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.
A few years ago, on my way back from a meeting in Whitefield to my house near IIM Bangalore, I discovered this road at the suggestion of a colleague. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first rode on it. One minute you are negotiating gaps between heavy trucks on a major state highway leading out of the city, and a minute later, you turn right on an almost invisible lane and you are instantly in the midst of a motorcyclist’s dream. This back road, which is off Varthur road, touches a pretty village after a series of twisties and then has little bits of straights before dissolving into twisties again. It finally hits Sarjapur Road after a run of 5 km. And hear this- there was little or no traffic. The road condition was impeccable, and although you wont find rolling mountains here, there was ample greenery and smiling village folk on the way.
In the early days, when I moved to South India, these little discoveries added to the list of everyday delights which made me slowly fall in love with this place. These quaint roads, lined with greenery, on the outskirts of the city, that lead nowhere seemingly significant, but which always leave you feeling refreshed and give you a notion of being away from it all.
Long before the Varthur-Devanahalli-Airport road became a regular favourite with Airport Taxi operators, my wife and me had happened to venture out on it, one fine Sunday on our Avenger 220. We joined the Old Madras Road from Whitefield and continued on till we reached Hoskote. From here we took a left turn and after a kilometre or so started getting into real country. One starts to notice innumerable vegetable farms in a short while- the lifeline to the fresh produce, the city gets every morning. And then come the bends, and my heart whoops with joy. Apart from the absence of monstrous trucks invading your sense of well being and those nice surprises round every bend, what’s really great about these city limit back roads is that it is here, free from city noise and pollution, that you feel that whiff in the air, and are able to truly enjoy that fantastic weather you get all year round at 917m of elevation.
Over the years my motorcycle buddies and me, have explored these back of the woods as part of a rag tag moto group that thrives on the idea of ‘Sunday Breakfast Runs’. The format here is simple- wake up real early, start your engines at the crack of dawn, congregate at a designated street corner somewhere in the city, ride towards a pre-ordained breakfast joint on the highway (where the proprietor is as enthusiastic about rising early as you are), gobble down standard fare- idly vada, khara bhaat, maybe some masala dose… and wash it all down with steaming hot, strong filter coffee.
Over breakfast, talk bikes and plan the next big ride, and update your dream motorcycle wishlist, based on inputs from your moto-mates. When you are finished with breakfast, you need to take the long way home- which generally involves heading into the nearest patch of woods and perhaps a little loss of tarmac.
On all these rides we have figured routes which venture off the main highways leading out of town. We take them small unknown roads which connect one major route out of the city to the next. You can also read about some more back road discoveries here-