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:
Plans for a weekend ride had been brewing in my riding group for most of the year gone by. However every time, a ride was proposed, come the date, enthusiasm waned. While it was the usual ‘weekend is for family’ excuse for older gents, the younger ones cited commitments to their busy social life. It was a miracle then, that once the idea was thrown in, six people decided to join. The initial plan was to ride to Avalanche Valley, an area of extreme natural beauty, beyond Ooty. Deepak had been there recently and complained of bad roads. Wayanad came up as an alternative, and all of us agreed unanimously.
The ride plan was finalised for last weekend of May. We decided to take the more scenic, longer route in- via Kanakpura Road and Kabini Reservoir. Having been to Kabini on more than a couple of occasions, I had seen KL registered vehicles plying in the area. I figured Wayanad must be a neighbouring district. The condition of the road leading into Kerala remained uncertain. We decided to risk it anyway- after all, what’s life without a little adventure?
Days of planning followed, and tea sessions in office centred on gear selection and what to carry. While Deepak bought himself a brand new lid, OP San was happy to be finally bring in use a pair of saddlebags purchased more than a year ago. Evenings were spent in the parking lot- bungee cords, rain gear and other accessories, were tested and secured on the bikes. We realised that every single bike on the ride would be a different machine. Between five of us, we had most of Royal Enfield’s product line covered- a Bullet 350 (Cast Iron), a Classic 350, a Classic 500, a Thunderbird 350, and my Himalayan. A Pulsar 180, was the lone horse from the Bajaj stable. I must admit, the very idea that I would be out and about in a few days gave me a new high, and I was quite looking forward to it.
Come the day of the ride, we started bright and early, at 6am. Leaving Nice Road exit onto Kanakpura Road, I knew this route had been the right choice. The day promised to be beautiful- with misty spots of sunshine peeking between rolling clouds promising rain in far off lands. There was a good breeze about, and coasting along on a twisty two-laner seemed to be the perfect start to the weekend. Now I’ve done many rides down Kanakpura Road. It’s that simple early morning ride recipe you can’t go wrong with. The road runs on a high embankment past four lakes and passes quaint settlements. Traffic is often sparse. What I love about this road is its easy riding friendliness. You are forever in that sweet spot between 70-90kms per hour. On a Royal Enfield, that equates to bliss. Higher speeds, on a road like this, make you miss all the sights and sounds around you and are dangerous as well.
We had a bit of fun off-roading around a lake, just after Kanakpura. Mud and slush on tracks leading to the lake had the bikes struggling. My Himalayan, fared the worst. I had mud caked tyres within the first few yards. It was a good place though, to be visited in drier times.
100kms or so into the ride, after breakfast, we stopped for a ‘bum break’. There was a quick briefing session on group riding techniques. Deepak, raring to ‘up the pace’, elected to lead. Soon after, heading on past Kanakapura town towards Malavalli, a group of riders passed us. Deepak, not to be outdone, caught up and rode wingman with their ride captain. As the road straightened out, we held good speed with the others. We were all geared up and so were they. We were on similar machines, smaller bikes which did the job. I noticed a nicely souped up Karizma- a sworn touring machine from the days of old, and a neat little Yamaha FZ among the new group. The rest were Royal Enfields, and one Himalayan rider with a helmet mounted cam. We warned each other of road impediments and warned traffic of the approaching formation. I rode wingman with the other Himalayan for a while- this was good, clean fun. Strangers looking out for each other, travelling together, bound by direction and passion. On the outskirts of Malvalli, we parted ways. There was nary a nod, nor a handshake. They carried on, and we did too. But for those miles we rode together, we all knew one great joy- motorcycling.
You know, that instant, when you dive out of a corner, see cars posted by the side of the road and tourist cameras flashing? An incredible vista of yellow appeared to the left of us. I haven’t seen anything like this in a while- after all we are not in Punjab! Sunflower fields spread out for acres, right by the road. Be sure to not miss this if you are ever on this stretch of road. Plenty of photo sessions later, we hit the road again.
