Every once in a while, work, weather and pandemic permitting, my family likes to drive out of Bangalore, for a break in the wilds. In this post, I will talk about my family vehicle- a 2014 Renault Duster, which we’ve driven more than 50000kms over the last seven years.
At the time, I was happy with the ‘all I can afford’ base model, which seemed a significant step up from our outgoing Chevy Beat. It did not have much in terms of safety equipment and as we realised over time, was disappointingly basic on interior features. Today, it probably qualifies more as a ‘truck’ than the trailblazing off-roader that started the SUV revolution in India.
Still, I feel old Dusty has endearing characteristics that warrant its legendary status. It’s torquey diesel engine is pretty frugal when it comes to fuel consumption. Seven years on, the fabled ‘magic carpet’ ride quality endures. A decent mile muncher, its a pleasure to drive on the open highway. All round visibility in the vehicle is one of the best in its class. There is no raked window line, subduing occupants into car sickness. As a driver, I’m more confident piloting the Duster through narrow bylanes of Shivaji Nagar (an old neighbourhood in the city) than my wife’s little Honda hatchback. The car is a bit of a ‘carry it all’, like American station wagons of the 70’s- the boot space is surprisingly large! I’ve once transported a single bed in it, with the seats folded down, the boot half closed and a passenger beside me! The Duster is no fancy frilly, loaded to gills, gizmo flaunting Korean ‘softroader’. It’s a joy to drive off tarmac, with its 30 degree approach angle and 205mm ground clearance. It’s built tough and can take punishment. And because it handles dirt with aplomb, it WILL get you from Point A to Point B, wherever they may be.
We have roamed a fair bit of the South in our beloved family ‘truck’. Its always been a trustworthy, accommodating and fun vehicle to explore the outdoors. But with diesel phasing out and electric the way to go, I’ve been thinking of what’s next for good ol’ Dusty. Some days ago, I came across some Youtube videos which certify this car as a popular camper van conversion, especially in Europe, Russia and South America. And that is giving me exciting ideas for the long run!
Jharkhand. Loosely translated, this name means ‘Land of Forests’. The state has witnessed rapid infrastructure changes in the last few years. These changes are most evident in the smooth, well laid state highways connecting the districts. Add beautiful vistas of abundant forests, gushing waterfalls, rolling hills and winding rivers that these roads lead to, and it’s difficult to ignore this region as the perfect motorcycling destination!
One fine Sunday morning, in late October, my cousin and brother in law decided to explore some back roads around Ranchi. The weather had been glorious for the past few weeks, with warm, sunny days and starlit, chilly nights which heralded the onset of a cold winter.
I had an unusual ride for the day, borrowed from my uncle, who has an interesting collection of motorcycles. The maxi scooter themed Aprilia SXR160 is the latest entry into India’s burgeoning two wheeler market. It looks terrific and is a promising little runabout.
The route to the waterfall was through an idyllic country road that skirts the main highway and passes through some lovely villages. This route is best approached from the newly built Ring Road that bypasses the city and had little or no traffic. Not wanting to get left behind in the company of a Bonneville Street Twin and a Honda CBR250R, I was able to comfortably stick to 80kph, and the Aprilia seemed to promise more. Once we turned off the Ring Road, there was no real need to hurry, and we soaked in the scenery at a gentle, rambling pace.
It felt great to be outdoors on such a brilliant day, made better by the fact we were riding. The waterfall was spectacular and an absolute treat at the end of the ride. It’s a must visit, if you are ever in this neck of woods. At the parking lot to the falls, I did notice a cross-country rider from Kerala on his kitted up Himalayan. Led me to think this place was getting some traction on the motorcyling circuit after all…
Its a pity I only had a week off in Jharkand. This little sojourn was a glimpse of the many charming places the state has to offer. We made plans to regroup in a few months time and head out further inland. Back in NammaBengaluru, I get greeted by grey skies, pouring rain and generally gloomy weather as I step off the plane. The forecast is not friendly either, more rain to come…ah well, back to the grind!
In the midst of another lockdown to counter the deadly second wave, the humble Himalayan has turned five. I think back to all the negative attention the motorcycle garnered in its early days. Luckily, mine persevered and with a little help from Royal Enfield, we managed to overcome mechanical and quality issues. Five years on with some minor upgrades, it has remained a fun, endearing and purposeful motorcycle. Here’s to many more rides ahead!
It’s December, 2020 and here in India, scientists say, we have peaked the pandemic. We have learnt to live the ‘new normal’. Being cooped up, working from home, ordering groceries in and living the socially distanced life, takes physical and mental toll. Eventually we got fed up. We started venturing out, with due precautions, either for a drive to my sister’s place out of town or for a spin around the neighbourhood. I also started riding, mostly on Sundays, with a group of old friends from the workplace.
