Reduce to evolve

In spite of a ‘swearing in’ ceremony, where I resolved to keep the Himalayan as stock as possible, I’ve let customisation instincts get better of me. So like the C5, I’ve gone ahead and pushed the Himalayan down the weight reduction path. Allow me to explain. 😊

Stripped Moto. Sans everything. Well, almost everything. 🙂

Last month, my bro-in-law and me rode up to Horseley Hills. On this ride, I loaded the bike with a top box, Studds side cases, a back pack, a trail bag, my camera bag and saddle bag stays. Halfway into the ride, three things happened.

1. At speeds above 100 kph there was a jarring vibration from the front visor.

2. On rough tarmac, broken surfaces, the rear mount and top box, although packed to the brim, rattled a lot.

3. We pulled into a restaurant parking lot, where while navigating a speed bump, I forgot to downshift. The bike stalled, halfway over the bump. Within seconds, the bike tilted over, the weight was too much, and I had to let go. It took some effort, from both of us, to pull it up again.

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Horseley Hills-Givi top box, Studds side cases, saddlebags (missing from photo), screen.

I also wanted to understand how the bike fares, loaded up in this fashion, on a ride. My learning was, a top box is a no no. Side mounted saddle bags or panniers are much better. A loaded top box on a loaded bike, affects handling only ever so slightly, but never eases up the feeling that you are dragging more weight.

Sometime around last year, another nagging thought had got me questioning a statement made by Royal Enfield CEO- Siddharth Lal. “The Himalayan is designed to be your only bike”. If this were my only bike, what would qualify to make the quintessential ‘do it all machine’, without looking like a large kitted to the brim caravan on two wheels.

I wanted a no frills work horse. A pack mule that does the job. Convenient for commuting and adequate for short tours. I should always be confident about handling it’s fully loaded weight on any terrain. The bike should retain its core character, and its puppy dog friendliness. What was absolutely essential for this purpose had to stay. The rest had to go. So, on a DIY weekend after the Horseley Hills ride, I got down to removing bits and bobs, which I figured, had no real functional purpose whatsoever. Here’s a summary of what I did.

The visor– After two years of use, I’m still not entirely convinced that the screen/ visor on the Himalayan, has any real use. The screen is not adjustable on the fly. It affects road edge visibility when dirty, and in my case, is worse because it’s completely blacked out. At speeds where it’s supposed to deflect wind from the rider, it shakes like a leaf. As for the looking good part, I have a concept sketch from Pierre Terblanche, for the Ducati inspired fairing for the Himalayan. The current visor looks nothing like it. Hence, in my opinion does not do justice there either. Time to get rid of it permanently.

Concept sketch for the Himalayan- note how the fairing integrates the tank with headlamps

Rear luggage mount (carrier)- This might be harder to justify, as this is a very handy accessory on the bike, which comes factory fitted. I removed it for two reasons. Reason no 1, is an instance, where the rear mount broke under very nominal weight of the top box. (RE_issues ). It put a big question mark on the quality of this part.

Reason no 2 revolved around the need for putting in a replacement carrier. It so happened that in the interim that I replaced the broken carrier, I started liking the clean, unhindered look of the tail light assembly. I decided to keep with the look. Mounting something like a backpack on the rear seat was taken care of by saddle stays.

Front fender- with the screen gone and the rear carrier gone, the bike started looking more scrambler, less adventure tourer. Now the Himalayan has a beak like front fender, fixed below the number plate mount. Ride the bike for a couple of days and you realise that this fender is a purely aesthetic device, sans function. The front mudguard on the tyre does its job perfectly. So the fender had to go. A couple of instagram posts convinced me that the bike would still look good.

Rear mount gone, saddle bag stays retained.
Here’s how the bike looks now without the front fender!
Need to get a pair of knobbly tyres now!

In the near future, the plan is to get rid of the entire headlight frame and assembly, which is independent of the handlebar and front suspension, and make it a true scrambler. Until then, I’ll be happy with its current avatar. 😊

Miss the old hag…

Circa 2016#25kgweightreductiontest#airportcoffeerun

Himalayan, 6 months ownership update.

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.

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This was easier back in the day when you had a bit of river to yourself. circa 2012
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The Cauvery is still breathtaking in Bheemeshwari, but we could not get the bikes down to the water. circa 2016
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A spot of tranquil in the forest, the river’s not far ahead
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The way in was lit by brilliant blue skies

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.

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Mysore palace- a sight to behold after a fantastic ride

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.

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Tour -ready, Shadowfax with the new mirrors
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Up, close- the RE GT mirrors- wider field of view
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From the archives, circa 2001-the image that started it all

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.

C5 Evolution

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Fresh off the press, April 2012

First Day at work, circa April 2012. 

This is the bike in its stock version. Factory fresh. Only change requested at the showroom- give me a single stay instead of that awful saree guard, any day.

