It had to happen, eventually. My tryst with RE’s quality issues. Nothing lasts forever, they say. If there are Royal Enfield haters out there who read my previous posts and have been gloating ever since- well, rejoice. Caught me out in the open, this one, I can only thank my stars that no one was hurt and that the mishap occurred twenty steps from home.
I used to run my bike with a set-up like this, with a GIVI top box mounted on the rear carrier. Now I’ve been running this set-up pretty much since I bought the bike (more than 6 months) and the only things I carry in the top-box are my macbook (13″) and a 1L water bottle. How much can that weigh , eh?
So one fine evening, on a regular commute from work to home, I hear some creaking sound from the bike, as I swing into my neighbourhood. Two streets later, something falls off and hits the road. I look back- the top box and carrier, are gone…(with my laptop!). At home I park the bike and inspect the damage (thankfully my laptop started up, safe inside its bag)- the carrier has sheared off at the point where the load transfer should be optimum. I also realise that this is made of some alloy, not proper steel. This is a serious issue- how does one take on the mighty Himalayas, if on an adventure bike, the luggage carrier falls off with the weight of a laptop!
Took the bike to my friendly neighbour hood service centre, and the ‘guywhoknowsme’ promised that the carrier will be replaced (and shouldn’t have failed!). Well, fingers crossed. Lets hope the replacement lives up to some expectations.
On the flip side, the bike has become a looker. With the carrier removed, the tail assembly and fat rear tyre catch the eye easily and the sleek silhouette of the bike looks more appealing…
Republic Day 2017, marked the beginning of rides for the year, with a short half day ride to Kolar and back. I was joined by my brother in law on a CBR 250R and my cousin on another Royal Enfield Himalayan.
The ride plan had been in the making for Kabini, with the idea of a wander round this beautiful body of water, as indicated in the map below. Now I’ve been to Kabini one too many times, but always in a car. On every visit, I have wanted to re-visit the place on a motorcycle. Unfortunately, the ride plan fizzled out as many of the riders in my riding group dropped out. We decided to make it a family affair, and head somewhere closer. Kabini, remains on the to-do list…for the next ride.
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.
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-
Thought I’d take the opportunity to talk about life with my two machines, while the joy of owning two motorcycles is still something I can call my own. That heart tugging decision to let the C5 go, has been taken, and I may have found a right nice guy who will take good care of it.
Perspective plays the strangest tricks. Couple of months ago, my entire riding interest and experience was focussed on the C5. Whether it was the daily commute to work or a weekend jaunt into the nearest woodland, the C5 was the centre of my appreciation, jeers, joys and disappointments. There were times when we were in absolute communion- man and machine in well timed harmony, that grunting British single on song. And then there were times, when you wondered just how you’d been tolerating this beast for 4 years- a broken clutch cable, a misfiring exhaust, lights not working, dead battery, pushing deadweight on a puncture, blown fuse, chain’s loose… you get the drift. And to top it all off- vibes. But then that’s the charm of this half litre royal singleton. And you get used to this dichotomy. Nothing is ever perfect for too long. And nothing bad lasts forever. I was once told -its not an ‘ownership’ with Royal Enfield, its a ‘relationship’. You get the good with the bad. And I got used to it.
In walks that horse of a motorcycle. From the Royal Enfield stable no less. Two days on the new machine and I realised that the level of sophistication on this brute was way past anything Royal Enfield has ever churned out before. First thing I notice- gone is that majestic thump. Second thing I notice- no vibes. None. This, clearly, is no ‘Bullet’. Nope, not even close. Now don’t get me wrong. I am no ‘Bullet’ worshipper. And I am no fan of that legendary ‘thump’. Nor do I believe that louder is better. In-fact I cannot understand folks who buy a Royal Enfield Bullet- Classic, Standard, T-bird, GT… whatever, and then fix that mega-phone exhaust to announce to the world that they have ‘arrived’. The roads would be much quieter without them, in my opinion, and the world, probably a better place. Besides, they kill their engines with those aftermarket boom boxes. I digress… Back to the Himalayan, then. On every commute, I am hard pressed to believe that I’m actually riding a thoroughly modern, bare bones moto that has been well engineered, and is capable of taking on almost anything you throw at it. There is an assurance of rock solid dependability on every ride, and from every department- the engine, the electronics, the suspension, the ergonomics, it all works! Surely, there’s been a mistake- how can this be a true Royal Enfield? Where is that endearing character? That promise of uncertainty? That lure of the unknown? It fails to show up. Repeatedly. I wouldn’t say that the machine is without niggles and issues- but most of them have been sorted out for me after the first service. And there’s character too- past the 600km mark on the odo, the exhaust now does some lovely pops and cackles when de-accelerating. There’s enough grunt to the throttle and once you are used to it, you realise, this is a refined traffic carver.
