Last year, I drove on a very scenic route between my hometowns of Ranchi and Jamshedpur. I marvelled at newly laid roads and natural beauty en-route -see blog post motorcyling country
I vowed to return and explore the region on a motorcycle. This Diwali break, I teamed up with my cousin and uncle, both proud owners of the Triumph Bonneville Street Twin, and went off on a fantastic spree through beautiful heartland. My uncle, who owns a veritable stable of motorcycles and cars, had a spare bike at hand- one lovingly maintained, 6 year old, Honda CBR 250R. I happily agreed to use this ride, though I had my eyes set on the Twins. 🙂 We planned to head for Patratu Valley, supposed to be a motorcyclist’s dream, with the best set of twisties this side of the country. Our circuit for the day covered about 150kms- beyond the Valley, there were some nice reservoirs and forests to be explored.
We set off at about 7:30am from my uncle’s place, with the day dawning bright and sunny. Heading out of the city we encountered light traffic and were near the start of the valley in less than an hour. The first few kilometres into the valley are all about wide sweeping curves with very gentle gradient.
At the start of the famous twisties, we stopped for a breather to take in panoramic views of woodlands and Patratu Reservoir. With this becoming the new hotspot in the state, the area gets its fair share of tourists. Luckily most of them were still waking up at this hour, and we found the generally crowded spot devoid of shutter-mongers. We did however, find a romancing couple, cat-walking on the highway, posing for cameras of a professional crew. Apparently this latest trend in pre-wedding shoots, is big business in the state.
Later, we made a slow descent, stopping now and then to take in incredible vistas, that unfolded, with each bend of the road.
We had a long, leisurely breakfast at a roadside dhaba, near Patratu town. Egg bhurji, Plain rotis and aloo bhujia. A welcome change from the traditional fare of idli vada/ dosa down South. After breakfast, my cousin very generously traded his Street Twin for the CBR. I am seriously impressed with the motorcycle- but will go into detailed review in another post. We skipped the dam visit, as there was some construction activity near the entrance and a pile of tourist buses. From here the roads to and beyond Ramgarh, were a combination of two and four lanes with very good surface.
Well surfaced roads…
are a delight to ride on…
and a joy to capture.
Ramgarh town is an urban horror. Riding in straight and fast from these immaculate roads, we were soon in a quagmire of honking buses, bullock carts, bicycle rickshaws, wayward pedestrians, stray cattle and everything else a busy small town in India can throw at you. The roads in town are nothing to write home about it either. The upside though, was piloting the Street Twin through this mess. The bike is so easy to ride and handle, its hard to believe its a 900cc parallel twin. Of all the larger bikes I have ridden, this felt the friendliest and most accessible. The Royal Enfield Interceptor, may hold a lot of promise on the question of accessibility, but I will ride it to believe it. Until then I’m sold on the Bonnie. 🙂
Few miles after Ramgarh, near a settlement called Gola, we stopped for a cuppa at a dhaba aspiring to be a resort. Over tea we decided to check out Getalsud Dam and Reservoir nearby. Now the dam is an okay visit at best. However the road leading to the reservoir is a gem. Cutting straight through a large swathe of Sal trees, this road is spectacular- check out the photos.
Towards late noon- after a brief wander into the sal forest, we started for home. Lunch was a longer affair, complicated by the need to chase, capture, dress, cook and serve a free roaming country chicken (Or so the dhaba staff claimed). We called it a day at my uncle’s moto stable, piping hot tea in our hands, exchanging motorcycle tales, and making plans for the next ride.
Got myself a brand new Bell Qualifyer helmet. Wifey and me just fell in love with the retro themed stripes. Already appreciating some of the finer detailing compared to the outgoing MT Axis, I have used for more than 2 years. Will poke in a review soon!
You know, how sometimes, a certain tool or machine or even a personal item, feels so much a part of your life, because its been around forever? Tried, tested and weathered over time, this object of affection has an enduring significance that’s part and parcel of your being? Well oddly enough, for me, one of these objects is a pair of utilitarian motorcycle luggage boxes.
The Studds Vault, is an unchanged design dating possibly back to 2002. I first used these on my Kawasaki Caliber Croma motorbike, way back in 2004. In those days, all I had was a helmet, a pair of gloves and a backpack, in the name of riding gear. So these proved ideal for short weekend getaways. They were great for regular office days as well- I could stow away a fair sized water bottle and lunch box. Capable of taking on rigours of daily use- the simple construction and robust detailing made them road worthy for many years.
I got hooked onto motorcycling and long rides on my Kawasaki Croma- tripping around North India in the first few years of my professional life. The boxes were the perfect setup for hauling my meagre belongings. The photo above was of a day outing from Shimla to Hatu Peak beyond Narkanda, where on a shepherd’s trail, we got stuck because of melting snow.
