It’s December, 2020 and here in India, scientists say, we have peaked the pandemic. We have learnt to live the ‘new normal’. Being cooped up, working from home, ordering groceries in and living the socially distanced life, takes physical and mental toll. Eventually we got fed up. We started venturing out, with due precautions, either for a drive to my sister’s place out of town or for a spin around the neighbourhood. I also started riding, mostly on Sundays, with a group of old friends from the workplace.
Motorcycling is a great way to maintain social distance. Inside my helmet, behind my mask, I’m in my own little world, away with thoughts, munching miles at 70 kph. I’m comfortably snug in my riding gear, the tall visor doing a great job of deflecting windblast. The big hearted Italian twin I’m riding is purring gently along the highway that connects Bangalore to the west coast. A slight twist of the throttle, catapults me to 168kph in a heartbeat. The torque on this engine, is enormous! And man, this stallion is fast, as is sure footed. I’m riding my friend’s Ducati Multistrada 950, while he’s trying hard to keep up on the bike I switched, a Honda CBR 250R. The little quarter litre single is smooth and can whack up a good pace, but its 26 horses are no match for the 113 raging stallions of the Italian. It’s such a beauty, this gleaming red firebird on wheels, and I can’t help but grin from ear to ear, everytime I feel the torque wave.
We are headed back to the city from an early morning ride to Belur Cross. Today was a good day, out here in the open, after many dull, housebound days. A long ride out in the country, was just what the doctor ordered. For once, I did not wake up to more depressing news, but was up at dawn with eagerness that befits a long awaited motorcycle ride. We have two friends on Ninja 650s, and another Ducati 950 Multistrada to keep us company.
At Belur cross we stop for coffee. I take the newer Ninja 650 for a quick spin. This is such an incredibly friendly bike. It puts you at ease immediately. The bike is extremely flickable, and I remember an earlier occasion where I rode comfortably through town in dense traffic, without breaking a sweat. The second big positive is the heat management- I never felt the engine heat near my legs. I would venture so far to say, that the cooling system is better than any other similar bike I’ve ridden. I prefer the bigger bike feel and touring friendliness of the older model – we had a 2013 model on the ride with us. This one with its single sided rear monoshock, taller windscreen and flamboyant green and black livery, is to my mind, a beautiful motorcycle. This would have also been a great bike to pick up as a second owner, had it come with ABS as standard. In this day and age, for a decently agile and fast sports tourer like this, it’s a big miss. The latest Ninja 650 has righted these wrongs, and is a delight to ride, but somehow is not as evocative as the previous model.
This breakfast ride in the company of larger bikes, and a subsequent one on which I rode my Himalayan to TM Hills, with the gang, got me thinking. While for the moment, the Himalayan is an answer to all my motorcycling needs, some time in the near future, I do aspire to add a larger hearted sibling to give it company. Which then, would be the second set of wheels I should start planning for?
When thinking about the another bike, I’m certain about this. The bike has to be a machine for everyday use. I know enough motorcyclists, who’ve spent big bucks to acquire their dream machine, but use it sparingly on weekends to avoid struggling in city snarls in the ever evolving traffic situation. The seasonal condition of our highways dictates the route chosen for these weekend outings as a straight run down the interstate to a coffee stop and a boring, straight run back. Head off the highway, onto smaller dirt roads, and the bikes start showing their limitations. If they’ve bought a large cruiser (read Harley Davidson), its a beast to handle. If they’ve bought a sports bike, it starts showing its delicate side. The suspension’s not up for it, and neither are your wrists or butt. Granted, my friends on their Multistradas would be grinning and gunning at this point. But they would be cautious too, as the trail gets tougher- the last thing they can afford is the thing ending up on its side. This is where I feel, the Himalayan has been a really good fit for me. Its a daily use bike. And it can take punishment without punishing your wallet. But it has its own limitations. On good roads, I need it to be generating upwards of 40 horsepower, which it woefully does’nt. And its fabled low end torque, is just not enough for a full fledged tour with pillion- as many folks have told me.
All this ruminating has got me convinced, what I really need is decent middle weight. A 500cc to 800cc twin cylinder motorcycle that does’nt weigh a ton. A bike that’s as easy to flick round a street corner, as round a bend in the trail. A motorcycle that has enough torque to carry rider, pillion and hard luggage all the way to Timbuktoo, at a decent clip. A bike I can improve my DIY skills on. A machine to look long and hard at, every time I come back from a ride. A machine to love more, every single day. A choice of wheels that does’nt warrant second thought for the tarkari run to the bazaar, or to a client meeting in Bangalore’s Central Business District. A vehicle that’s always preferable to my car.
It’s a tall ask. And these are trying times. However, 2020 has been the year of some promising new launches. And 2021 promises to be even more so. So I’ll keep adding to the brief. And hope that some day soon, in sunnier times, little Himalyan can ride out with a bro he can really look up to.