I remember my first extended ride on the Himalayan. On the second night of ownership, I have a CBR250R for company and we are headed to the Airport for a cuppa. The Himalayan is a breeze to ride at 70kph. Its easy riding with the CBR- two cool runners- I think, this is nearly up there with the super smooth Honda. There’s dazzling instrumentation in front of me- ‘all systems are a go’. Speed, heading, RPM, temperature, fuel, time, trip distance- there’s a host of details. I’m cruising. The engine, after a few days of running in, is slightly more rev happy, and I’m having a ball. And standing on pegs is so damn easy..!
Some days on, I feel a pang. Something’s calling me… a quiet pull at my shirtsleeves, while I’m looking away, all in awe of this newbie. I finally notice it one day- that hulk of old, shiny black metal. Standing solemn next to the white horse. Counting its days with me. Waiting…
Two weeks of riding the Himalayan, and that pang has gotten intense. I’m used to the Himalayan now, I tell myself. I know how that corner feels. I know what speed to tackle that speed breaker at. But I’m asking myself, how was it on the C5? Do I still remember? My hands are aching for the feel of those handlebars. That vibey assault on the senses. Those days of hard cornering. That instant feedback…that guttural thump!
I had been raring to take the newbie (Himalayan) out of the city and last weekend presented that opportunity. Three of us ‘weekend enthu cutlets‘ from the workplace decided to do our usual Sunday breakfast run. As the engine is still running in, I was keen to choose a slow, scenic route. A Facebook post by one of the bikers about a route to Jawalagiri Reserve Forest on the outskirts of Bangalore, had caught my attention- the road promised to be a divine little sojourn through a beautiful forest. WhatsApp invites were sent out, but as is often the case, everyone dropped out at the last minute, and we ended up like we always do- three messieurs always ready to ride.
An early morning start, and we were cruising down Hosur road by 5:30 am, for a quick run till the outskirts of Hosur. We turned off on the ring road circling Hosur- and at that point Google Mausi tells us it would be an hour till Jawalagiri village. Now if you want to ever do this circuit, be advised, the first one hour or so from Bangalore can get extremely boring- all we had was a four lane ring road, which dissolved into a two lane blacktop with bits of uneven tarmac. This is a fairly urbanised stretch with lots of factories on either side of the road. Some 30 minutes on this road and I was really beginning to not enjoy the scenery- here’s a biscuit factory, oh there’s a cement factory, there’s one that makes spare parts- in short, too many factories…and it was boring. We seemed to be cruising through the heartland of small scale manufacturing. And it was plain BORING! This wasn’t great, I told myself- not the best route for a breakfast ride!
And where was breakfast?? It was getting on to 7am, and I was hungry. We seemed to have left even the semi decent joints behind in Hosur. We reached Thally, a nondescript village with two cross-roads that seemed to signal the end of factories. We weren’t keen to stop here- and a passerby told us you could get a cup of tea further ahead. Now, part of the reason we had chosen this route was that we were under the impression that this same route leads to Hoggenakkal falls-a popular waterfall at a distance of 150 odd km from Bangalore. This route wasn’t the regular route to Hogennakkal however, and none of us knew how exactly one connects to the falls from Thally or Jawalagiri. The FB post photos seemed a bit hazy now- and we continued with some trepidation.
I was in the lead, and in the last stretch up to Thally, I had been riding fast, mainly because I wanted to not have to look at those dreadful factories around. I continued in the same manner past Thally, not expecting much. A few miles out of Thally, and the road changed. I was past a beautiful spot before I could see it- there was a lake, I noticed Deepak slowing down, but I was too focussed on the bend up ahead. I come around the bend and there’s a forest! Really? Where did those factories go? So from here on till Jawalagiri village, the road becomes more bearable. We stop at a village tea stall- and a lil birdie alights on OP’s bike. It’s a sparrow. Now, I haven’t seen many sparrows in the city- all you see are those nasty pigeons- with their nasty shite all over the place.
Further on, the road brightens up. We enter Jawalagiri forest. And inspite of a cloudy morning, the sight lifts us up. We stop for photos- I take the Himalayan into a field as the country opens up- more photos. This is turning out like one of our regular rides- not too bad, I think.
