Himalayan 10000km update

If sources are to believed, my Royal Enfield Himalayan has had a production run of less than a year. Production started in April 2016 and ended in Feb 2017. The second production cycle started after June 2017, with the machines hitting showrooms in September. But these machines had an EFI unit, with minor cosmetic updates. They also sported better components and are reported to have none of the issues which plagued carburreted machines like mine, produced before Feb 2017.

Shadowfax, circa Nov 2017
Himalayan, Circa 2018

So, as I hit 10000 Kms in the running, and the EFI machines started showing up on the streets, I had a realisation. I was now part of a rare breed of Royal Enfield motorcyclists. We owned an adventure tourer which had been a market probing experiment for the vehicle manufacturer. Our numbers are in a few thousands, at the most, and we are scattered across the nation.

Looking back over one and a half years of ownership, here’s an executive summary of service updates, hates and likes.

Service Updates

  • The magneto coil- conked off after about a year and 5 months of ownership- replaced last month.
  • Oil cooler unit-upgraded with mesh at the 2nd Free Service
  • Carburettor changed after a year of use
  • Engine head assembly changed at the 2nd Free Service
  • Rocker arm replaced at first free service
  • Handlebar bent- replaced (at cost) at the 2nd Free Service
  • Carrier broken- replaced at the 2nd Free Service
  • Clutch assembly- I’m not quite sure what happened here but after the 2nd Service, it was butter smooth- I reckon it was replaced with the modified clutch assembly

I must add here that with the exception of the handlebar, all other updates were done free of cost. Would laud the mechs at  my friendly neighbourhood RE service centre, for their prompt response on every occasion.

Hate

  • The first giveaway are the tyres. They are a brilliant fit for the bike and can take a whole lot of punishment. But, with almost all of my riding being tarmac focused, the rear tyre’s tread has worn out at 10500km. And that’s just half the life of an average motorcycle tyre.
  • I hate RE’s promises. The promos for the motorcycle feature the bike being ridden with many accessories- which the company claims, have been tested in harshest terrain. There are saddle bags and panniers, a handlebar cross bar, better integrated rear mount, fuel and water tanks and a completely different exhaust. Now none of these are easily available in any showroom in the city. I can live with foregoing most of the list, but the free-flow exhaust is a must have item. Anyone who has ridden the bike with the featured exhaust will tell you that the bike was designed with this exhaust in mind. My search continues…
  • Don’t know how many Himalayan owners will agree with me here, but it seems the cushioning on the seat also has a lifespan of about 10k. A couple of hours of spirited riding makes it impossible to continue sitting on the bike.
  • Lack of Power, no ABS. There’s no two ways about this- The bike just needs more power. I have replaced the stock filter with a BMC lifetime filter, and the performance is smoother, but there’s only so much you can do. ABS is sorely missed as well.
  • Tubeless Tyres. I understand that spoke rims take punishment better. And they prove to do so, on my Himalayan. But I’m also, almost always carrying a spare tube for that      21” front and 17” rear tyre- both uncommon sizes, not available readily.

Love

It’s easy to love a lot of features on this bike, and in many ways it’s incredible value for money.

  •  Touring friendliness: if you want a budget adventure tourer, love distance and don’t miss tarmac scorching performance, then this is the bike for you. It’s great for days spent in the saddle, and has room enough for all manner of luggage arrangements.
  • User friendliness: Pretty durned easy to ride, commute and tour on. Good for everyday riding.
  • Off-road: Arguably the bike’s best behaviour is when it’s ridden off road. It’s a hoot to ride on dirt trails. And standing on pegs on this bike for miles on end is my idea of Sunday fun.
  • No thump does not mean lack of grunt. The engine note, has character, and combined with a free revving motor, has a distinct sound, which I have come to love.
  • And finally, I feel, this is a bike to keep. It’s built to last, is technologically simple and will guarantee miles if you take care of it. Sometime in the near future, when a larger machine has taken pride of place, I will roll out my customised Himalayan for an afternoon ramble up the hill, and then finish off in the evening with some tinkering, some TLC and a well earned lager. 🙂

 

Twins…

They are drop dead gorgeous. Just watched the launch at EICMA. The Interceptor (California Cool, in the words of CEO Siddharth Lal) and the Continental GT 650 promise to herald a new age of ‘easy and accessible, pure motorcycling fun’. Let’s see what the future holds… for now, I’m rubbing my hands in glee and me eyes are jest feastin’ on them beauties… har har!