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Tour ready, March 2013

First Tour with Pillion, circa March 2013

Front tyres changed to Ceat Secura Sport. Seats changed to Perfect seats (Mumbai)- for both rider and pillion. These are extremely comfortable. Yamaha RD350 handlebar with cross bar, made by Art of Motorcycles, Bangalore. Custom performance exhaust and heat wrap to exhaust pipe by Art of Motorcycles. Note the GIVI box mount and carrier. Removed that funny beak over the headlamp. My wife and me  Coorg’ed for the first time in this avatar :).

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Handlebar, Bucket Seats and Givi Mount, March 2013
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Heat wrap on the exhaust, March 2013

Some more touring modifications, circa November 2013

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Touring in the Nilgiris, November 2013

For an extended ride to Ooty and beyond (with pillion) the C5 got a Ladakh carrier with the Givi mount and a large windshield for those friendly green bugs that come your way as dusk falls. The big change was to the rear tyre. Went in for a  MRF on-off road button tyre with a huge sidewall.  This increased ride comfort and ground clearance.

Scrambler- beginnings, circa February 2014

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An attempt at a crown. Cree Fog lamp, February 2014

On the insistence of Junaid from Art of Motorcycles, the C5 went in for Cree Fog lamps and a wider, straight handlebar. The large screen, was replaced with a visor, which was fixed using an elaborate set of cast iron clamps. To date, I think that was the worst thing I ever did to the looks of the moto. Glad it was on for a short while.

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New front mudguard. The seeds of  a scrambler are sown, February 2014

Our breakfast runs with the group Ministry of Torque, were increasingly ending up in areas where we used to lose tarmac for a while. My constant conversations with the folks with AOM were also headed in the direction of weight reduction. The front lightweight mudguard was the first step towards a scrambler and to this day, I marvel at how sturdily its been built, and how well it defines the bike. I always felt that the stock mudguard was a bit to large for those skinny 90x90x19″ wheels.

Scramble tamble, ready to ramble, circa June 2014

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Scrambler, June 2014

My craving for a scrambler started getting better of me. Added to that was the need to reduce weight and start pushing the capabilities of the machine. So one fine weekend, out went the pillion seat, in came the GIVI mount, sans carrier. Also, at the insistence of friendly folks at AOM, the rear shock absorbers were replaced with those from the Hero Honda Karizma. The ride quality and feedback shot up a gazillion times. Took it out for a run on a dry lake bed off Mysore highway. Managed some drifting. Was all smiles.

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Inspiration. Scrambler, June 2014.

Around this time, I discovered Bike Exif (http://www.bikeexif.com) and other custom motorcycle websites/ publications like Iron and Air (http://ironandair.com/throttle). Found the Tendance Roadster in one of those. And drooled. The C5 needed to lose more weight (and perhaps me too!). Family priorities took hold however, and the C5 ran in the above avatar for almost a year. I fell in love with the new rear shock absorbers. They could take on anything, really.

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On home turf. The scrambler impressed, August 2014
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Note the stubby cap to exhaust, Yelagiri, August 2014

A ride with TEMC to Yelagiri let me test a small mod to the custom exhaust by AOM. Note the stubby cap at the end. This version of the exhaust is insane. The speeds uphill were scary and the tappets after, scarred. Will always remember Yelagiri for that Pikes Hill Climb like affair. I have since removed the exhaust and given it its rightful place of honour- on the mantlepiece. To be used on special occasions only!

Reduce Reduce Reduce! circa June 2015

On a rainy Sunday, one of the welded mounts on the bucket seat gave way and a tacky job at the local weld shop forced me to start looking for other options. I had been on the lookout for a good mechanic closer to my house, and found two at Iblur junction. The gents, Nizam and Javed, persuaded me to try the Thunderbird Twin Spark (TBTS) seat on the C5. I took their advice and rode with it for two days. The bucket seat kicked the bucket the very next day. 🙂

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Long seat…what need for a mudguard? June 2015

I also questioned the need for a rear mudguard. With the overhang of the new seat, which fits on the stock frame, surely one doesn’t need that weighty rear mudguard? I dreamed of generating  30 bhp at the crank, up from the stock 27 bhp, with that heavy, cumbersome rear end removed. One ride without the mudguard, however, told me all I needed to know about tyre tread patterns and their intimate relationship with slime and mud (slung in all directions). With a dirty backpack and a mud plastered helmet, I realised, I needed professionals on this job!

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Bare essentials, June 2015

Short lived fantasy custom, September 2015

Enter Greasehouse Customs (http://indimotard.com/greasehouse-customs/) and this is what they created. Or rather, this is what they reduced the bike to. Out went the rear mudguard assembly and in came a beautifully crafted (and uncannily expensive) tail job with an imported parking light to complete the rear. I had bought Continental GT indicators as a replacement for my stock ones and they went on too. Some sticker-ing and a bit of re-painting and this one was good to go.

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Loved the rear end, September 2015
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Lean and mean, upfront, September 2015
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GT Continental numberplate and indicators, UK tail lamp, September 2015
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Storage box tossed out, protective mesh thrown in, September 2015
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Blacked out headlight rim, September 2015
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Reduce, Reduce, Reduce- C5, September 2015

The big positive with this iteration, was the ride. Braking improved considerably- with so much less weight to handle, the bike displayed no signs of that legendary fishtailing on hard braking. Pushing the bike into corners and powering down straights was a delight. Acceleration was startling and every twist of the wrist promised a wheelie.

