Isn’t this how many stories start when someone tends to remember and narrate about something from the past, something that has been replaced, dethroned and driven to extinction by the latest?
This is the story of a certain two-wheeler, a scooter, which used to be the workhorse of many many families in the 1980s and through to the 1990s before one Japanese bike maker decided to reinvent the step-through vehicle. And especially, if you were born in the 80s, it is time to revisit those days when you stood up on the floorboard of your father’s scooter and were ridden to your favourite toy shop. Those were the favourite rides of the childhood, the ones we miss today and lost in some corner of the mind.
One particular scooter was highly influential in making this possible – Chetak. Named after the warhorse of the Hindu King Maharana Pratap Singh, Chetak was the most successful two-wheeler that Bajaj made from 1972 to 2006. However, Chetak achieved the highest success for as long as it had a 2-stroke engine.
Before Bajaj made Chetak, the company was selling Vespa scooters in India from 1960 till 1971. When Chetak was launched, its design was originally based on the Vespa Sprint and it remained so around 1980. After that, Bajaj made several changes in the styling but the overall resemblance remained same.
Chetak had a 145.45cc 2-stroke engine capable of producing 7.5 BHP at 5,500 RPM and 10.8 NM of torque at 3,500 RPM. It had 10-inch wheels and the front suspension was single-sided (similar to Vespa). It had drum brakes at both ends and over the time, the front wouldn’t work! People would mostly rely on the rear for all kinds of braking duties. Sensational!
We located this scooter through OLX (where else were we going to find it) and its owner Mr. Devi Puttay was quite helpful in letting us spend some time with it. We thank him for sparing his time to meet us.
As the 20th century came to a close, 2-stroke scooters and motorcycles had already begun to see their end, the Chetak was no exception and was soon relegated to a mere memory. In 2000, Honda introduced their gearless scooter Activa and changed the whole dynamics of the scooter market. It single-handedly picked up the scooter market and turned it into a key component of the two-wheeler segment in the country. Bajaj tried to come back with the 4-stroke Chetak 4S, but it didn’t even make half of the impact that the old Chetak had.
Bajaj understood it too well and stopped the production of the Chetak completely in 2006 as their motorcycle business was flourishing with the Pulsar brand.
During its heydays, Chetak’s biggest challenge came from LML when the company collaborated with Vespa (after it discontinued its partnership with Bajaj) to create and sell scooters as LML Vespa. Later, LML continued to compete against Bajaj with their NV lineup.
Nevertheless, Chetak remains one of the most memorable two-wheelers that were ever produced in India by an Indian company. Much before the Splendor and the Activa became household names, the Chetak was the most preferred choice for many people for day-to-day commuting, family travel and other daily chores.