We are now headed towards Anchetty- from where, we are told, we can connect towards Hogennakkal. The road narrows down, and we pass through another village. We seem to be in rolling country now- and we are climbing-I see hills in the distance. Past the village, the road turns, and suddenly we come upon a gorgeous vista.
We are now in beautiful hinterland and we are not sure if we are headed in the right direction. It doesn’t matter- we are three mates, lost on a Sunday ride. Photo opportunities in this lovely, dale-ish country abound and we don’t miss them. This is what Sunday mornings should be about, I tell myself, take your moto, take your mates and get lost in the process of discovering the lie of the land. I have forgotten all about breakfast.
I can see that the others are loving this too. We are in the heart of motorcycling country. There’s nary a cart on the road-and at this hour in the morning, there’s not many souls about. There are three motorcycles traversing through gorgeous landscape. Perfect.
On almost every ride, you often come across what one would call ‘the spot’. It’s that definitive place you discover, one that captures the ride’s memory for days to come. On this ride, ‘the spot’ was a hidden gem. And it was somewhere midway between Jawalagiri and Anchetty. Go figure.
We finished the ride at Anchetty- had delicious dosa for breakfast and piping hot tea brewed in a copper vessel, before calling it a day. A minor fall on the way and a bent handlebar on my newbie, was the only lowdown on what was a brilliant ride and route. I was glad Shadowfax finally went in for a gallop, and what lovely woodlands it was able to roam!
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.
I have a new motorcycle. Out of what sums up as a passing interest for all things on two wheels, I have followed its development and launch with some enthusiasm. It became a bike on my near future wish list, but I was too much in love with my C5 to think of this newcomer as a certainty. Little did I know that it’d be coming my way soon, courtesy my beloved wife, who saw my passing interest more as a mad obsession, and one weekend, while driving past an RE showroom, decided to book one to get me out of my dilemma.
And that is how the 2016 Royal Enfield HIMALAYAN Snow came to be a part of my life. I have decided to call it Shadowfax, that lord of horses, for as my first ride impression will reveal, an iron horse it is. Two days on and here is a brief log.
Setting up the bike
After bringing the bike home yesterday, I spent a good deal of time prepping it, working well past midnight. From the C5 kit list, the RAM mount, the Givi top box with its mount and TBird 500 mirrors got added on. I’m not too happy with the mirrors, they manage to just about do the job and are better than the stock mirrors, which were completely useless. Need to replace these with the HH Splendor Mirrors like on the C5. The RAM mount of course, is the one indestructible equipment which is a must on this bike.
The bike looks more purposeful now with the addition of the Givi top box. It’s ride ready for my commuter runs to work everyday, especially with manic rains lashing Bangalore this year. For many (and the uninitiated), it may remind them of a pizza delivery box. 🙂 The nice thing though is that the huge mono shock and strong rear frame make light of the added weight of the top box and the ride quality is not affected at all. I have also removed that ugly contraption they call a ‘saree guard’. Here’s how the bike fares up front.
First Ride Impressions- In the City
I’ll admit, the only let down is the lack of torquey spread and instant acceleration I’m used to on my C5, especially in its lightweight avatar. That and the clunky gearbox- the gears might become a royal pain if they continue to be this way. Finding neutral isn’t easy, more so if I’m riding in first gear. The clutch is hard. I did have to down shift once too often last night while riding with pillion. Many new owners are struggling with the same questions, as internet surveys reveal. Some say that the gearbox issue gets sorted after the first service. So that’s good news.
That said, the engineering shines. The ride quality is a dream. The long travel suspension and way the bike is setup aids fantastic handling and corner carving; slicing through traffic and conquering potholes is just too damn easy. The brakes are good- the front brake effectiveness takes some getting used too- its a little slow on the bite, but both brakes when applied together, work really well. So far, contrary to some reports on the wide wide web, the engine noise on this machine is not a clatter. The throttle response is quick. And the power delivery is smooth and linear. I’m not a trigger happy sort of rider, and in the running period, I have no intention of gunning the throttle. But the way the bike responds when I have to do quick overtakes, tells me that the bike can really dart upto triple digit figures. Vibrations are more or less absent at lesser speeds, depending on the way you define vibrations. I certainly have not felt them in the footpegs or bar. There seems to be some on the tank when I clasp it with my legs, at high revs.
I love the way the motorcycle makes you feel completely at ease. There is a laid back, easy going lope to its stride, and a quiet assurance that highway miles will be munched in absolute comfort. Strap up, settle in and relax brother, it tells me- let me take you to the yonder blue mountain.