More info to be found here

https://royalenfield.com/motorcycles/twins/

Of heathlands and monoliths…

This little overflowing creek made for a nice splash

This Diwali, the long weekend came about promising at least one day of riding fun. I headed out with my cousin (who also owns a Himalayan), towards Manchanbele dam, for a lunch ride. To make the regular route a little more interesting, we chose a detour featuring a beautiful back road between Kanakpura and Mysore highways.

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Post monsoon greenery adorns the connector linking Kanakpura and Mysore highways
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Lunch was a quick affair on Mysore highway, this thali was delicious
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Heathland, retreating rain clouds and sunshine. Riding season is here!

The day forecast glorious weather with long sunny spells. This time of the year heralds the start of the riding season in South India, with late October through to February generally packed with organised tours and riding events. So it felt good to be back in the saddle, even if it was for a short spin.

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Manchanbele Reservoir, off Mysore Road

The short route to Manchanbele from Mysore highway passes through open country that features a lot of heathland like un-farmed land. This year the monsoon strayed well into October, so everywhere we looked, we saw green. At Manchanbele, there was a fair crowd. Entry to the dam is restricted, taking vehicles down to the water is prohibited, so all you could do was stare at the water from higher vantage points. On an earlier occasion, I had been able to park by the water. So there wasn’t much to do but carry on. Savandurga, one of Asia’s largest monoliths, loomed high above the water. I had always wanted to see it up close and we decided to head there.

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Offroading enroute to Savandurga

The road to Savandurga monolith cuts through the lovely Savandurga State Forest, and both in the forest, and on its fringes, we found great spots to stop, shoot and chill :).

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Selfie time!
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At Savandurga State Forest.
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In the shadow of the mountain
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The wild grass was inviting, the late afternoon sun, relaxing
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Heathland and monoliths
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Spots for posing with the monolith abound enroute
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Bikes are dwarfed by the lofty Savandurga

Savandurga, is majestic and towering. I had never come close to a monolith before. All I had was childhood memories of leafing through my geography text book and marvelling at the splendid isolation of Ayers Rock. I had always imagined giant monoliths to be far off the grid, in places that existed at the very edge of the map. Savandurga, is no such thing. There were tourist stalls at the parking lot and a temple at the top. We were lucky that there wasn’t much of a throng, so we found ourselves a green spot close to the base and lingered for a while.

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Beautiful rock this, if ever a rock can be called beautiful. Worth the visit, I say

The highlight of the ride home, was this shot at dusk, which I feel captures so well, the essence of motorcycling. This is a good start to the riding season. 🙂

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Mellow evening light frames the motos next to some beautiful srubland.

Trails in my backyard

A couple of months ago, my cousin and I discovered a great little trail off Shoolagiri, no more than 40 Kms from my doorstep. A small stretch of forest (Samanav Forest) before Shoolagiri, offers an unmarked trail leading to a little rivulet. Keep a lookout for this on the left when returning to Bangalore, a few klicks after the MacDonalds at Shoolagiri. If you are on a Himalayan, you are bound to have a good time!

This great little spot by the river is after 3kms of a dirt trail off the Salem highway. 

Date with Versys

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The Versys loves the open road

A few days ago, I got a cool birthday surprise from my dearest wife. She sent me a Wicked Ride reservation for a Kawasaki Versys 650. It was to be mine for a day!! Read on for some first impressions.

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First stop, the office!

The model I got was from 2016, all black and missing the green livery and newer bits and bobs from the current model. The bike is tall and gangly, no matter how you look at it, with that rear overhang tad longer than it should be. Seat height at 840mm will be a struggle for short riders, and the screen on centre stand was higher than my Himalayan’s. The good thing though, is the incredibly rider friendly nature of the bike. It felt familiar within the first 20 minutes. Ergonomics are great, the seat has enough room for movement and tall ride height, a boon in traffic.  I would have preferred a wider, taller handlebar, which would have helped maneuverability and standing on pegs while negotiating potholes.

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The cockpit gets a rev counter and digital speedo. Tell tale lights for ABS, indicators, high beam and engine warning light. Miss the nifty bits from the Himalayan like the service reminder and gear indicator.

Rolling around in the city, on a public holiday, proved to be effortless. I was worried that the engine would start cooking my legs in stop and go traffic situations. When that failed to happen, I realised that the large tank, tall seat and rear set footpegs keep your legs away from the heat. The only thing to be careful with then, was the throttle. A slight rev on the throttle would pummel the motorcycle towards triple digit speeds, instantly. Ten odd kilometres later, with the art of throttle control mastered, I was flicking through traffic, having a ball.  Later, trundling along at 60kph on a traffic free flyover, I decide to gun the throttle. The bike darts like a hooligan! Over the crest, in the next instant, I see the speedo flash 120kph, and know that I have crossed the speed limit set by the hiring agency.  This transpired in a few seconds, without the need to down-shift. Ample torque figures of 64NM and 68/69 PS, from a refined twin cylinder, crafted out of the Ninja lineage, take credit for this performance. The bike measures the same as my Himalayan, length and breadth wise, so carving up traffic was all about getting used to the extra power on tap. The brakes, with ABS, were excellent.

