On Nice Road, did a dry run with the bikes ahead of our ride to Coorg. Testing the Go Pro Hero 3. Circa2013. Soundtrack: Asleep at the Wheel/ The Cinematics
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-
High and dry in the long hot day,
Lost and lonely, every way,
Flats all around, sky up above…
Yes I need a little water of love…
Dire Straits: Water of Love
The sky is the greatest distracter….
Imagine a clear, azure blue sky. A few flecks of cloud dust drifting, in the whereabouts of this empty vastness. Down below is the barren desert, flat and featureless except for an odd tree dotting the arid landscape. You are a weary traveller, tired from the long walk across this dry ocean. You pause, take a break. You look about, look up and notice the sky. The languorous, aimless journey of the clouds tempts the eye. Following their movement is like following time itself. It puts one in a sort of hypnotic trance until at last the mind bores itself of its silent reverie and focuses attention on objects closer to mother earth.
It picks out a naked tree. Its trunk sporting sleek, sinuous veins that snake up to the unfolding branches and reach out like long, slithering tentacles into the sky. Your focus reverts to the emptiness above. Somewhere below is the lonely tree trying to answer the call of this beyond. It is at this supreme moment then that you forget your long tiring journey ahead. The pressures of the material world from which you have run and remain suspended in time wondering… at all around you. The blue sky beckons, happily, loftily, away, unknown perhaps, to all the worries that plague you on mother earth.
The long lonely road to nowhere…
An oft used phrase, this one is so scintillating in the depth of its cry. There are them Harley Davidson angels, riding the breadth of the continent. They burn America’s interstates, the wind in their hair, the sun on their faces, the distant horizon calling them as it recedes further and further away. To a layman they are aimless drifters. They shape their lives on the highway with no known purpose or ambition. But sit around with one of them in one of them countless motels along the way and you will discover that they will describe the land better than any map or journal can.
Every creek along the way, every bend in the road is firmly etched in their minds. Life is a journey without an end. To stop is to decay. As Louis L’ Amour, the famed Wild West writer puts it, “When a man settles down, he stagnates and dies”.
Imagine then, this long lonely road to nowhere, snaking here between pine clad mountains or burning flat across the desert floor. Every where, of course, there is the same, clear blue sky above; the universal binder… the greatest distracter.
The land is the simplest form of architecture….
(Frank Lloyd Wright)
A lot about traveling the land is noting little details that occur in the surrounding terrain. The long serrated line of ridges broken by a craggy mound; the sweeping plain complimented by a lonely tree; the wheeling hawk mirrored on lazy river… the list is endless. A good landscape photographer always looks out for details of the kind. Knowing the lie of the land and all its myriad features thoroughly calls for sharp powers of observation.
A photographer traveling across the English countryscape supplies an amusing anecdote. Cows, he says, are the most awry of all animals. They are always scattered on the terrain, never in a composition. All animals, he argues, should be like sheep; sheep that just mould themselves into the topography in perfect harmony. A photographer’s delight. On a recent trip to Khajuraho, I had the opportunity to observe this phenomenon myself.
What is it about the beauty of the distant horizon that compels great artists to render masterpieces?
The uncharted wilderness…?
The infinite loneliness…?
Or is it just plain curiosity.
I do not know.
I wonder though if there is a way to connect to all of this: The sky, the wind, the earth, the sun and the rain. The bugs, the flies, the heat, the dust, the fog, the mist. The road, the tree, the ever compelling horizon, the pain and the joy?
Maybe there is…
Take a camera and go on a trip to the nearest scenic spot.
Read a book by Louis L’ Amour.
Take a course on the Zen Philosophy.
Yet better still, try riding.
It’s a pity we do not exploit the freedom this wonderful machine can give us. I do not mean struggling with an infernal machine on the congested streets of Delhi. But try riding in the country. On those rutted dirt roads and the dusty state highways. You will feel things you never experience in the air-conditioned cocoon of a car. The wind in your hair. The sun in your face. The dust in your eyes. The tarmac slipping by below your feet. At sixty miles per hour, life is a dull roar in your ears.
You stop at will. Look at the land. Fall in love with it. Look at the sky; notice its changing hues from dawn to dusk. Follow the unending road, forget your tomorrow and forget your past, present and future. Your worries, your pains diminish in the horizon. Loneliness is your greatest companion, the sky your source of sustenance.
Article, etecetera, the students’ magazine, school of planning and architecture, New Delhi, May 2000
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!
That’s it. I’m riding the C5 out today..!
Here’s what you do for an awesome Sunday-
1. Round up your mates
2. Start your engines
3. Head for the nearest patch of woods
4. Grab some idly-vada and great coffee on the way
5. Banter with mates on whose bike is better
6. Watch out for elephants en-route
8. Consult Google Mausi for directions in the woods
9. Ride home in time for ‘Real’ Breakfast. 🙂
About another 40 minutes of riding and Google Mausi decides to give up the ghost. I had been standing on pegs in that stretch, and as I sat down, I noticed Mausi is silent. I beckon others to stop and we do a quick look around.
Nothing much around- a quaint little temple, where the Pujari probably visits on a fortnight, some make believe grass and a beautiful Jacaranda tree. Photo op not to be missed? You bet!
There wasn’t much to do beyond that in this place. So we decided to move on. Now did I tell you that Google Mausi moonlights as a Goddess? (To understand this phenomenon better, I suggest you read American Gods, by Neil Gaiman). Well Goddesses, often find favour with the cool candidate. Deepak has a cool bike- therefore Goddess lights up his phone. We discover a way out of there- turns out we just need to keep on moving down the same trail.
Well, that broken forest road throws up another surprise- and we find a boulder outcrop with a great green vista. Needless to say, the bikes were lined up, on the rocks. Metal sided with plastics and looked onto the great greenfield beyond!
After this call of duty it was time to bid goodbye. We left our separate ways and joined that rush of weekend traffic and caged imbeciles on the road. It’s always fruitful to start a great Sunday by getting lost in the neighbourhood wilderness!