Vijay Singh Ajairajpura: The Renegade Behind Rajputana Customs
Vijay Singh Ajairajpura: The Renegade Behind Rajputana Customs

Vijay Singh Ajairajpura is a unique intersection of royalty and a petrolhead. But that’s not what’s kept him going for 14 years to build and sustain India’s first biking customisation house. Rather it’s his contagious and unyielding passion to create and promote a wholesome motorcycling ecosystem in India, that’s made him a frontrunner in the space

If a man can tame a beast between his legs on a racetrack, it is bound to give him an immense air of arrogance over his cojones of steel. Vijay Singh Ajairajpura has clocked a blazing lap time of 1:56:763 at the Buddh International Circuit (BIC), that’s currently buzzing with MotoGP Bharat 2023, but also has no qualms in turning his automobile workshop into a home repair station at his family’s behest. “Somebody is using it to fix their trunk, someone for their cupboard. I’m like maan jaao yaar,” he says with a nonchalance that is uncharacteristic of men in this industry.  



I was first introduced to Rajputana Custom Motorcycles (RCM) by my 39-year-old brother. He’s settled with his wife and kid in Ahmedabad after topping nationwide competitive exams and buying his first house and car. But the childlike passion with which my brother described a custom RCM model adorned with leather handicraft and jewellery, reaffirmed that good-looking motorcycles can make even grown men go weak in their knees. 


RCM has been in the business of chopping up and customizing bikes for 14 years, during which they have built around 150 motorcycles. But that wasn’t it and the passion trickled down in the form of Singh’s ongoing commitment towards building this community. “In fact, this was a lunch conversation I was having with my father this afternoon,” which he tells me is a Sunday family tradition. “If your father isn’t your idol, you both are f*cked,” he says jokingly. He recollects the time when “John Da visited Chennai, where Akbar Ibrahim [the President of the Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India (FMSCI)] and other old-timers were racing motorcycles on an airstrip.” 



“John Da said ‘f*ck it, I don’t get any of this’ and headed back home to do motocross and rally because Rajasthan geographically has the right kind of terrain for it. They just took Jawas, Yezdis, Enfields, Rajdoots, and even scooters. They’d reinforce the swingarms, and the shock absorbers, raise the bike a little, put in knobby tyres, change the air filter, lighten the load—take off all the faltu ka taamjhaam—lights and indicators. They would do a good 200km to 300km stages every day.”  


Given that all of this happened between 1975-1990, Singh’s disdain for the current state of sports in the country seems fair. Like any true motorsport enthusiast, Singh too dreams of Indian representation at MotoGP. “Motorsports has been recognised as a sport only in 2015 in India. So hopefully, we’ll get some subsidies in the future to break the entry barrier in the sport. MotoGP will certainly help it gain some popularity, but a lot more needs to be done. Nobody starts racing at the BIC on a big bike directly. There needs to be a whole ecosystem of smaller, more accessible tracks,” he says. In fact, Singh himself is aiming to build a 2.5km long, 9-10m wide training track on the outskirts of Jaipur for motorcycles below 400cc. “It will be a really challenging track for people to master. You can expect all kinds of corners, negative camber, positive camber—fast, slow, medium— chicanes and all that jazz,” he tells me that he’s been referencing all the European track specs and technical regulations for the same.  



But building racetracks isn’t where his dream ends and that’s when you see the man behind the lap records. “Every year, we want to sponsor an underprivileged child, who’s been doing well, to take it up professionally. Humara toh time gaya, so this is going to be my retirement plan: That an Indian kid can show the Spaniards and Italians ki hum bhi kisi se kum nahi,” he says with optimism in his eyes and voice. 


Having built Rajputana Customs from scratch in 2009 and making it one of India’s pioneering custom shops, you’d imagine Singh carrying an inflatable ego the size of the bikes he rides. But his reluctance to take an iota of credit for the legacy proves why he’s motorcycling royalty. He doesn’t hide behind his capabilities or achievements, rather, you sense an immense pride in the community he has built that acts as a catalyst for the sport. One that can make even grown men like my brother, and me, admire not only the motorcycles Rajputana Customs builds but also the man who’s the driving force behind it.  


What was your first memory of racing at the BIC?  


Vijay Singh: At 26 or 27, after being back for three or four years and having run the shop, I said I’d like to buy a big bike. Mera ek bohot bada trip tha that I needed a powerful motorcycle. I pooled in half the money with my parents to buy the CBR 1000. I had ridden down to Delhi from Jaipur to get the bike serviced. It was so hot that the leather on my boots had disintegrated. A publication had coincidentally organised an open-track day at BIC. After getting my bike serviced, when I got on the track, I had no clue about vision, body posture or throttle control or any technical know-how. I am a bit of a gawaar, I am a villager. But I had an ear-to-ear grin. It felt like being inside the video game I had been playing for so long, like PS 500, you know. I remember, watching Rohit Giri, our instructor, passing me on the parabola and I couldn’t see the man under the bike. Thankfully, at the exit, he slowed down due to traffic. I tried to catch him and almost did, but I didn’t know where the track turned, and I crashed because I didn’t surrender to my mistake and slow down. I picked my bike up and finished the race, but I felt really privileged. Out of 1.3 billion people, only a few hundred or thousand get to use that track. So, I felt really lucky and privileged to be among them. 



