The streets may be sludgy, the pavements parched and cracked, every day presents a new obstacle course of human dominoes, carts and automotives. Yet everyday, over 10 million Mumbaikars take to the streets ready to navigate the same potholes and challenge themselves with the ultimate test of character—the commute. There are some, however, who need its catharsis more than others.
There’s something deeply and inarguably reserved about both Vishal Dadlani and Ashutosh Munshi. The former’s a name that’s become a force to reckon with - household-knowable - if labels are a must, and the latter a name many in the advertising world have interacted with at some point as an integral part of Edelman’s services. On a surface level, both seem instantly knowable, but if you push the envelope a little further you begin to see iterations of each that are difficult to reconcile with each other. Yet somehow, they do fit together like some sort of unlikely jigsaw puzzle—Vishal, the celebrity VS. Vishal, the artist or Ashu, the manager VS. Ashu, the dreamer.
For the Levi’s #commuter campaign we’ve been traversing over the past few weeks, we couldn’t think of a more perfect twosome to wrap up the series. Two well-built men with shaved heads and 400-kilo Harleys driving through the dead (and livelier) parts of a Mumbai night without stopping for anyone. Two men who seem to ride because it feels good and necessary, like a long stretch. Two men for whom commutes have little to do with actually going anywhere, and everything to do with the brief trysts with anonymity and solitude they get from it.
But even while they both look like nothing could hurt them, they’re incredibly particular (and responsible) about the lifestyle and particulars being a HOG involves. That includes the kind of apparel that makes the experience easier to slip right into with minimal fuss, and maximum focus on the actual ride itself. So whether it was the little reflective patch on the cuff of their #commuters (perfect for the dead of night that we found ourselves in) the incredible lightness of the jeans themselves or even that additional 6th pocket for secured storage, their new apparel worked out just right for them and we’ve got the frames to prove it.
We also caught up with the both riders to provide a little context for their biking story:
On the moment that sparked their biking love affair…
Vishal: “I started riding bikes in college. I think the first time I felt that addiction was when the Yamaha RX that I was on for the very first time bucked and threw me off. That was my moment. That was when I felt it. I had no control over that thing and I did an involuntary wheelie and came off the bike and landed on my ass. I felt like I had to get back on and do this. So I learned to ride. As a commuter, I didn’t have a bike in college. I stole rides off friends’ bikes constantly and that’s pretty much where I learned to ride.”
Ashutosh: “Having managed the market entry strategy and communications for Harley-Davidson in India (as part of Edelman) over the last six years, I have always felt an affinity towards this cult brand. I had always thought I’d learn to ride a motorcycle, and own one. But it didn’t actually happen for over five years of speaking the Harley language. I had sat pillion with other riders and loved being on a bike, but never rode one.
Last summer, I decided it was time to buy a Harley. Faced with the dilemma of not knowing how to ride one, I decided to buy a Royal Enfield to learn on since it’s got a similar configuration and comes closest when it comes to the weight ratio. A friend helped me start her up on a quiet street in Bandra. In about 10 minutes, I was off without a care in the world (besides a paranoia of rickshaws). That first ride is one I won’t forget. I spent the next few months ‘practising’ at 5am, till I was ready to take on the big, bad world of Bombay traffic. A few months later, I was the proud owner of a Harley-Davidson Fatboy Special. And from there, my passion for motorcycling has grown exponentially.”
On commutes vs. journeys…
“Basically, a commute is a shitty journey. But a journey, if done right, can be absolute and pure joy.”
Ashutosh: “We spend hours and days almost ostrich-like, in our careers and other duties. Writing business plans, worrying about our phone batteries, public opinion and the like. But when this is done, I can live life as I choose. March to my own drum. Riding my Harley is my magic carpet ride.”
On what sets Harleys apart…
“Frankly, I’m not a bike brand guy. I like this particular bike. I love Triumph just as much as I like Harley. I really want to ride the new Indian bikes which have come and check out what they are like too. I’ve ridden Royal Enfields all over Goa and been perfectly happy with it. It’s the joy of the journey and not the machine that gets me.”
Ashutosh: “Harley-Davidson isn’t just a motorcycle. It’s a lifestyle. A badge of brotherhood and an expression of individuality all at once. And I don’t mean the merchandise and tattoos. It’s more than just horsepower and you need more than just a fat wallet to own one. It’s a way of life. It has made me discipline myself. I organize my work and leisure around my ride. I wake up early on holidays. It has changed how I drive my car and how I treat bikers while I’m in a car too. I invest time (and money) on my bike – from polishing chrome to customizing every little part. The relationship for many is beyond comprehension. My motorcycle helps me rewrite who I am, away from all things familiar and mundane.”
On what makes a memorable ride…
“When I just got my Harley I rode to Pavna, which is ahead of Lonavala. Early in the morning, it was just…kind of magical. There was a light drizzle, the excitement of the new bike. It was perfect in every way and I’ll never forget that sunrise.”
Ashutosh: “I do a fair amount of weekend trips out of town. For the most part, these are mid-range rides that take half a day and cover about 400 km, travelling either to Maharashtra hill stations or towards Gujarat. Many of these are breakfast rides with my HOG group. We meet on a Sunday morning and go for a ride. It’s what we wait for, week after week. Other than that, it’s solo city rides late at night – at the end of a tiring day.”
On the specific thrill of being on a bike…
Vishal: “To be frank, for me, the love of riding comes from the pure sort of aloneness of it. It’s you and the bike and the sound of the bike. It’s almost like meditation. The wheels on the road and the engine, and it’s you in that space. It just ..it allows some peace of mind.”
On riding having the power to change someone...
Ashutosh: “Freedom is your state of mind. And when I’m out on the road, I truly feel free. Riding for me is not about utility. It’s leisure. It alters my state of mind, albeit temporarily. It allows me to think about myself. This is something we forget to do in our everyday lives. I once wrote about the ‘technological takeover’. When I’m riding, I couldn’t be bothered about my mobile phone. I switch it off and access it at the rest stops. I love my GoPro, but that’s because it allows me to document my journey and capture happy memories.”
On their apparel needs while riding…
“I think it’s really important to be sensible in India because the weather is so inclement sometimes. It can get really, really hot and if you are wearing proper riding gear, it can get really uncomfortable. Believability is the key. You need to have clothes that protect you. Nowhere else in the world do you have the kind of loose gravel that we have. Cars and trucks kick it up. It’s important to have a full-faced visor. It’s important to have full coverage, sleeves, legs. Personally, I wear shorts all day everyday, but when I am riding I prefer to wear jeans for the simple reason that the car in front of you throws sharp really small rocks at you. It’s a bit ridiculous but there it is.”
Ashutosh: “I have invested a lot of time and money on my riding gear. Comfort and safety don’t work in isolation of each other. There’s no point looking fashionable if it means you won’t survive a crash. So while it can get hot, I always have an ‘armoured’ jacket and helmet on. Comfortable jeans or trousers are my riding wardrobe essentials. Especially pockets with zippers in which you can store stuff for easy access. Breathable material is critical for city riding, because it gets really hot while stuck in a jam on an 1800 cc air-cooled motorcycle. Most of my riding jackets have a removable waterproof layer and pants that are all-weather are a great addition. I make it a point to try and find apparel and riding luggage that has some amount of reflective material, so that my bike and I are clearly visible while riding in the dark. Lastly, I’ve invested a variety of riding boots.”
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Photographer: Akshay Tambe