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. 🙂
In spite of a ‘swearing in’ ceremony, where I resolved to keep the Himalayan as stock as possible, I’ve let customisation instincts get better of me. So like the C5, I’ve gone ahead and pushed the Himalayan down the weight reduction path. Allow me to explain. 😊
Last month, my bro-in-law and me rode up to Horseley Hills. On this ride, I loaded the bike with a top box, Studds side cases, a back pack, a trail bag, my camera bag and saddle bag stays. Halfway into the ride, three things happened.
1. At speeds above 100 kph there was a jarring vibration from the front visor.
2. On rough tarmac, broken surfaces, the rear mount and top box, although packed to the brim, rattled a lot.
3. We pulled into a restaurant parking lot, where while navigating a speed bump, I forgot to downshift. The bike stalled, halfway over the bump. Within seconds, the bike tilted over, the weight was too much, and I had to let go. It took some effort, from both of us, to pull it up again.
I also wanted to understand how the bike fares, loaded up in this fashion, on a ride. My learning was, a top box is a no no. Side mounted saddle bags or panniers are much better. A loaded top box on a loaded bike, affects handling only ever so slightly, but never eases up the feeling that you are dragging more weight.
Sometime around last year, another nagging thought had got me questioning a statement made by Royal Enfield CEO- Siddharth Lal. “The Himalayan is designed to be your only bike”. If this were my only bike, what would qualify to make the quintessential ‘do it all machine’, without looking like a large kitted to the brim caravan on two wheels.
I wanted a no frills work horse. A pack mule that does the job. Convenient for commuting and adequate for short tours. I should always be confident about handling it’s fully loaded weight on any terrain. The bike should retain its core character, and its puppy dog friendliness. What was absolutely essential for this purpose had to stay. The rest had to go. So, on a DIY weekend after the Horseley Hills ride, I got down to removing bits and bobs, which I figured, had no real functional purpose whatsoever. Here’s a summary of what I did.
The visor– After two years of use, I’m still not entirely convinced that the screen/ visor on the Himalayan, has any real use. The screen is not adjustable on the fly. It affects road edge visibility when dirty, and in my case, is worse because it’s completely blacked out. At speeds where it’s supposed to deflect wind from the rider, it shakes like a leaf. As for the looking good part, I have a concept sketch from Pierre Terblanche, for the Ducati inspired fairing for the Himalayan. The current visor looks nothing like it. Hence, in my opinion does not do justice there either. Time to get rid of it permanently.
Rear luggage mount (carrier)- This might be harder to justify, as this is a very handy accessory on the bike, which comes factory fitted. I removed it for two reasons. Reason no 1, is an instance, where the rear mount broke under very nominal weight of the top box. (RE_issues ). It put a big question mark on the quality of this part.
Reason no 2 revolved around the need for putting in a replacement carrier. It so happened that in the interim that I replaced the broken carrier, I started liking the clean, unhindered look of the tail light assembly. I decided to keep with the look. Mounting something like a backpack on the rear seat was taken care of by saddle stays.
Front fender- with the screen gone and the rear carrier gone, the bike started looking more scrambler, less adventure tourer. Now the Himalayan has a beak like front fender, fixed below the number plate mount. Ride the bike for a couple of days and you realise that this fender is a purely aesthetic device, sans function. The front mudguard on the tyre does its job perfectly. So the fender had to go. A couple of instagram posts convinced me that the bike would still look good.
In the near future, the plan is to get rid of the entire headlight frame and assembly, which is independent of the handlebar and front suspension, and make it a true scrambler. Until then, I’ll be happy with its current avatar. 😊
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!
Shadowfax turned 6 (months) recently and just returned from second service. Family and work commitments had kept me busy through most of September-so when two small chances to ride came my way, they were grabbed without further ado and the horse reigned in, on each occasion.
The first one was a short, half day affair to the fishing camps of Bheemeshwari and Galibore. My riding group wanted to head to the river, park the bikes by the banks and just chill with no more on the agenda, so we set off on a sunny October morning. We could not hang out for long by the river however, as all of that region has recently come under the purview of the State forest department and with tusker presence growing in the area, you are only allowed to linger by the river for five minutes tops. Tusker and crocodile warnings notwithstanding, this beautiful stretch of road connecting the two camps along the river, is now only to be traversed if you have a stay reservation at Galibore. Way back in the day, on my very first ride with my C5, we had been able to ride along the river and take the bikes down to the waterline. I guess with these places now being a very popular weekend destination for Bangaloreans, it becomes necessary for the forest department to introduce these measures to preserve the unique biodiversity of this region. We did manage to explore some of the terrain around, amble through a reserve forest and kill a few hours when one of the bikes suffered a flat tyre.
The second opportunity came about in the form of a family trip to Mysore. While the rest of the family elected to drive, there was one seat short- and it was obvious what would happen next. I must say, this ride to Mysore and back was a revelation for me. I felt that while the Himalayan is great for day long escapades on roads and terrain like the ones in photos above, its absolutely incredible when it comes to touring long distance. Midway to Mysore, and I was in seventh heaven. I was holding speeds of 100/120 kmph constantly without any fatigue to my wrists or bum. Overtaking was a breeze and sticking to the fast lane seemed like a natural thing to do. 3000+ kms on the odo and the engine was running really smooth. Horse and rider reached the city with plenty of breath to spare.