My first machine after my return to India in 2010, was an Avenger 220. Intending to make this little cruiser little more functional, I stalked stores on JC road in Bangalore, until I was able to set up the bike like this. These were a good fit on the bike, along with the Givi top box. The machine got its fair share of attention, and I could pack enough for a two to three day tour.
So when the time came to consider some serious hard luggage for the Himalayan, I did not immediately think of the Studds Vault, as an option. After all, this is 2017. The Indian motorcycling scene has exploded. Almost every major manufacturer has the top of its product line selling here- from adventure tourers to sport tourers to cruisers. There’s no dearth of premium luggage options as well. The RE branded panniers for the Himalayan are expensive, German made, sturdy aluminium hard case ‘swallow it all’.
But I needed something smaller to cope with the monsoons. The Via Terra tail bag gets wet in a downpour. The Givi Top Box had been given away. I wanted luggage that could stay on the bike permanently, whether I’m touring or commuting. It should hold everything I carry on my regular commute, and supplement saddle bags and carrier tailbags when I’m on tour. Scrolling through my biking archives I came across the above photos. And remembered a pair of old friends.
More information on the product can be found here:
Some days after the incident with the rear carrier, a new issue reared its head. I first noticed it, a month ago, as a sudden drop in power, especially if I had to overtake someone/ something in a hurry. Revving the throttle with the clutch half pressed, generally sorted the issue- but there was a slight lag in the throttle response. In the days to follow, this lag became more pronounced. Initially I thought this was to do with a particular gear or speed that the bike was at, I later realised this occurred just when I had to cross 3000 Rpm on the tacho. I dilly dallied on getting the bike checked, as work and weekends were quite hectic. One morning, while climbing a flyover on Ring Road, I was also trying to overtake a cab. Revving the bike, to clear the 3000 rpm hurdle quickly, I darted past the 60kph mark as the throttle found its response. I carved in between two more cabs and a bus and came out of a thin zone to see brake lights shining brightly, 10 metres ahead of me. Now all this possibly happened in a few seconds, with traffic all round me barreling down the flyover at about 50kph. I braked hard, stopped short of the car’s fender and as the car moved, gunned the throttle to stop someone rear ending me. It was then that I realised that the engine had died..!
The bike had not stalled. I braked and the engine died. This happened two more times in the following week. I decided then that I did not want any more life-affirming moments. An hour’s commute was turning into a dance with death! The time had come, for the machine to meet its…um, makers.
They kept the bike for a week. The guywhoknowsme, told me it will take time, that they will do a thorough check and resolve the issue. I went back after a week. And the bike was ready with three significant alterations.
The engine head assembly had been replaced
The oil cooler unit had been replaced
The carburettor had been replaced (culprit behind the power drop/ throttle lag).
The bike had been given some TLC otherwise and looked neat and clean.
Turns out that Royal Enfield is doing a silent REcall. I was told that certain chassis numbers had been identified for these critical parts updates within the warranty period. I was also told that post December 2016, all Himalayan’s are up to date and without issues. Good news then for prospective owners.
As for Shadowfax, well he is leaner, meaner, smoother and seems happier. I did not get a replacement for the carrier, but traded my GIVI box for a Viaterra Seaty tail-bag, which quite suits the bike. Don’t quite care for putting the carrier back on now, as the photos below will justify. 🙂
I have also installed a mobile charger (ChargePLUS from Resonate)- which I felt, was a big miss from the manufacturers on a bike like this. Lloyd from Bike Nation, HSR Layout was a big help here- he is one of the few who stock this great product and he replaced a faulty charger immediately and without any fuss. I have used the charger off and on while commuting- on my i-phone, the current seems to come in after a time lag of about 3-4 seconds but sure enough it charges continuously after that. The only thing I’m not a big fan of, is the lightning cable itself, which could have been slightly longer and better armoured. Otherwise, the rest of the product is very well engineered. More details here-
I rode the bike to-and-fro the workplace for a couple of days, after it came back from its makers. I had a hard time. You see, when you change half the engine, you are trying to run an engine with a multiple personality disorder. My understanding is that you have worn in, settled in parts and new parts which need to settle in. The initial few rides are best used to let the new parts settle in. Not so in crazy Bengaluru traffic! The bike heated up like an oven every 5 km, so I took one too many breaks watching traffic, breathing fumes and generally scrolling through the 5 apps on my phone like a zombie!
Which brings me to tomorrow. Sunday. I want to ride out. Out there in pure country, let the stallion run. Let it pace itself and find its rhythm. Let it come back refreshed and ready…to take me through next week’s grind!