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Felt like a king, for a day, with two able stallions in the stable

As a commuter then, the bike is pretty desirable. But an entry level tourer is best tried outside the city. Next stop, the highway!

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Too many sharp edges, if you ask me. (I’m still a sucker for curves)

Out on the freeway towards Krishnagiri, I’m constantly aware of one nagging reminder- stick to the 120kph speed limit. It seems impossible to do this, especially on straights.  And on wide sweeping curves, I had some trouble understanding how to keep to the centreline. The front felt heavy and there was quite a lot of understeer. Now this may have been an issue with the rental bike- I don’t recall reading anything of the sort while going through reviews on the bike. Well, that was a downer, as a lot of the stretch from here till Krishnagiri has these long winding curves.

Everything else, was just dandy. The bike excels as a mile muncher. Covering large distances, at speeds around 120kph, all day long, with an unstressed engine, is this bike’s forte. The seat is gloriously comfortable. Hepco and Becker, in addition to Kawasaki, have a full range of luggage accessories for this bike in India, and mounted up, its a formidable tourer. I did not get much sense of the mileage, but I was told its in the range of 23-25kpl, which I thought was pretty decent.

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One feature I really loved, was the hazard light switch (red) on the handlebar. I use this quite a lot on my Himalayan, both in the city and when on a ride. Its a pain to let go of the bars and reach towards the centre console. On the Versys, the switch is within easy reach of my thumb.

 

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Rear and three quarters views of the bike are best, the front and side views are a bit awkward, IMHO.

So is this something, I’d like to lay my hands on in the near future? I won’t deny its a tempting proposition. The pros outweigh the cons- its got a super smooth, terrific engine, good torque and power figures, great brakes and ergonomics. Most importantly, its not ridiculously expensive, like say a Triumph or a Ducati. I’m not a hard corner hugging rider, nor have any experience on the race track, to comment on the bike’s track abilities. But I wouldn’t bat an eyelid about it’s excellent touring capability.

At the end of the day, however, I think I would look further for two reasons. For starters, I’m not entirely sure, how well this entire package handles off road. The bike’s weight tops 200+ kgs, which will be higher still when loaded with luggage. The tyres are not really dual purpose, and from the reviews I read, not very inspiring, even on flat dirt tracks. Suspension travel or the handlebars aren’t great for off road manoeuvres either. And I reckon, in real off the grid conditions, the bike will feel top heavy. I’d strike out the ‘adventure’ prefix from the bike’s ‘tourer’ moniker.

Reason number two, has simply to do with how ungainly the bike looks. I’ll get to the point- it does look like a pelican on two wheels. And I’d rather not be seen riding a pelican, don’t you think?

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On the highway, this mid segment Kawasaki is nothing less than incredible.

 

 

Motorcycling Country

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Roads around Steel City, like this one, are newly laid blacktops to motorcycling heaven

The last few years have seen a host of transport infrastructure improvements in many parts of the country. On a recent trip to my hometown of Jamshedpur, I was pleasantly surprised to see some excellent tarmac connecting major cities in the state. The bountiful, naturally blessed topography of the Chotanagpur plateau is also a delight to discover on these new roads. And what best way to discover new places, than on a motorcycle?

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Subarnarekha river glimpsed from a Ghat section near Jampot
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A village pond near Chandil
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Forests give way to fields, Kandra
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Topography, Taimara ghat section 
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Fields of ripe green paddy stretch to the hills, Bundu

Hold that thought, I say to myself. Have to spend a few days touring here, sometime in the near future. Until then, I will keep these photos as a memory, captured during a three hour drive from ‘Jampot’ to Ranchi.

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Sangam- Subarnarekha and Kharkhai

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Old Faithful

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.

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At Hatu peak, beyond Narkanda, 3500m above sea level. Circa 2004.

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.

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Studds Vault boxes on the Avenger 220, with a Givi top box. Bangalore, circa 2010.

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.

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The Avenger 220, seemed custom made for flaunting this little piece of storage equipment.

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.

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The bike comes home shod with boxes…
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…they integrate well with the side profile of the bike…
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…some road presence added to that slim front…
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…don’t look too bad at night either.

More information on the product can be found here:

http://www.studds.com/Home/accessoriesDetail/64