Monday, April 4, 2011

100th post special. Interview: Akshai Varde of Vardenchi Customs

For Helmet Stories 100th post we bring you Akshai Varde of Vardenchi Customs who has been building custom bikes since 2005. We caught up with him to find out what makes him tick and also ended up talking to him about some custom parts for our bikes. (Sigh... we just cant help our selves)

Who are you?
My name is Akshai Varde and I am a custom chopper designer, producer, manufacturer and enthusiast.

When did you get interested in bikes? and what was the first bike you ever owned/rode?
 I’ve been interested in bikes for as long as I remember. I don't remember anything that interested me as much as two wheels....put together of course.
My first cycle (tricycle): age 18 months
My first bicycle (with training wheels): age 24 months
My first BMX: age 12
My first racer cycle: age 14
My first motorcycle (RD 350) : age 16
Now when you have a RD 350 at the age of 16, you are king. Riding it to St Xavier's college early in the morning was a feeling I will never forget. That was my entry into the big, bad world of motorcycling.

What prompted you to build your first bike
After 30-odd months of doing " Tea/Coffee" and "Veg/Non Veg" (cabin crew lingo) I needed a miracle to bring me out of my rut. Dont get me wrong, I had lot of respect for my job, where else would a 23-year-old earn 25 G's a month and be chauffeur-driven to work and back. Plus I was doing alright, being one of the youngest flight supervisors at the time and being appreciated for the blood and sweat I was putting in. (I  once cut my finger once pulling a food cart out). The miracle came in the sweetest forms. My bike, my Love!
I bought my second hand royal enfield for Rs 14,000, barely managed to get the parts and money together to restore her and that was a sweet job in itself. It was not a full-blown job some basic paint job, chrome and custom bars that I thought were pretty awesome at the time - today I would be worried to hold it in my hands. I played a bit with the seats and the styling, with my close to zero skills in any thing automotive. This machine was now a nicely done Royal Enfield with a decent amount of individuality, and I got my fair share of looks and high fives.
I thought I was the man.
One day I went to watch a movie at the local cineplex. I rode down into the basement parking, revving the engine slightly as usual, causing the entire basement to thunder softly. Found a nice parking spot next to a stock Royal Enfield imagining the face of the owner, when he would come back from his movie to see my nice, shiny, custom deep red, all chrome Royal Enfield with a home-made custom handlebars and seats. I came back all smug, only to find a different motorcycle standing there.... a full-blown customized motorcycle... and what a job it was!!!  Shattered is a mild way to put what I was feeling. It was a far better chrome job, far better paint job, a mother of a handle, shapely tank and other sheet metal parts, and a finish far better than I could imagine. Standing right there in that parking lot in the August of 2005, I swore with every thing honest inside me that I would build my bike bigger, better and wilder than any other custom motorcycle India was ever to see.
So for the next six months of my life were hell. Six months of running pillar to post, with 20-hour work days, pleading and begging, cursing and yelling, frustration of every kind and in every intensity, all of it.....to create my own custom chopper. The first of its kind in India. That’s how Akshai Varde the Flight Supervisor turned into Akshai Varde the custom Chopper Builder.

Who are your influences? 
Roger Bourget. Though he's not a widely known chopper builder in the US, his was one of the first bikes I had seen in a magazine when I first got interested in customization. 
Roger Bourget from www.bourgets.com
I am influenced by Arlen Ness who is known as the father of the chopper movement in the US mostly because I visited his factory in Hayward, San Francisco and fell in love with his work.
Arlen Ness the Godfather of Choppers
Other than that I am inspired by all the art I see around me on a daily basis even some work done by Indian artists inspires me to create.

What is your favorite production bike?
That's a tough one. I would have to go with the Confederate Hellcat. Though it is custom production.
The Confederate Hellcat one hell of a bike. We would kill to own one.
What is your favorite bike you built?
I love all my bikes. The excitement of making someone’s dream bike into a road reality is enough to fall in love with her every step of the way.  From brainstorming to building to delivery, she’s got me whipped all along the way.  While she’s in my shop, she’s my favourite, but just like in a relationship - once I deliver her, I’m ready for the next challenge. However, the VEDIC has developed into a Vardenchi icon as she truly is a unique beauty and has found many admirers.
The Vedic is the Verdenchi's most admired and famous custom bike.




What do you do for fun?
For the last years developing Vardenchi has been my life.  Indulging in my passion is an amazing feeling and there is always so much more to learn.  I have fun dreaming up the next move.  We’re hoping to expand into body kits for Pulsars and Fazers and to eventually launch our very own Vardenchi V-Twin motorcycle brand.

