning with a weekly supply of groceries covering every concievable inch of the scooter. Heck, people even rode long distances on their scooters back then and Doc tells us he’s ridden this one to Satara, over 100km away from Pune, with his wife as pillion!

Scooters have progressed to a different plane but it’s hard to match the charm emanating from the mechanical simplicity of the Priya. And I can’t help but be amazed by how it has survived decades of use and the love and nurturing it has received. Like they say, “if you take care of something, it will last forever.”

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