Digging around for a file in the back up from my old computer, I found these. My collection of brilliant BMW Motorrad advertisements, downloaded when just published at the time. To this day, I have not found any ads that capture the spirit of motorcycling in such a soul stirring way. One look might make you want to drop everything and head out on a ride! Enjoy!
As the city slumbers
We roam its streets
Whitewalkers in the dead of night
Pale shadows who drift at the speed of light
Around dying embers we try to be warm
And keep on riding
Till the break of dawn.
Shadowfax turned 6 (months) recently and just returned from second service. Family and work commitments had kept me busy through most of September-so when two small chances to ride came my way, they were grabbed without further ado and the horse reigned in, on each occasion.
The first one was a short, half day affair to the fishing camps of Bheemeshwari and Galibore. My riding group wanted to head to the river, park the bikes by the banks and just chill with no more on the agenda, so we set off on a sunny October morning. We could not hang out for long by the river however, as all of that region has recently come under the purview of the State forest department and with tusker presence growing in the area, you are only allowed to linger by the river for five minutes tops. Tusker and crocodile warnings notwithstanding, this beautiful stretch of road connecting the two camps along the river, is now only to be traversed if you have a stay reservation at Galibore. Way back in the day, on my very first ride with my C5, we had been able to ride along the river and take the bikes down to the waterline. I guess with these places now being a very popular weekend destination for Bangaloreans, it becomes necessary for the forest department to introduce these measures to preserve the unique biodiversity of this region. We did manage to explore some of the terrain around, amble through a reserve forest and kill a few hours when one of the bikes suffered a flat tyre.
The second opportunity came about in the form of a family trip to Mysore. While the rest of the family elected to drive, there was one seat short- and it was obvious what would happen next. I must say, this ride to Mysore and back was a revelation for me. I felt that while the Himalayan is great for day long escapades on roads and terrain like the ones in photos above, its absolutely incredible when it comes to touring long distance. Midway to Mysore, and I was in seventh heaven. I was holding speeds of 100/120 kmph constantly without any fatigue to my wrists or bum. Overtaking was a breeze and sticking to the fast lane seemed like a natural thing to do. 3000+ kms on the odo and the engine was running really smooth. Horse and rider reached the city with plenty of breath to spare.
These two rides did point out some deficiencies, however. I had been making do with a bent handlebar on the Himalayan, ever since a fall on a ride, some months ago. The Mysore ride made it evident that the handlebar needed replacing-I could feel the strain on one of my shoulders. The stock mirrors also showed their inadequacy on the highway. A bit of online trolling revealed that many Himalayan owners had changed their mirrors- with the Royal Enfield GT stock mirrors being a favourite. When the time came round for the second service, these two updates were on top of my list. Here’s how the bike fares now, looks-wise,with its new handlebar and GT mirrors. Next on the agenda, perhaps the performance exhaust. 🙂 But before that, a ride.
There was a time, many eons ago, when I began to develop a whole hearted interest in two wheels, that I first heard about the BMW R1150 GS Adventure. I chanced upon this image above, during those heady days of late night web surfing while at college, and it made a big impression on my senses. I was hooked on first sight and it signalled the start of a long standing love affair. The R1150 GS was the first true adventure tourer. It was built to serve that one purpose that few dreamed could be accomplished by a motorcycle- Go anywhere, anytime, off road, on road, across borders, over hills and desert, valleys and rivers. It was designed to cross continents. Suddenly no place on the map seemed too far. It was also designed to be your only bike.
Over the years, I followed the development of this segment of motorcycles closely. While the R1150 GS was eventually succeeded by the 1200 GS, other brands came out with similar purposeful machines- namely KTM, Triumph, Ducati and the Japanese manufacturers to name a few. Through it all the 1200 GS remained the undisputed champion of Adventure motorcycles, and with the kind of publicity garnered through various TV shows, books and movies, it also entered the hall of legends.
Unfortunately, legends come at a price. The bike has been selling here in India for more than a couple of years, but for me it remains a distant dream. A more affordable alternative, the Triumph Tiger 800, beckons as something I might want to lay my hands on in the near future. Until then, I have the Himalayan.
The Himalayan, with its humble origin, and spartan design and engineering has convinced me, in its own modest way, that I will probably never want to own another genre of motorcycle again. The Royal Enfield CEO, Siddharth Lal, had said at its launch that the Himalayan too, was designed to be your only motorcycle. He had meant to put this statement squarely in the Indian context, where unlike the West, owning a motorcycle, for many, is the first step towards eventually owning a car. Here, the practicality of the Himalayan, as a do it all bike-a good commuter, good tourer, off roader and decent luggage hauler, at a rock bottom price was to hold sway against all larger machines of such kind.
6 months of ownership has led to that rare insight, that his vision is coming true. The motorcycle does makes you realise that it is an extension of you. It takes me to work everyday, in reasonable comfort. Its tall seating and straight back ergonomics helps me pick out gaps in traffic over car rooftops. The luggage rack at the rear and the top box is a good stowaway for almost anything. Excellent ground clearance and suspension make short work of all potholes and broken roads. And a torquey engine makes it a great tool for carving through traffic. I’ve said as much, in other posts on this blog before.
What I haven’t elaborated on, is how this bike made me feel on this ride out to Mysore. I felt like a frontiersman, out to explore new land and bring home the bounty. My companion was my horse, in whom I had immense confidence. I felt sorry that the ride would be a couple of days at max, for here was a machine I could really ride for days on end. There came on slowly, a beautiful feeling of oneness. I was perched on the saddle of my trusted steed. There was a certain sure-footedness in the handling, the cornering, the braking and the acceleration. But most of all, there was this immense sense of comfort and companionship, when you sat high and dry on the saddle, wrist on the throttle, mile munching at 100kmph, with that gorgeous autumn sun beating on y0ur back and a smooth ribbon of tarmac stretching before you for miles. Man and machine know nothing better that can be called happiness.
I 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.
January 2002, After a long winded trip to Jaipur
So many years in the making. Royal Enfield sure took their time. 🙂
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