Unfortunately, good times only last so long. One balmy evening, as I was battling bumper to bumper traffic on the ORR, a lorry driver rear ended me. The beautiful ‘tail job’ almost snapped in two. I was heartbroken. The rear mudguard survived a few more weeks before developing a crack at the bend induced on impact. I also realised that the beautiful ‘tail job’ had not been structurally sound and had lacked requisite stiffeners essential to its function. So much for my dreams of featuring on Bike Exif. What next? I asked myself.

Quintessential motorcycle, circa December 2015

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The everyday, do it all moto, December 2015

Four years on, as I post this, the bike is running like a dream, courtesy Javed, my friendly neighbourhood mechanic. I have managed to keep the bike as light as possible. The stock mudguard went in for a small customisation job. The beautiful tail lamp and the indicators were re-mounted, along with the GT number plate, and I installed a pair of stock mirrors from the Hero Honda Splendor. The stock tail lamp assembly along with the number plate and those bulky indicators, I realised, were a major weight adding element to the stock mudguard- weighing no less than 4 kgs by themselves. The Hero Honda mirrors, are just amazing. Not a stir in them, no vibes, no shaking- rock steady at all speeds. I found that they also complement the low, wide handlebar.

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The C5. Current Avatar, June 2016
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Splendor mirrors work well, look good. June 2016

I am happy to keep running the bike in this avatar. Every morning, as I get ride ready for my work day, arguably the best part of my work day, I can’t help admire the simplicity and purposeful nature of the looks of the bike. It says ‘I’m your true moto, an extension of your own self. I am, the quintessential motorcycle. Nothing more shall you need’.

Amen to that. Happy riding all!

 

Shadowfax

I have a new motorcycle. Out of what sums up as a passing interest for all things on two wheels, I have followed its development and launch with some enthusiasm. It became a bike on my near future wish list, but I was too much in love with my C5 to think of this newcomer as a certainty.  Little did I know that it’d be coming my way soon, courtesy my beloved wife, who saw my passing interest more as a mad obsession, and one weekend, while driving past an RE showroom, decided to book one to get me out of my dilemma.

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And that is how the 2016 Royal Enfield HIMALAYAN Snow came to be a part of my life. I have decided to call it Shadowfax, that lord of horses, for as my first ride impression will reveal, an iron horse it is.  Two days on and here is a brief log.

Setting up the bike

After bringing the bike home yesterday, I spent a good deal of time prepping it, working well past midnight. From the C5 kit list, the RAM mount, the Givi top box with its mount and TBird 500 mirrors got added on. I’m not too happy with the mirrors, they manage to just about do the job and are better than the stock mirrors, which were completely useless. Need to replace these with the HH Splendor Mirrors like on the C5. The RAM mount of course, is the one indestructible equipment which is a must on this bike.

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The bike looks more purposeful now with the addition of the Givi top box. It’s ride ready for my commuter runs to work everyday, especially with manic rains lashing Bangalore this year. For many (and the uninitiated), it may remind them of a pizza delivery box. 🙂 The nice thing though is that the huge mono shock and strong rear frame make light of the added weight of the top box and the ride quality is not affected at all. I have also removed that ugly contraption they call a ‘saree guard’. Here’s how the bike fares up front.

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First Ride Impressions- In the City

I’ll admit, the only let down is the lack of torquey spread and instant acceleration I’m used to on my C5, especially in its lightweight avatar. That and the clunky gearbox- the gears might become a royal pain if they continue to be this way. Finding neutral isn’t easy, more so if I’m riding in first gear. The clutch is hard. I did have to down shift once too often last night while riding with pillion. Many new owners are struggling with the same questions, as internet surveys reveal. Some say that the gearbox issue gets sorted after the first service. So that’s good news.

That said, the engineering shines. The ride quality is a dream. The long travel suspension and way the bike is setup aids fantastic handling and corner carving; slicing through traffic and conquering potholes is just too damn easy. The brakes are good- the front brake effectiveness takes some getting used too- its a little slow on the bite, but both brakes when applied together, work really well. So far, contrary to some reports on the wide wide web, the engine noise on this machine is not a clatter. The throttle response is quick. And the power delivery is smooth and linear. I’m not a trigger happy sort of rider, and in the running period, I have no intention of gunning the throttle. But the way the bike responds when I have to do quick overtakes, tells me that the bike can really dart upto triple digit figures. Vibrations are more or less absent at lesser speeds, depending on the way you define vibrations. I certainly have not felt them in the footpegs or bar. There seems to be some on the tank when I clasp it with my legs, at high revs.

I love the way the motorcycle makes you feel completely at ease. There is a laid back, easy going lope to its stride, and a quiet assurance that highway miles will be munched in absolute comfort. Strap up, settle in and relax brother, it tells me- let me take you to the yonder blue mountain.

Can’t wait to do my first long distance run.

 

C5

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The C5, a few days after arrival, April 2012
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The C5, present day, 2016