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Cramster: An entrepreneur's success story
Anand Sankar in New Delhi
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January 19, 2008
If you thought only sailors needed to know knots, well you haven't tried touring on a motorcycle yet. You'd better learn your knots if you plan to load all your belongings onto your bike and head out to write your own version of Motorcycle Diaries. But this is, of course, if you haven't heard of Cramster yet.

After enough fumbles with ropes and knots, and then grappling with bungee cord, I heard about Cramster. The promise seemed too good to be true -- designed by a biker for fellow bikers and, crucially, very affordable.

Cramster is not new. It's been around since 2003, when Keerthi Jayasimha, a young software engineer in Bangalore, decided to quit his job and try something new. A passionate tourer, he decided to make a bag for himself and then spied a very niche business opportunity there.

"I came across a lot of products online mainly retailing in the US, but they were very expensive and unavailable in India because nobody was importing them. It's a long story how I made a bag for myself but once I made it, I realised it was a business opportunity because motorcycle touring was a very popular emerging activity," recalls Jayasimha.

The first product, a bag, started out as a backpack but it soon was plain that that was not a concept that suited bikes. So the saddlebag it was, but no one had ever seen such a bag for motorcycles in Bangalore back then.

Manufacturers were not keen to try the concept because the volumes were not enough. So, the first prototype was fabricated by a tailor in "24 man-hours" at a grimy "sweatshop" in one of the market areas of Bangalore, using a paper cutout for reference.

The concept soon acquired a fanbase with orders trickling in, and then the name happened when "cram" and "-ster" from Napster were put together. "We had to made sure that he/she could carry everything except the kitchen sink wherever the bike went," Jayasimha explains the name.

The bag soon became popular in Bangalore and word about it started spreading to motorcycle clubs across the country in what Jayasimha calls was "gorilla marketing". Mechanics, motoring magazines and a growing number of bikers soon added their voice to the product.

There are now two versions of the saddlebag -- Stallion (for bikes with a straight exhaust) and Colt (for bikes with an upswept exhaust). Both are as rugged as they get, can be safely testified as surviving the worst a biker can do, and are priced at Rs 2,200 and Rs 2,100 respectively.

But Cramster today is not just about saddlebags. The product line has evolved to include the Turtle, a roomy tankbag which uses magnets that are said to leave not a "scratch" on your fuel tank. Priced at Rs 1,300, the Turtle now even features its own rain cover for waterproofing.

The real clincher, though, is the recently launched line of touring wear and motocross wear. Finding the right jacket for riding can be quite a bother, much less one with built-in safety features. Cramster's riding gear such as jackets, gloves and trousers, use Dupont's tough Cordura fabric and feature elbow, finger, knuckle and knee pads to cushion the small falls. There are even reflective visibility strips stitched on for night riding on all the gear.

The manufacture of Cramster gear is outsourced to a manufacturer who supplies some of the biggest international brands and Jayasimha wants to keep it a "trade secret".

"We got a headstart because they knew what to do. We gave our specs and got it done. The armour, as we call the protective padding, has a prelaminated shell, hard plastic outer and soft cushioning for the inner," says Jayasimha. The touring wear starts from about Rs 4,000 for the jackets and trousers, and gloves are priced below Rs 2,000.

The motocross gear, meanwhile, came about when Jayasimha saw a lot of garage racers getting hurt at the track because they could not afford safety gear other than a basic helmet.

So available now is a range that includes knee and shin pads, spine support, kidney protector and lower back support, body armour suit and custom-made, full-leather racing overalls. The prices of these start from about Rs 1,000.

"The racing gear is also imported. It is no-frills gear with no jazzy colours and branding. It is meant to save you expenses at the hospital," says Jayasimha.

He says his motto has been to stay "one step ahead with ideas". So here is something if you are not a tourer and just use your bike for the daily commute. Lapalace 3.0 is your laptop backpack priced at Rs 1,450 but with a nifty external removable helmet compartment for which the manufacturer is "contemplating a patent". Now that's smart.

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