Motorcycling is a great way to maintain social distance. Inside my helmet, behind my mask, I’m in my own little world, away with thoughts, munching miles at 70 kph. I’m comfortably snug in my riding gear, the tall visor doing a great job of deflecting windblast. The big hearted Italian twin I’m riding is purring gently along the highway that connects Bangalore to the west coast. A slight twist of the throttle, catapults me to 168kph in a heartbeat. The torque on this engine, is enormous! And man, this stallion is fast, as is sure footed. I’m riding my friend’s Ducati Multistrada 950, while he’s trying hard to keep up on the bike I switched, a Honda CBR 250R. The little quarter litre single is smooth and can whack up a good pace, but its 26 horses are no match for the 113 raging stallions of the Italian. It’s such a beauty, this gleaming red firebird on wheels, and I can’t help but grin from ear to ear, everytime I feel the torque wave.
We are headed back to the city from an early morning ride to Belur Cross. Today was a good day, out here in the open, after many dull, housebound days. A long ride out in the country, was just what the doctor ordered. For once, I did not wake up to more depressing news, but was up at dawn with eagerness that befits a long awaited motorcycle ride. We have two friends on Ninja 650s, and another Ducati 950 Multistrada to keep us company.
At Belur cross we stop for coffee. I take the newer Ninja 650 for a quick spin. This is such an incredibly friendly bike. It puts you at ease immediately. The bike is extremely flickable, and I remember an earlier occasion where I rode comfortably through town in dense traffic, without breaking a sweat. The second big positive is the heat management- I never felt the engine heat near my legs. I would venture so far to say, that the cooling system is better than any other similar bike I’ve ridden. I prefer the bigger bike feel and touring friendliness of the older model – we had a 2013 model on the ride with us. This one with its single sided rear monoshock, taller windscreen and flamboyant green and black livery, is to my mind, a beautiful motorcycle. This would have also been a great bike to pick up as a second owner, had it come with ABS as standard. In this day and age, for a decently agile and fast sports tourer like this, it’s a big miss. The latest Ninja 650 has righted these wrongs, and is a delight to ride, but somehow is not as evocative as the previous model.
This breakfast ride in the company of larger bikes, and a subsequent one on which I rode my Himalayan to TM Hills, with the gang, got me thinking. While for the moment, the Himalayan is an answer to all my motorcycling needs, some time in the near future, I do aspire to add a larger hearted sibling to give it company. Which then, would be the second set of wheels I should start planning for?
When thinking about the another bike, I’m certain about this. The bike has to be a machine for everyday use. I know enough motorcyclists, who’ve spent big bucks to acquire their dream machine, but use it sparingly on weekends to avoid struggling in city snarls in the ever evolving traffic situation. The seasonal condition of our highways dictates the route chosen for these weekend outings as a straight run down the interstate to a coffee stop and a boring, straight run back. Head off the highway, onto smaller dirt roads, and the bikes start showing their limitations. If they’ve bought a large cruiser (read Harley Davidson), its a beast to handle. If they’ve bought a sports bike, it starts showing its delicate side. The suspension’s not up for it, and neither are your wrists or butt. Granted, my friends on their Multistradas would be grinning and gunning at this point. But they would be cautious too, as the trail gets tougher- the last thing they can afford is the thing ending up on its side. This is where I feel, the Himalayan has been a really good fit for me. Its a daily use bike. And it can take punishment without punishing your wallet. But it has its own limitations. On good roads, I need it to be generating upwards of 40 horsepower, which it woefully does’nt. And its fabled low end torque, is just not enough for a full fledged tour with pillion- as many folks have told me.
All this ruminating has got me convinced, what I really need is decent middle weight. A 500cc to 800cc twin cylinder motorcycle that does’nt weigh a ton. A bike that’s as easy to flick round a street corner, as round a bend in the trail. A motorcycle that has enough torque to carry rider, pillion and hard luggage all the way to Timbuktoo, at a decent clip. A bike I can improve my DIY skills on. A machine to look long and hard at, every time I come back from a ride. A machine to love more, every single day. A choice of wheels that does’nt warrant second thought for the tarkari run to the bazaar, or to a client meeting in Bangalore’s Central Business District. A vehicle that’s always preferable to my car.
It’s a tall ask. And these are trying times. However, 2020 has been the year of some promising new launches. And 2021 promises to be even more so. So I’ll keep adding to the brief. And hope that some day soon, in sunnier times, little Himalyan can ride out with a bro he can really look up to.
