From autumn last year through to spring this year, I’ve been riding out on the bike every chance I can get. We’ve had a long dry spell with little or no rain. Our merry band of motorcycle mates has been great company for short escapes beyond city limits. Call it revenge motorcycling if you will- but if 2020 shocked us into submission, 2021 gave enough dire warnings lest we got too comfortable, and 2022 took all our energies to get back to normal life, then 2023 surely calls for some bravado! With this objective in mind, we’ve been stepping out eagerly, on two wheels and four. 😊
A company offsite in mid December to the coffee country of Coorg, provided a good opportunity to create a motorcycle trip for ‘official reasons’. We would save on fuel, get there faster, be environmentally friendly, etc. The office folks did not have much say in this and were readily convinced. Acceptance of the same reasons by la familia was another matter altogether. I was in the middle of elucidating the benefits of two wheels over four when my kid cut to the chase with “ Daddy, you just want any excuse to ride out don’t you?”. 😊
It’s a great feeling when you thumb the starter before dawn in your empty parking lot. After weeks of planning, anticipation and excitement, that calming sense of purpose as you roll out on the exit ramp is incredible. I think it’s one of the essential joys of motorcycle touring, to see it all come to that moment, when you start the ride. You’re sort of done with the rigours of…
All the gear? Check.
Pannier balance? Check.
Tail bag strap adjustment? Check.
Phone mount secure? Check.
Did I forget my sunglasses? Third pair of underwear? Check.
Charging cable? Check.
Did I lock the house?
Darn it, let’s just ride!
An early start and meet up with my fellow riders on the Hassan highway was interrupted by heavy fog within a few miles. Don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this, but fog + motorcycling is a bit of a no go. It’s a complete dampener (no pun intended). In less than an hour we were chilled to the bone and begging for that hot cuppa.
We reached Coorg around midday. An incident en route which I’d call amusing and terrifying at the same time, became the unusual highlight of my ride.
My friend on the Ktm decided to gun the throttle at the first sight of the twisties. Snaking through coffee plantations and tall silver oaks, the ghat section approaching Madikeri is a joy to ride on. While the Ktm disappeared, the two of us took on the bends at a gentle pace enjoying the scenery. As we approached town, Google maps announced a short cut to our place of stay. I heeded Google mausi and followed her advice down progressively narrowing lanes which ended in a super steep 45 degree incline leading right into the tiny courtyard of a very rudely awoken Kodava gentleman. With barely a few feet left to spare, I managed to turn the bike around just to see my friend on his Scram following right after!
Now the only way out of that courtyard was that steep 45 degree incline down which we’d just come down. I was suddenly aware that my bike was loaded with panniers and easily tipping the scales upwards of 220 kgs or so. That’s typically the weight of a large 1000 cc adventure bike. The point to note is the large adventure bike comes with a really powerful engine and truckloads of torque. It would have made short work of that incline in front of me. A meagre 32NM of torque mated to just 24 odd horses on the Himalayan suddenly made the task ahead really daunting.
I let the Scram go first. It’s a lighter bike and had lesser luggage. The rider pulled up without much hassle. My turn. A silent prayer on my lips. Engage first gear. Build up revs. Twist of the wrist. Release the brakes. The Himalayan jumps forward. So far so good.
Halfway up the incline I think I hear the engine knocking- I wring the throttle as far as it can go, my heart in my mouth…uh oh.. if I lose traction now, it’s a long long way down to the valley floor beyond the homestead. From somewhere in the depths of its heart the bike pulls out a last reserve of power and tractors up to the top. It takes agonisingly long seconds. But it gets me out. Hats off to all the brilliant engineers at RE! 🥵
It was ironic that our four day trip to Coorg involved a nice ride in on day one, three days of conferences and sessions with office folk behind closed doors and a rain soaked ride back to Bangalore on day five. But in the end it was all good.
More rides followed in the next couple of months. I seriously considered purchasing a friend’s Ninja 650. On a ride out towards Bellur cross, I’m cruising at 150kph plus speeds on the Ninja. It’s a seriously fast bike and eager to input. The sense of speed is enormous, the feel sporty. This bike impresses with its smooth bulletproof engine. My friend’s machine is nearly nine years old but none of those years or wear and tear have affected its performance in the slightest way.
I followed up on the test ride of the Ninja 650 with yet another breakfast ride to Rocky Ridge Ridge Cafe, this time with a Royal Enfield Interceptor 650 for company. To know more about how we came to discover this place read this.