On a ride out to Melukote, I experienced a first. They say that nothing ever quite prepares you for what you may encounter, when you ride a motorcycle in India. Well, I’m as Indian as the Indian next door, so I was inclined to believe, what ever Incredible India throws at me, I should be able to acknowledge, accept (as the Indian way of life) and move on. This one was a first though. It happened in a matter of seconds- I am passing some fields on my right and out of the corner of my eye, I see a flash of white- something whizzes past my visor, a fleeting glimpse of feathers, a faint scratch on my visor, a faraway shriek and its gone. I gather my senses and what’s left of my wits and manage to stop. I had missed being bird-hit. From a heron, by the looks of it…and by a whisker. Beat that. In all my years of riding motorcycles, I had not imagined a scenario like this. I mean pilots get bird hit man, not motorcyclists!
A friend recounts an even more bizarre story- he is on his daily commute, he is approaching a turn he goes through every day. As he leans into the corner, on this sparsely trafficked road, he sees a sheet of paper flying in a gust of wind, and its about to land in front of him. It’s a little late to alter his line of approach, and in a snapshot he thinks, its only a piece of paper. What happens next, I guess, should unfold in slow motion. The front wheel misses the paper by a margin, the paper touches ground, the rear wheel, slides over the sheet, which is now also sliding across the road surface- some strange science enables loss of traction, and the ride and the rider are sprawled in a heap. And I thought the worst damage a piece of paper could do was cut your finger!
It’s instances like these- the ones more out of the ordinary, that make me value riding gear. Over the years I have tried to develop the habit of using ‘all the gear all the time’. If I don’t have my helmet, gloves, boots and riding jacket on, I feel strangely inadequate- like I’ve stepped out of my house in a suit without wearing socks. A little touring experience and more than 12 years of commuting on two wheels has taught me one thing- 9 times out of 10, you have already hit the brakes, before you fall. You have either wholly avoided the obstacle, or have managed to stop while also hitting the obstacle. In both cases, a fall is mostly inevitable. It is at this moment, as you let go of your beloved machine, and brace yourself for impact, that riding gear stands up and takes the hit for you. My riding buddies are witness to some of my dead stop falls- as I am to theirs. In almost all cases, I have gotten up, brushed the dust off my armoured riding jacket and walked away. In one instance, not so long ago, I hurt my knee…and realised that was the last exposed part of my self that needed protection. Knee guards were bought the very next day.
Its also heartening to see that the world over, motorcycle safety and good riding practice gets promoted by manufacturers, governments and media in a big way nowadays. Many motorcycle clubs in India also encourage safe riding and refuse to admit new members who do not have proper gear. Quality riding gear is now more affordable than ever, and readily available through motorcycle stores in almost every corner of a city like Bangalore. I have also become a fan of Shubhrata Marmar, a motorcycle journalist and editor at Overdrive, whose insights into everyday motorcycling are a tremendous inspiration. It is good, honest advice, and although he hasn’t told me how to tackle a wayward heron yet, I’m sure its only a few issues away.
There are plenty of online sources from which to order gear- however, I would always suggest go to a store and try gear on before buying. Some folks, like the ones at Biking Spirit, are extremely knowledgeable and helpful when it comes to selecting gloves, jackets or helmets for yourself. Here’s some links to some good stores in the city-
This is the bike in its stock version. Factory fresh. Only change requested at the showroom- give me a single stay instead of that awful saree guard, any day.
First Tour with Pillion, circa March 2013
Front tyres changed to Ceat Secura Sport. Seats changed to Perfect seats (Mumbai)- for both rider and pillion. These are extremely comfortable. Yamaha RD350 handlebar with cross bar, made by Art of Motorcycles, Bangalore. Custom performance exhaust and heat wrap to exhaust pipe by Art of Motorcycles. Note the GIVI box mount and carrier. Removed that funny beak over the headlamp. My wife and me Coorg’ed for the first time in this avatar :).
Some more touring modifications, circa November 2013
For an extended ride to Ooty and beyond (with pillion) the C5 got a Ladakh carrier with the Givi mount and a large windshield for those friendly green bugs that come your way as dusk falls. The big change was to the rear tyre. Went in for a MRF on-off road button tyre with a huge sidewall. This increased ride comfort and ground clearance.
Scrambler- beginnings, circa February 2014
On the insistence of Junaid from Art of Motorcycles, the C5 went in for Cree Fog lamps and a wider, straight handlebar. The large screen, was replaced with a visor, which was fixed using an elaborate set of cast iron clamps. To date, I think that was the worst thing I ever did to the looks of the moto. Glad it was on for a short while.