What bike would you like to see in India?
The Confederate.

What is the worst bike ever according to you?
There is no such thing

Functionality vs Bling?
Blend. Functionality is essential in India, but bling should never be undermined.  All Vardenchi creations are built to both last and inspire. We make sure that your engine maintains its reliability and work on making the ride as comfortable as possible. We love taking our fleet out on rides beyond the city, gives you the opportunity to truly enjoy the beauty of riding. As far as bling goes, well we aren’t building these amazing masterpieces to keep them quiet... you will know a Vardenchi when you see one.

What is your favorite road to ride on?
There are many roads that people love to ride on for various reasons. I enjoyed riding on Highway 101 and the road to Sausalito in California. But when I need a joyride to set me free in a short distance I go riding on the old Mumbai-Pune highway.
U.S. Highway 101, Oregon Coast:  Astoria to Brookings

How does one get in touch with you? 
If you’re interested checking out our bikes or taking them for a test ride contact your nearest dealer. We have branches in Mumbai, Pune and Goa- with hopes of expanding into Kolhapur and Bangalore. If you live outside of these cities you are always welcome to visit our workshop or contact Nathalia Castella or check out our site.

Scenes from Vardenchi's workshop in Mumbai
How long does a build usually take ?
We offer 3 types of customization:
TYPE I: Revamp Kits, in a variety of styles... maintain the chassis and don’t have to send your bike in for a complete custom look.  We design, create and package the kit in 3-4 weeks.
TYPE II and III: Full deviations from your stock bike giving you that Custom Chopper Look and Feel. This requires you to send your bike in for assembly.  These builds take 8-10 weeks from when we receive your bike.

How many bikes have you built till date? 
We’ve built over a hundred bikes.  Lost count along the way, but if I really took some time I’m sure I could tell you each and every build since we opened our doors 5 years ago... but these days I prefer to remember the feeling they left me with.

Whats the future like for Vardenchi Customs? 
We are currently working on a number of projects. Hoping to expand our Chop Shop sales locations across the country in the form of dealerships, and we’ve already launched in Pune, Mumbai and Goa. We hope to grow to 10 locations by the end of the year.
We are also working on a new product launch for Pulsars and Fazers, offering Monster Body Kits for both.  We hope to bring Vardenchi to the sports and speed enthusiasts in the upcoming months.
Our ultimate dream though, is to launch our very own Custom Vardenchi V-Twin Brand of Motorcycles- the first in India!!!
All the projects are in the works and the buzz around them is big!  When I look at it now, I can totally envision all of this, but when I put myself back into 5 years ago, I truly had no idea that I would end up here.  Everyday I'm thankful for the incredible adventure my life has taken me on.

We hear you are working on bolt-on kits where can we get our hands on those from?
We have already launched our revamp kits for Royal Enfield and offer them in a variety of styles.  Check out your local dealer or our bolt-on kits section on our website. But don’t get thrown off by the term kit, these are full-on custom bikes that fully customize all elements of your bike excluding the engine and the chassis.  We classify these as
TYPE I Customizations as they replace all of the following components; wheels, tires (from stock 90mm to 140mm!), signature Vardenchi handlebars, hand grips and foot controls.  Custom welded tank, front and rear fenders.  Custom stylized seats, tool box, carburettor cover and our signature Vardenchi number plate housing available in side and rear mounts.
After the success of our Fazer Customization for Disney’s Tron we knew we had to develop kits for the Pulsars and Fazers of India.  The product will launch in the upcoming months, so be sure to keep an eye on our blog, website and fanpage for updates.  You can even check out the Tron build at our Mumbai dealership!


Harleyesque, but neat Royal Enfield bolt-on kits from Vardenchi .
How much does a Verdanchi Custom motorcycle cost?
TYPE I: Rs 50,000-1.3 lakh
TYPE II: Rs 2.2 lakh (most type III can be altered to fit the type II category)
TYPE III: Rs 3.2- 3.5 lakh  (most of our choppers featured on our website are TYPE III)
 Differences between TYPE II and TYPE III:
-       170mm rear vs. 200mm rear
-       Box Swing Arm vs single sided swing arm
-       Chain Drive vs Exposed Belt Drive

What is the latest bike you are working on?
We’re currently working on a Harley Davidson Sportster and a build for a guy from the Maldives, hooking him up with 300mm rear tires and full mag wheels.  This will be our first 300mm fitting and we are kicked to see how it looks. For the last years we’ve been working with 200mm, but have started importing 300s from America due to popular demand.  Shipment should arrive any day...excited to see these mad wheels!

We leave you with some Vardanchi Customs from over the years.