I can imagine how frustrating the current situation might be for an avid motorcyclist. Coronavirus has affected several countries around the world and the motorcycling fraternity in many of these countries would be raring to ride out at the slightest easing of restrictions.
Out here, for a good part of three months, I did not even look at the motorcycle. I stayed home, stayed put, stayed safe. Come June, with the lockdown lifted, I did roll the bike out. It needed a battery replacement, which got done. And on 16th June, we quietly accomplished 4 years of being together through thick and thin. To celebrate the occasion, I went for a quick highway run with my cousin, who also owns a four year old BS3 Himalayan. The short ride, gave us a chance to reflect on two things-
1. How much we had missed not riding
2. We were really among the last of the breed, with our BS3 Himalayans. With the success of the EFI Himalayan in the last couple of years you don’t see many of the older ones about. I felt lucky to have this simple forerunner of a machine. And it felt great to have it running so smooth and true four years on.
However, aside from this small outing, for most of the Lockdown, I consoled myself browsing through some of my favourite reads on the shelf.
Looking through them brought back nice memories of my own rides and good times with the bikes I’ve owned and ridden.
Here’s hoping that the world overcomes this crisis soon, and we find ourselves back on our machines, rolling happily into the new millennium.
A few weeks ago, I finally managed to lay hands on the last item required for build ideas I had for the Himalayan. 23500 kms and 3 years, 8 months in the making, I’m very happy with the way it has turned out. Almost everything added to the bike is a genuine Royal Enfield accessory. No cheap aftermarket bits and bobs here.
In my last post Essential Upgrades, I had talked about replacing the worn out stock seat with a Touring Seat. The Touring Seat took me more than 6 months to locate and buy. For some weird reason, Royal Enfield does not have online sales for bike accessories. And this one is a best seller that almost every dealership runs quickly out of.
For more than a year, I ran the bike without any kind of wind protection. I was glad to get rid of the fiddly stock visor which had a serious buffeting issue at high speeds. However, I still felt the need for a smaller cowl or fly screen to complete the look of the bike.
A quick sketch on my iPad convinced me that a flyscreen might just do it. Got myself an Interceptor 650 flyscreen the next day. Had to convince my mates at Highlander, my friendly neighbourhood Moto workshop, to file and shape the mounting bracket. But other than that, it was an easy fit.
Here’s a summary of additions to the bike at 20000kms.
Upgraded the handle-bar to the Braced Handlebar Kit (Part no. 1990206). The handlebar weighs 20% less than the stock bar, is beautifully finished, and Made in Taiwan. From Royal Enfield Brand Showroom, BTM Layout, Bangalore.
Installed Bar-End Finisher Kits (Part No.1990220) for the same handlebar. From Royal Enfield Brand Showroom, BTM Layout, Bangalore.
BMC Lifetime Filter for the Himalayan- Sourced from Big Bear Customs, St. Marks Road, Bangalore.
Brake Reservoir protector from the Continental GT (535). (Available at most Service Centres)
Metzeler Tourance Next tyres- 90/90-21 to the front, 150/70- 17 to the rear. (Orion Motors, Koramangala)
Short Flyscreen from the Royal Enfield Interceptor 650, (Royal Enfield Brand Showroom, BTM Layout)
Royal Enfield Aluminium Panniers with mounts (Royal Enfield Brand Showroom, BTM Layout)
Royal Enfield Touring Seat for the Himalayan (Royal Enfield Brand Showroom, BTM Layout)
To know about other bits of DIY which shaped the bike, and my overall ownership experience, you can catch up here. If you are a Himalayan owner and have done some fiddling yourself, do drop me a line. 😊
“When in Bangalore”, I heard a wise man say, “pick a direction and ride. You’ll get somewhere nice!”.
The year gone by has been hectic for me, to say the least. Work was demanding, and so were some family commitments. I also did many road trips to Pondicherry, Coonoor, Coorg, Madurai and Kodaikanal, on four wheels. The upside was that I spent a lot of time with family and enjoyed driving my 5 year old Renault Duster, to these beautiful destinations. The downside was that I could not really go for a long ride on my Himalayan. What I did do, however, was discover more of the hinterland outside Bangalore and found some neat little spots.
Ganalu Waterfalls, Mandya
The sheer beauty and accessibility of these falls (you can get quite close to the water) is an awesome experience. Still off the mainstream tourist map, this place is a hidden gem. The falls are just 100kms from South Bangalore and great for a day’s ride.