The beautifully surfaced back roads leading to Rocky Ridge, are full of gentle arcing curves which beg you to take them at full throttle. These roads are mostly devoid of traffic (except the odd farmer on his newly bought tractor). As I lean into one of these sweeping curves at 80kph, I realise what it is about the RE twins that the Brits are going ga ga about. You see, at these speeds, on roads like these, with gentle twisties, the 650 twin engine is an absolute gem to experience. Think of a B Road in England, lined with hedges and the hawthorns on a sweet summer day. And a happy motorcyclist wearing smiles in an open face helmet just trundles by on his Interceptor, scattering the dragonflies. It’s idyllic. That’s the notion the RE’s engine lulls you into. A gentle idyll. It promises more power on tap, but is happy to chug along sweetly at 60 to 70 mph. It’s perfect for what they call ‘lazy riding’. When you’re never short on power, but never in too much need of it.
The perspective here is that the RE 650 Twin is not about all out performance like the Kwacker’s 650 twin. I feel, the engineers at RE had a different goal in mind. The Kawasaki is a high revving engine with more than one and half times the power output of the RE. It’s decidedly smoother at high speeds. And although it’s not bad on roads described above, it’s not so endearing at low speeds. It’s at these speeds of 80 to 120 kph that the RE 650 twin comes into its own. It’s buttery smooth gear shifts and even engine note, and promise of generous low end torque is an absolute dealbreaker. I’m sure it sustain a top whack of 160kph or so easily, but it will be way past its enjoyable nature at that speed.
Umm, is that a larger Himalayan? Heck no, it’s gorgeous! You have to tear your eyes away from this beauty. A friend of a friend who joined us on the next ride had brought the Ducati Desert X along. A few jokes ensued on the resemblance of the Himalayan to the Ducati. Did Pierre Terblanche have a hand in shaping them both? Brothers from another mother?
Well the Ducati is striking to say the least. And an easy crowd puller. So much so, that it almost overshadowed the raja bike. The BMW GS 1200. The undisputed king of Adv motorcycles. And how.
I surge ahead as the lights turn green. The big Beemer is mightily comfortable. It’s an open highway and on this Sunday, Bangaloreans are at their motoring best. I can hear some howling super cars behind me, had spotted an Audi TT and a Porsche 911 Carerra going neck and neck a few miles back. They’ve caught up.
The tacho climbs as I rev the bike- I know it’s a matter of seconds before they pass me in a blur. The big Beemer is not ready to give up yet. I can see 156kph on the speedo and the cars have gone ahead. Flashing brake lights fill my vision ahead and I can hear squealing tyres…what’s going on here? A large speed bump. They are skirting this cautiously now. Crawling underwater as far as I’m concerned. I’ve throttled down to about 120kph but there’s no time (or space) to brake or cut speed. I’m on pegs. The Beemer squeezes between the two cars and sails over the speed bump. There’s no wobble. No lurch. Nothing. A clean landing which I almost didn’t feel. Behind me, my friend following on his Ninja 1000 observes my rear wheel in the air, and gawks as the moment passes. Later, at breakfast he recalls the moment and how he uttered something so profane, I can’t write it here. 😀
I repeat, Mightily Comfortable.
My friend takes me through a pre ride checklist as I sit on his bike. It’s more akin to a Captain and co-pilot exchanging notes and running through flight controls prior to takeoff. The BMW has electronic suspension which is activated at the touch of a button. It has multiple modes for (wait for it) turn signal indicators! There’s on the fly selectors/ toggles/ switches etc etc. I’m in a cockpit.
On the ride, we enter a small village which hosts a legendary breakfast place. In one narrow village lane, the bike stalls. At this point in time I’m expecting a dozen warning lights to pop up and completely fluster me. None of that happens. I downshift to neutral, thumb the starter, pop the clutch, drop first gear and off we go. Yup, it’s still just a lovable old motorcycle underneath it all. And May I say. Mightily Comfortable. 😃
Which brings me to the Ninja. Nope this is another one. The 1000. Is it fast? Yep. But I didn’t feel it like I did on the 650. Is it smooth. Yep. But I didn’t feel it like I did on the 650. Ok. Wait what?
Yep. It’s fast. But it’s not manic. It’s mature.
Yep it’s smooth. Too much to qualify. So you don’t feel it.
Is it like a car? Far from it. You feel everything. Enough said.
An early morning ride out to Murugan Idly, which serves lip smacking dosas from 6:00 am. We are witnessing this strangest phenomenon. Every few miles I’m alternating between dazzling sunshine and a light fog. It’s a bit crazy. The sky when visible, is a brilliant blue. My friend has switched to sunglasses. We pause and admire this freak of nature.
While the dry spell lasts, before the summer really scorches us, we intend to ride out to the mountains. That’s something to look forward to. Riding season ain’t over yet!