Next stop- Kabini hinterland. I can tell you this, from whatever I have seen of the South, there’s no other place quite like this. This rolling, undulating, daleish country, with vegetable farms and tall grass stretching away into the distance, is really beautiful. It’s a short stretch that you encounter when you turn off the Manthanawadi road towards the reservoir. The demographic here is mostly tribal. Living with the land, without making undue demands of it, is evident in their lifestyle, as we ride by.
I had set my expectations high for the first sighting of that large expanse of water. When we rounded the crest beyond the fields, I was disappointed to see the waterline receded by a mile. We rode further inland. I was feeling a bit peckish by now. At Jungle Lodges Resort, lunch wasn’t available without prior reservation. So we decided to head down to the water. The road leading to the Serai Resort runs along the lakebed. What greeted us here, was amazing. Kabini lakebed is all grass. Not mud, not slush, not rocks. Grass. With cattle from the village grazing all over. You could lie back on the grass and stare at the sky, for water was far far away. Photo sessions followed- some of the shots turned out worthy enough to send to RE for their annual ride calendar.
Its funny how in open country, the weather can create a sense of delusion. As the afternoon wore on, there was sunshine beyond the clouds. In the distance, near the horizon, were blue skies. But clouds came gathering just above our heads. It started with a few drops, which turned into a spitter-spatter, which turned into a drizzle, which turned into a downpour, which was in fact, a cloud burst. This happened in a matter of minutes. You can see me, in the photo below, struggling to take out my rain gear from the saddle bag.
Well, some of us got wet. OP San had a fall. We took shelter in a cow shed and waited for it to abate. Saw a couple of lads drenched to the bone, riding around on a Harley and a Triumph Explorer, with their girlfriends following tow in a Hyundai. They were looking for a place, to have lunch. In pouring rain. What surprised me more, was that they were on these two big machines, but were wearing only helmets in the name of safety gear.
The next hundred kilometres, till our homestay, was sheer motorcycling nirvana. Two factors contributed to this. The first was to do with an immaculate road that twists and turns, then delves into straights, and before you start thinking straight :), turns into twisties again. That wasn’t all. Most of this stretch runs through fringe forests of Wayanad, Bandipur and Nagarhole sanctuaries. This is not a regular bus route, cars passed by once in a while. We had most of the road to ourselves.
The second was to do with food. Now this stretch being desolate, suffers for lack of roadside eateries. We could not get grub at Kabini. For the next couple of hours we were pretty much riding hungry. When out of a stretch of forest, a clearing emerged, lined with small hotels, Deepak and Sreejith stopped, and were inside one in the blink of an eye. We had crossed the border checkpost a couple of miles before. I can’t recall the name of the place, but I will remember the place for a lifetime. By the time I had taken off my riding jacket and walked into the hotel, the others were wolfing down delicious meals,parothas, ularthiyathu fry and chicken curry. I was starving- it was well past 5pm. The food, yummy, with a hint of home made freshness, really hit the spot. Hats off to Deepak and Sreejith for leading us to this watering hole.
We made it to the homestay around 6pm. Atmost Homestay in Kalpetta is good value for money, and has options to camp out in the open, weather permitting. They were missing a cook though. We had to figure out dinner in town. There were plans to ride out early morning towards ghats leading down to the mainland plains. Chilled beer with motorcycle talk warmed us late into the night.
The next day, we rode down to the Adivaram Ghats after a light breakfast in town. At Adivaram there was a lot of traffic and quite a many tourists thronging the road edge to capture views of the plains below. We hung about for a short while before settling in for the long ride home. En-route we were treated to some gracious hospitality at Deepak’s aunt’s home. We had just made ourselves comfortable and were sipping sweet tea when his Uncle walked in from the plantation with some freshly plucked and dressed jackfruit. For us city slickers, this was a rare treat.
The homely environment and the alluring laid back life of Wayanad, was hard to say goodbye to. I think everyone was clear on one agenda- we had to finish the business of lunch in Kerala. The food from yesterday was still fresh in our minds. So it was Deepak and Sreejith again, who led the hungry pack into a den which served heavenly parothas, kerala meals and poppadums.