How did Rajputana Customs come into existence?  


VS: It’s been only a couple of days since I realised that I hadn’t given one man his due in all these years. The guy who gave me the motorcycle and did the mechanicals, Shakurji. I might have mentioned that he was a mechanic, but he was actually my dad’s fabrication guy. He was a rally rider with JMC, which shows you that there was no elitism in the sport back in the day. Right from the blacksmith to his son, to a random guy on the street to blue-blooded royalty—everyone was riding motorcycles together. While I’ve talked about Shakurji very often, another person to whom I haven’t given his due was Kailashji. He was the one who sold the first motorcycle to my dad, which I eventually learnt to ride on. The first motorcycle I customised was the Original Gangster, based on a Royal Enfield UCE 350, with these two people. And that spurred me on to pursue this passion seriously and full-time.  


Who were some of your early inspirations at RCM?  


VS: Jesse Rooke, a bike builder based out of California was a big inspiration for me. In fact, I had the good fortune of talking to him, before he passed away recently. Jesse Rooke’s logo was a crown. I also do crowns but in my own way. In fact, the lines of these long, stretched-out beach cycles that he used to build, were the inspiration behind my first custom job—the original Gangster (OG).  


How did the idea of using indigenous handicrafts on motorcycles come about?  


VS: It was the perfect case of making the most out of a challenge. We didn’t have airbrushing or detailing artists, in the traditional sense of motorcycle design, but our people were skilled at detailing local goods like leather handicrafts, swords and shields and so on. The challenge was to get them to transition to motorcycle levers from these weapons and crafts as their medium.  


Will Rajputana Customs always be a ‘serious hobby’?  


VS: Always. Forever. I don’t want to f°cking standardise production or put down an assembly line. If someone complains about how long it is going to take to chop up and customise their motorcycles, I ask them not to send their motorcycle to us. I don’t need people’s money. I know what my boys are capable of designing. I know their worth, the efforts that they put in and how they’ve honed their skill over the years. We call the shots now, but it’s been a long road.  


What are your personal tastes and design philosophy like?  


VS: It’s the same when it comes to motorcycles and dressing. I prefer earthy colours, and I believe less is more, which is why you see minimal paint jobs. I have tried, and I don’t think I can do justice to a turquoise blue, or burnt orange or billabong colours, or even skulls and flames for that matter.  


You are now also spearheading your family’s business.  


VS: I got on board with Cottons after the lockdown, when, after paying full salaries to our employees during those two years, took a serious toll on the company. That’s when I decided to set up e-commerce for the business. In fact, the website, that was designed by my brother, Harsh, was the only Indian website in the top 10 of Wix’s Best Website Designs for the year 2020. Now I’ve taken over most of the business, except for design and production. I handle admin, HR, digital marketing, accounts and finance. I should be able to take over design and production in another year.


Even if not completely, I understand financial pressure from my experience with RCM. For me, the priority has always been the survival of the workshop. And that has helped me with Cottons too.



Are you concerned about the legalities around custom motorcycles?  


VS: By the book, it’s not allowed. But our country is pretty lawless when it comes to riding or driving on city streets. You’re not allowed to make so many changes to your motorcycle. And I’m not selling any false sense of security or giving my clients a legality certificate. If you want to ride it daily or only on the weekends, it’s your decision. My job is to build the motorcycle, for which I’m being compensated. None of our bikes have been impounded or scrapped, because even the cops stop to admire them. There are only a handful of bike builders in India anyway. I don’t remember the last time I saw a custom motorcycle on the road. So, there’s no concern or stress. It’s motorcycle customisation, for heaven’s sake. We don’t want any interference from the state in our work. Let us continue doing what we are doing peacefully. And that’s, in a way, the essence of the custom scene—to break the rules.  


What are some motorcycles you’re currently working on?  


VS: There are two. One is Prateik Babbar’s Harley Davidson Sportser S. He’s a little obsessed with Batman and wanted a Bat Bike. He has already gotten it painted matte black but the wheels and other cycle parts are still in stock. I have told him to restrict the skull design to his helmet and let me take care of the motorcycle. But he’s been a sport, we are going to go batshit crazy with it. The rear is a 360-section 18-inch tyre which is pretty common because everyone likes to slap on a fat rear tyre. But the front is going to be a first-of-its-kind—240-section 23-inch. It will take around six months to finish and you’re most welcome to check it out when it’s complete. Another one is an old Triumph, which had a really interesting brief. My client, who heads the sustainable buildings division at a leading real estate firm, wanted a motorcycle that would look like what a custom motorcycle in the ‘60s would have looked like. That was a very exciting brief for me to work on because the owner of the motorcycle is also very creative. And that should be ready in another week.  


When will we see Rajputana Customs on an international stage?  


VS: A lot of people close to me keep complaining about why I don’t showcase our boys’ craftsmanship on an international platform. Karenge. These two motorcycles seem like the perfect starting point.  


✍️: Kanaad Chatterjee


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