While the falls were breathtaking, I found this lovely canal enroute even more enticing. It was the perfect spot to just park the bike and revel in the gentle flow of water, watch reeds waving in the wind and listen to birdsong.
This place is a little tricky to get to but extremely rewarding, once you have found it. Its barely 50kms from Bangalore and less than an hour away on a good day. You can access this one off Kanakpura Road. Google Maps tends to mislead on the final approach, as there’s a couple of waterbodies close by-and we were led to believe that these were the dam. So we asked the locals and they pointed us in the right direction.
The reservoir forms one edge of the Bannerghatta Wildlife Reserve and on a good day, you are likely to sight wildlife. An electric fence separates the village fields and runs along the bank highline to keep predators at bay. A great spot to spend moments in idyll and admire nature at its finest. The good thing about this place is that its not accessible by car. If you aren’t on a Himalayan, you probably cant access it by bike either. 🙂 So its very heartening to see the place only frequented by village folks who have kept it clean and beautiful.
Dandiganahalli Dam, Chikabalapura
If you own a Himalayan (or any other similar bike for that matter) and want to a ride to a place where you can generally thrash about, then this one is for you. While the Dandiganahalli Dam is a lovely destination by itself, its this dry lakebed enroute that caught our fancy. We had a ball scrambling and drifting on this lakebed, which was part slush, part grass, part gravel. Check footage here- Scramble by the lake!
The dam is best visited early morning, when the sun is just lighting up the waters and you have the whole place to yourself. There’s a fair bit of ‘beach’ area by the water where one can set up a small tent or have a picnic.
Nandi Hills Circuit, Nandi Hills
If you live in Bangalore and are into motorcycles, its a no brainer, you would have ridden to Nandi Hills. I used to do that quite often, about 5 years ago. Lately though, with the place receiving a whole lot more attention, with a whole lot more people living in Bangalore, going up and coming down can become an annoying affair- traffic snarls are common at the start of the climb and towards the narrow entry gates. On weekends and public holidays, this place is best avoided. A few months ago, we decided to chance it and see how the hills were faring. Once we turned off the airport highway, it was evident, we had not picked a good day. On a whim we continued past the turnoff to the climb and ended up doing a 20km loop around the base of Nandi Hills. This turned out to be a very nice road indeed. So next time you are in these neck of the woods and dont want to battle the sunrise crowd, head on round the hills- you might like it more.
In my Himalayan, 15000km Update. I had talked about upgrading to a good set of tyres as the stock tyres had worn out completely. After shortlisting various on/off road tyres, including the Pirelli MT60, which does duty on Himalayans sold outside India, I decided to run with Metzeler Tourance Next. The photos below, show how the bike looks with new shoes.
The tyres are significantly higher grade (being Metzelers) and therefore, significantly more expensive. But they are comparable to or cheaper than, the other options I looked at. I chose these tyres after a fair bit of research, for the following reasons:
In three years of use, I have not done any serious off-roading on the Himalayan. And I realise, that while any offroad trail which comes my way, when I’m on a ride is more than welcome, I’m not much into off-roading as a sport. Which meant that I required a good set of dual sport tyres that would be ideal for commuting and touring.
I wanted road focussed tyres that could handle dirt trails. Now the stock tyres are good on dirt and okay on road. Folks who are on their second set of stock tyres are bound to disagree with me, and a month or two ago, I would have sworn by the Ceats. However, since I’ve put on the Metzelers, two things have become crystal clear- a. The road grip is amazing- I feel much more confident entering and exiting corners now, and b. braking has improved tremendously.
Off road adventure tyres with knobbly treads have very poor mileage on road. Here the Metzelers stood out, with a lot of online reviews claiming a mileage of 15000 plus miles. This was one big deciding factor.
My second investment was the all aluminium box panniers from Royal Enfield. The panniers are sturdy, lockable and waterproof, with two years warranty. Mounting and removing them is a straightforward affair, and build quality is pretty decent. They add quite a lot of character to the bike. The bike looks purposeful and adventure ready. Here again, I researched luggage systems from Shad and Hepco and Becker, both of which offered hard plastic cases, but were on the expensive side. I went in for the Royal Enfield product as it was very good value for money, robust and simple to use.
I’ll pop in a review soon, about these upgrades, once I’ve headed out on a long ride. In the meantime, I’ve been commuting. And the panniers are an absolute blessing. Earlier, I’d spend at least 10 to15 minutes daily, strapping my laptop bag on and taking it off the bike; now, its a 30 second affair. The panniers swallow everything. And keep stuff snug and dry. ‘Fill it, shut it, forget it’, is what I say. 🙂