The route home, promised glimpses of wildlife. The last part of the ride through Bandipur was awesome. I managed to fall behind, taking in as much of the surrounding jungle as I could. We sighted deer, monkeys and a lonely old boar. The rest of the ride was uneventful till Mysore. Perhaps the only downer to the otherwise great ride was the last stretch on Mysore highway. Take heed- do not plan to return on Sunday evening using this route. The traffic here puts most congested city areas to shame.
Well that was that. I was dog tired at the end of the day. Curled up at home with a cold beer, I tried to relive key moments of the ride. This was the first long ride of the year- the machine had performed flawlessly, and my riding days were back on track! 🙂
Anoop_Artist, Illustrator, not much into motorcycles he says, but had one hell of a ride on his Classic 350.
Sreejith_He walks the realm of ancients, the lone rider on a cast iron engine. We sometimes gather round his machine to hear its slow heart beating. Bullet 350.
Deepak_Fury on wheels, has to be reined in once in a while. Rides hard. Parties harder. Modded Thunderbird 350
OPSan_Calm, composed and ever smiling. Nerves of steel. Rides a Classic 500.
Ankit_Big, cheerful man, asks a lot of his little machine. Thankfully, the machine delivers. Pulsar 180.
Yours Truly_Happy to have Shadowfax running free. Happy to have me out and about, after a long time! Himalayan.
Almost a year to my date of purchase, with some significant interventions on behalf of RE, a few tweaks on my part and general good luck, I can say that my Himalayan is running just fine, thank you very much. The bike’s still heating up on my regular commute, but is much more bearable at highway speeds. Reckon 500k more on the odo should do the trick. Until then, it will be slog through traffic on weekdays and breakfast rides over weekends.
I must admit- I have not really tested the bike to perhaps half its potential, if the marketing campaign around its launch, is to be believed. Part of the reason was lack of time and opportunity, the other part was an unresolved trust issue with the bike, given scary reports every other day of some bugger tortured by his Himalayan- quality woes, parts falling off, engine trouble and what not. What’s interesting to note though, is while there’s a lot of hue and cry on the internet, with junta screaming war against Royal Enfield for handing them a generally dodgy item, there’s also less popular stories where hard core riders have ridden the bike in territory its supposed to excel in, with no issues.
So some days ago, surfing through motorcycle videos on YouTube, I was pleased to find some nice commentary on the machine by three Australians who have all acknowledged its true dual sport nature and have understood its advantages and limitations.
One of the Aussies, who’s done the stretch from Ladakh to Sikkim on the bike, took the fight right back to our desi boys cribbing their heart out. His take on the machine is heartening. And it helps that the motorbike was awarded Motorcycle of the Year by more than one automotive media house.
There’s a good report by this rider from Philippines as well.
It seems, the Himalayan is ticking all the right boxes with international riders, with many pegging it to be a great mini adventure bike or a comfortable everyday machine for both new and old motorcyclists. As I write this, the company has already launched Version 2.0, with EFI and ABS. India launch should be just round the corner. Would be a better buy, in my opinion, as both make a world of difference.
Now with all updates done to my machine, all I need is that one solo odyssey, where my bike and me come to terms with each other. One year’s almost done and I think the time is ripe.
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!
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…
I ride the night like the breeze
With lengthy strides I cover the ground
The headless horseman who holds my rein
Makes my wheels go round and round
O’er hill and desert I paint my fame
Through distant lands yet riding tame
Calling out to the great beyond
Is there anybody out there?
Aha Aha Aha…
I’m a blazing comet…faster than the speed of light
So let’s dance…
Sweet home sweet home why have you forsaken me?
I call out to ye through all eternity
Yet do not bide me back cause there’s a distant way
And a lot of going ‘ere the end of day.
A rainbow shoots across the horizon
Stars shine through clear skies
A deep throaty run on the starlit highway
A lonely rider fleets through space.
Oh Cromakid Oh Cromakid, lead on lead on
with that hallowed sound
rolling across the amazons
the mighty mountains and the endless plains…
a motion picture…
…from dusk to dawn.
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
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.