These two rides did point out some deficiencies, however. I had been making do with a bent handlebar on the Himalayan, ever since a fall on a ride, some months ago. The Mysore ride made it evident that the handlebar needed replacing-I could feel the strain on one of my shoulders. The stock mirrors also showed their inadequacy on the highway. A bit of online trolling revealed that many Himalayan owners had changed their mirrors- with the Royal Enfield GT stock mirrors being a favourite. When the time came round for the second service, these two updates were on top of my list. Here’s how the bike fares now, looks-wise,with its new handlebar and GT mirrors. Next on the agenda, perhaps the performance exhaust. 🙂 But before that, a ride.
There was a time, many eons ago, when I began to develop a whole hearted interest in two wheels, that I first heard about the BMW R1150 GS Adventure. I chanced upon this image above, during those heady days of late night web surfing while at college, and it made a big impression on my senses. I was hooked on first sight and it signalled the start of a long standing love affair. The R1150 GS was the first true adventure tourer. It was built to serve that one purpose that few dreamed could be accomplished by a motorcycle- Go anywhere, anytime, off road, on road, across borders, over hills and desert, valleys and rivers. It was designed to cross continents. Suddenly no place on the map seemed too far. It was also designed to be your only bike.
Over the years, I followed the development of this segment of motorcycles closely. While the R1150 GS was eventually succeeded by the 1200 GS, other brands came out with similar purposeful machines- namely KTM, Triumph, Ducati and the Japanese manufacturers to name a few. Through it all the 1200 GS remained the undisputed champion of Adventure motorcycles, and with the kind of publicity garnered through various TV shows, books and movies, it also entered the hall of legends.
Unfortunately, legends come at a price. The bike has been selling here in India for more than a couple of years, but for me it remains a distant dream. A more affordable alternative, the Triumph Tiger 800, beckons as something I might want to lay my hands on in the near future. Until then, I have the Himalayan.
The Himalayan, with its humble origin, and spartan design and engineering has convinced me, in its own modest way, that I will probably never want to own another genre of motorcycle again. The Royal Enfield CEO, Siddharth Lal, had said at its launch that the Himalayan too, was designed to be your only motorcycle. He had meant to put this statement squarely in the Indian context, where unlike the West, owning a motorcycle, for many, is the first step towards eventually owning a car. Here, the practicality of the Himalayan, as a do it all bike-a good commuter, good tourer, off roader and decent luggage hauler, at a rock bottom price was to hold sway against all larger machines of such kind.
6 months of ownership has led to that rare insight, that his vision is coming true. The motorcycle does makes you realise that it is an extension of you. It takes me to work everyday, in reasonable comfort. Its tall seating and straight back ergonomics helps me pick out gaps in traffic over car rooftops. The luggage rack at the rear and the top box is a good stowaway for almost anything. Excellent ground clearance and suspension make short work of all potholes and broken roads. And a torquey engine makes it a great tool for carving through traffic. I’ve said as much, in other posts on this blog before.
What I haven’t elaborated on, is how this bike made me feel on this ride out to Mysore. I felt like a frontiersman, out to explore new land and bring home the bounty. My companion was my horse, in whom I had immense confidence. I felt sorry that the ride would be a couple of days at max, for here was a machine I could really ride for days on end. There came on slowly, a beautiful feeling of oneness. I was perched on the saddle of my trusted steed. There was a certain sure-footedness in the handling, the cornering, the braking and the acceleration. But most of all, there was this immense sense of comfort and companionship, when you sat high and dry on the saddle, wrist on the throttle, mile munching at 100kmph, with that gorgeous autumn sun beating on y0ur back and a smooth ribbon of tarmac stretching before you for miles. Man and machine know nothing better that can be called happiness.
I cannot understand this fetish Indian motorcycle manufacturers have! Why, oh why, do they have to insist on having an ugly piece of metal strapped to the side of a perfectly proportioned motorcycle? I can’t understand its practicality, nor do I see how it achieves its purpose. How many times have you actually seen a lady in a saree strapped onto her hubby/boyfriend/ friend/ girlfriend astride something like a CBR Honda 250 R?? Lets face it, sensible women today do not wear a saree when riding pillion on a fast motorbike! And I ask this question- just whose sensibilities are the manufacturers aiming to please?
Some years ago, Hero Moto Corp has launched the Hero Impulse, a dashing (albeit only 150 cc) dual purpose machine. I skim through some reviews until I come to one which has some decent photos of the motorcycle. What’s the first thing I notice? Gosh, they’ve done it again! Like some rudimentary appendage that refuses to come off, the saree guard hangs on to the motorcycle’s side for dear life, a full two feet above the ground! So I suppose, when you plan a ride from Delhi to Leh to test what this machine can do, you would have a real test in the making. This would include getting a saree clad lass, feet rested solely on yours beloved saree guard, clinging on to your back through all of the journey. She would’nt get too exhausted though, she would have the ‘manly’ saree guard to thank for it! Ditto, with my new machine- an adventure tourer from Royal Enfield- the Himalayan. With 180mm of rear suspension travel and 220mm of ground clearance, the last thing I’d expect to transport on this machine is a pillion not wearing riding gear. But government regulations dictate that this purpose built, all terrain motorcycle also come shod with a saree guard, if nothing else! I also read somewhere that in my neighbouring state you cannot register the bike without the crash guard installed on the bike. I mean come on- these things (crash guards) often do more damage than good. But then that’s a rant for another day.
Folks, get a life. Discard that atrocious saree guard. Get your moto to breathe. Admire its cute butt without a merciless appendage. Listen to the call of the open road. Manufacturers, give us an option. We don’t want to pay for an accessory we do not need. Give us smart luggage panniers instead.
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’.