There is no doubt that cricket is king in India. Then there is football. And hockey. Tennis, badminton and boxing follow suit, and now there’s even a kabbadi league. Finally, at the far end of the spectrum is motorsports, with people like Narain Karthikeyan and Gaurav Gill keeping the flag flying.
But when you go from four wheels to two, the closet gets even barer. Is there any light at the end of the tunnel? Back in Mumbai, one man is hopeful that in the future, there will be an Indian rider in MotoGP. The man is 33-year-old Mudassar Khatri. Mudassar has been a regular on the track, participating in rallies and motocross events since his youth. Now he owns the Kawasaki Palm Beach dealership, so you could say that motorcycles and motorsports is something ingrained in his DNA.
Yet, this story is not about Mudassar, but rather, about Mohammed Raheesh Khatri. He is six years old, rides a Yamaha PW 80 and wants to be a MotoGP rider. He recently gained the distinction of being the youngest drag racer in the world when he went out with the big boys for the Valley Run 2015 in Aamby Valley. He is also the son of Mudassar Khatri.
Raheesh has come straight from school to the I-Land Racing Academy motocross track in Wadala, Mumbai. He looks and acts like any other school kid in his uniform, with his heavy bag of books. That is till the moment his Yamaha PW 80 is unloaded from the back of the Innova that has ferried him here.
Yes, it’s a small bike with a seat height of just 635mm or 25inches, yet it’s not a toy. The single-cylinder two-stroke engine displaces 79cc. Remember, a full-sized Hero Splendor displaces just 18cc more! It has a three-speed transmission with auto-clutch, so no clutch lever for a kid to deal with. It is one of the most popular children’s bikes across the world. And it’s not his only bike. He has a 16bhp Kawasaki KX65 that is one serious motocross machine tucked away in his father’s garage. And a KTM 85 is on its way.
The school uniform is quickly swapped for his more colourful motorcycling accoutrements. Suited up in his bodysuit, boots, gloves and helmet, Raheesh looks like a proper racer, albeit a miniature version. A blip of the throttle, the click of the shifter and the little Yamaha jets away with the now nostalgic symphony of a two-stroke engine hitting the redline.
There’s a jump ahead, Raheesh is on the pegs, his body braced for the landing as the wheels dangle in the air. Raheesh loves jumping his motorcycle since he says it gives him butterflies in his stomach. Next, a sharp turn. Foot out, leaned over as he powers out of the turn, you are left wondering if there really is a six-year-old under the helmet who has been riding for just under a year. This is a kid who loves watching motorsports on television and his heroes come from the world of racing. Grand Prix champion Marc Marquez, motocross and supercross champion Ryan Villopoto, motocross racer James Stewart Jr and, not to mention, our very own CS Santosh, are the names that roll off his tongue.
When you think of motorcycle racing in India, you think of a band of helmet-less hooligans ripping and weaving through city traffic, jumping red lights and putting all road users at risk. Yes, bike racing has a bad reputation in India. But you can see the first waves of change. You can now prove yourself on the track rather than on the road by participating in the one-make championships. Or hone your skills in riding schools like Indimotard, Apex Racing and California Superbike School. While India might have just three racing tracks, there are numerous motocross tracks dotting the country. And riding on dirt is something that every racer must go through. That’s why MotoGP racers frequently practice on dirt.
Since Raheesh’s six-year-old heart is set on MotoGP, his father knows that the journey to motorcycle racing’s highest pinnacle is going to be a long, exhausting and expensive campaign. But with professional racing teams like Mahindra and TVS entering the fray, he is hopeful of the future. Father and son are determined to do what it takes to unfurl the tri-colour in motorcycle racing’s highest echelon. The roadmap ahead includes participating in the Red Bull Rookies Cup and MotoGP’s Shell Advance Asia Talent Cup by the time Raheesh is 12 or 13. Two years later, Moto 3. And a MotoGP debut at 18!
Mohammed Raheesh Khatri, the first Indian on a MotoGP bike? All the best!
Can I make my kid a pro biker?
How can I get a motorcycle for my kid?
Unfortunately, these motorcycles for kids are not sold in India. You will have to import it.
How much will the bike cost?
Including import duty, budget for about Rs 5 lakh.
How much does racing gear cost?
Approximately Rs 20,000 for the helmet, Rs 30,000 for the body suit and Rs 15,000 for shoes.
Are these bikes road legal?
No. You can use these bikes only on private roads
Do we have motocross tracks in India?
Yes. Apart from the tracks in Delhi, Chennai and Coimbatore, there are motocross tracks in Mangalore, Nashik, Pune, Nagpur, Kolhapur, Bengaluru, Chennai
and Ahmedabad too.