If you can’t ride, read.

I can imagine how frustrating the current situation might be for an avid motorcyclist. Coronavirus has affected several countries around the world and the motorcycling fraternity in many of these countries would be raring to ride out at the slightest easing of restrictions.

Out here, for a good part of three months, I did not even look at the motorcycle. I stayed home, stayed put, stayed safe. Come June, with the lockdown lifted, I did roll the bike out. It needed a battery replacement, which got done. And on 16th June, we quietly accomplished 4 years of being together through thick and thin. To celebrate the occasion, I went for a quick highway run with my cousin, who also owns a four year old BS3 Himalayan. The short ride, gave us a chance to reflect on two things-

1. How much we had missed not riding

2. We were really among the last of the breed, with our BS3 Himalayans. With the success of the EFI Himalayan in the last couple of years you don’t see many of the older ones about. I felt lucky to have this simple forerunner of a machine. And it felt great to have it running so smooth and true four years on.

Short highway run within the district to clear cobwebs from my mind. Seen here with the other BS3 Himalayan, both 4 years old.
The Himalayan has evolved over the years, but stayed true to its core purpose of being an everyday, everything, anywhere use machine.

However, aside from this small outing, for most of the Lockdown, I consoled myself browsing through some of my favourite reads on the shelf.

Here’s a glance at my budding motorcycle reads collection. Would strongly recommend all three, if you haven’t had a chance to get your paws on them yet.

Looking through them brought back nice memories of my own rides and good times with the bikes I’ve owned and ridden.

Here’s hoping that the world overcomes this crisis soon, and we find ourselves back on our machines, rolling happily into the new millennium.

Himalayan update- 23000kms and counting…

A few weeks ago, I finally managed to lay hands on the last item required for build ideas I had for the Himalayan. 23500 kms and 3 years, 8 months in the making, I’m very happy with the way it has turned out. Almost everything added to the bike is a genuine Royal Enfield accessory. No cheap aftermarket bits and bobs here.

Himalayan, circa 2020
Himalayan, circa 2020
Retro-tourer, circa 2020.

In my last post Essential Upgrades, I had talked about replacing the worn out stock seat with a Touring Seat. The Touring Seat took me more than 6 months to locate and buy. For some weird reason, Royal Enfield does not have online sales for bike accessories. And this one is a best seller that almost every dealership runs quickly out of.

For more than a year, I ran the bike without any kind of wind protection. I was glad to get rid of the fiddly stock visor which had a serious buffeting issue at high speeds. However, I still felt the need for a smaller cowl or fly screen to complete the look of the bike.

Made a quick sketch to see how a flyscreen would look.

A quick sketch on my iPad convinced me that a flyscreen might just do it. Got myself an Interceptor 650 flyscreen the next day. Had to convince my mates at Highlander, my friendly neighbourhood Moto workshop, to file and shape the mounting bracket. But other than that, it was an easy fit.

Short Flyscreen from the Interceptor 650. A high intensity LED bulb from NightEye replaces the stock bulb in the headlight.

Here’s a summary of additions to the bike at 20000kms.

  • Upgraded the handle-bar to the Braced Handlebar Kit (Part no. 1990206). The handlebar weighs 20% less than the stock bar, is beautifully finished, and Made in Taiwan. From Royal Enfield Brand Showroom, BTM Layout, Bangalore.
  • Installed Bar-End Finisher Kits (Part No.1990220) for the same handlebar. From Royal Enfield Brand Showroom, BTM Layout, Bangalore.
  • BMC Lifetime Filter for the Himalayan- Sourced from Big Bear Customs, St. Marks Road, Bangalore.
  • Brake Reservoir protector from the Continental GT (535). (Available at most Service Centres)
  • Metzeler Tourance Next tyres- 90/90-21 to the front, 150/70- 17 to the rear. (Orion Motors, Koramangala)
  • Short Flyscreen from the Royal Enfield Interceptor 650, (Royal Enfield Brand Showroom, BTM Layout)
  • Royal Enfield Aluminium Panniers with mounts (Royal Enfield Brand Showroom, BTM Layout)
  • Royal Enfield Touring Seat for the Himalayan (Royal Enfield Brand Showroom, BTM Layout)
  • NightEye headlight replacement bulb (Sourced online)

To know about other bits of DIY which shaped the bike, and my overall ownership experience, you can catch up here. If you are a Himalayan owner and have done some fiddling yourself, do drop me a line. 😊

The bike setup feels perfect for lazy ganders through backroads like this. 😊

Himalayan- Essential Upgrades

In my Himalayan, 15000km Update. I had talked about upgrading to a good set of tyres as the stock tyres had worn out completely. After shortlisting various on/off road tyres, including the Pirelli MT60, which does duty on Himalayans sold outside India, I decided to run with Metzeler Tourance Next. The photos below, show how the bike looks with new shoes.