Our breakfast runs with the group Ministry of Torque, were increasingly ending up in areas where we used to lose tarmac for a while. My constant conversations with the folks with AOM were also headed in the direction of weight reduction. The front lightweight mudguard was the first step towards a scrambler and to this day, I marvel at how sturdily its been built, and how well it defines the bike. I always felt that the stock mudguard was a bit to large for those skinny 90x90x19″ wheels.
Scramble tamble, ready to ramble, circa June 2014
My craving for a scrambler started getting better of me. Added to that was the need to reduce weight and start pushing the capabilities of the machine. So one fine weekend, out went the pillion seat, in came the GIVI mount, sans carrier. Also, at the insistence of friendly folks at AOM, the rear shock absorbers were replaced with those from the Hero Honda Karizma. The ride quality and feedback shot up a gazillion times. Took it out for a run on a dry lake bed off Mysore highway. Managed some drifting. Was all smiles.
Around this time, I discovered Bike Exif (http://www.bikeexif.com) and other custom motorcycle websites/ publications like Iron and Air (http://ironandair.com/throttle). Found the Tendance Roadster in one of those. And drooled. The C5 needed to lose more weight (and perhaps me too!). Family priorities took hold however, and the C5 ran in the above avatar for almost a year. I fell in love with the new rear shock absorbers. They could take on anything, really.
A ride with TEMC to Yelagiri let me test a small mod to the custom exhaust by AOM. Note the stubby cap at the end. This version of the exhaust is insane. The speeds uphill were scary and the tappets after, scarred. Will always remember Yelagiri for that Pikes Hill Climb like affair. I have since removed the exhaust and given it its rightful place of honour- on the mantlepiece. To be used on special occasions only!
Reduce Reduce Reduce! circa June 2015
On a rainy Sunday, one of the welded mounts on the bucket seat gave way and a tacky job at the local weld shop forced me to start looking for other options. I had been on the lookout for a good mechanic closer to my house, and found two at Iblur junction. The gents, Nizam and Javed, persuaded me to try the Thunderbird Twin Spark (TBTS) seat on the C5. I took their advice and rode with it for two days. The bucket seat kicked the bucket the very next day. 🙂
I also questioned the need for a rear mudguard. With the overhang of the new seat, which fits on the stock frame, surely one doesn’t need that weighty rear mudguard? I dreamed of generating 30 bhp at the crank, up from the stock 27 bhp, with that heavy, cumbersome rear end removed. One ride without the mudguard, however, told me all I needed to know about tyre tread patterns and their intimate relationship with slime and mud (slung in all directions). With a dirty backpack and a mud plastered helmet, I realised, I needed professionals on this job!
Short lived fantasy custom, September 2015
Enter Greasehouse Customs (http://indimotard.com/greasehouse-customs/) and this is what they created. Or rather, this is what they reduced the bike to. Out went the rear mudguard assembly and in came a beautifully crafted (and uncannily expensive) tail job with an imported parking light to complete the rear. I had bought Continental GT indicators as a replacement for my stock ones and they went on too. Some sticker-ing and a bit of re-painting and this one was good to go.
The big positive with this iteration, was the ride. Braking improved considerably- with so much less weight to handle, the bike displayed no signs of that legendary fishtailing on hard braking. Pushing the bike into corners and powering down straights was a delight. Acceleration was startling and every twist of the wrist promised a wheelie.
Unfortunately, good times only last so long. One balmy evening, as I was battling bumper to bumper traffic on the ORR, a lorry driver rear ended me. The beautiful ‘tail job’ almost snapped in two. I was heartbroken. The rear mudguard survived a few more weeks before developing a crack at the bend induced on impact. I also realised that the beautiful ‘tail job’ had not been structurally sound and had lacked requisite stiffeners essential to its function. So much for my dreams of featuring on Bike Exif. What next? I asked myself.
Quintessential motorcycle, circa December 2015
Four years on, as I post this, the bike is running like a dream, courtesy Javed, my friendly neighbourhood mechanic. I have managed to keep the bike as light as possible. The stock mudguard went in for a small customisation job. The beautiful tail lamp and the indicators were re-mounted, along with the GT number plate, and I installed a pair of stock mirrors from the Hero Honda Splendor. The stock tail lamp assembly along with the number plate and those bulky indicators, I realised, were a major weight adding element to the stock mudguard- weighing no less than 4 kgs by themselves. The Hero Honda mirrors, are just amazing. Not a stir in them, no vibes, no shaking- rock steady at all speeds. I found that they also complement the low, wide handlebar.
I am happy to keep running the bike in this avatar. Every morning, as I get ride ready for my work day, arguably the best part of my work day, I can’t help admire the simplicity and purposeful nature of the looks of the bike. It says ‘I’m your true moto, an extension of your own self. I am, the quintessential motorcycle. Nothing more shall you need’.