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Metzeler Tourance Next- 90/90 x 21″ Front Tyre- easy fit on the Himalayan.

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Metzeler Tourance Next- 150/70 x 17″ rear tyre. This fitting requires a skilled mechanic as the rim width is designed to hold a 120/90 x 17″ tyre. Nevertheless, once installed correctly, the tyre is a seamless fit. I am using a Ralco 140/17 tube in the tyre. 

The tyres are significantly higher grade (being Metzelers) and therefore, significantly more expensive. But they are comparable to or cheaper than, the other options I looked at. I chose these tyres after a fair bit of research, for the following reasons:

  1. In three years of use, I have not done any serious off-roading on the Himalayan. And I realise, that while any offroad trail which comes my way, when I’m on a ride is more than welcome, I’m not much into off-roading as a sport. Which meant that I required a good set of dual sport tyres that would be ideal for commuting and touring.
  2. I wanted road focussed tyres that could handle dirt trails. Now the stock tyres are good on dirt and okay on road. Folks who are on their second set of stock tyres are bound to disagree with me, and a month or two ago, I would have sworn by the Ceats. However, since I’ve put on the Metzelers, two things have become crystal clear- a. The road grip is amazing- I feel much more confident entering and exiting corners now, and b. braking has improved tremendously.
  3. Off road adventure tyres with knobbly treads have very poor mileage on road. Here the Metzelers stood out, with a lot of online reviews claiming a mileage of 15000 plus miles. This was one big deciding factor.

My second investment was the all aluminium box panniers from Royal Enfield. The panniers are sturdy, lockable and waterproof, with two years warranty. Mounting and removing them is a straightforward affair, and build quality is pretty decent. They add quite a lot of character to the bike. The bike looks purposeful and adventure ready. Here again, I researched luggage systems from Shad and Hepco and Becker, both of which offered hard plastic cases, but were on the expensive side. I went in for the Royal Enfield product as it was very good value for money, robust and simple to use.

Royal Enfield Aluminium panniers on the Himalayan.

Some DIY was required to mount the number plate, but it turned out fine, I think. 

Mounting and removing the panniers is a 5 minutes affair. 

I’ll pop in a review soon, about these upgrades, once I’ve headed out on a long ride. In the meantime, I’ve been commuting. And the panniers are an absolute blessing. Earlier, I’d spend at least 10 to15 minutes daily, strapping my laptop bag on and taking it off the bike; now, its a 30 second affair. The panniers swallow everything. And keep stuff snug and dry. ‘Fill it, shut it, forget it’, is what I say. 🙂

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Commuting, before the panniers. My laptop bag is mounted on the rear seat with the help of bungee cords. Everyday, prepping the bike took at least 10 minutes. 

 

 

Four wheels only…

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Every once in a while, I get out on four wheels. This one from Harangi Reservoir, Coorg, March 2018

This is how we used to roll…

On Nice Road, did a dry run with the bikes ahead of our ride to Coorg. Testing the Go Pro Hero 3. Circa2013. Soundtrack: Asleep at the Wheel/ The Cinematics

Bonnie days in home country

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Where do we go from here ‘cos all of the roads ahead are great!

Last year, I drove on a very scenic route between my hometowns of Ranchi and Jamshedpur. I marvelled at newly laid roads and natural beauty en-route -see blog post motorcyling country

I vowed to return and explore the region on a motorcycle. This Diwali break, I teamed up with my cousin and uncle, both proud owners of the Triumph Bonneville Street Twin, and went off on a fantastic spree through beautiful heartland. My uncle, who owns a veritable stable of motorcycles and cars, had a spare bike at hand- one lovingly maintained, 6 year old, Honda CBR 250R. I happily agreed to use this ride, though I had my eyes set on the Twins. 🙂 We planned to head for Patratu Valley, supposed to be a motorcyclist’s dream, with the best set of twisties this side of the country. Our circuit for the day covered about 150kms- beyond the Valley, there were some nice reservoirs and forests to be explored.

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Patratu Valley, Drone Shot (Source Tripadvsior.in)

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Great loop of  about 150 kms through woodlands, Sal forests and reservoirs

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Our choice of rides, some slower options parked in the back. 🙂

We set off at about 7:30am from my uncle’s place, with the day dawning bright and sunny. Heading out of the city we encountered light traffic and were near the start of the valley in less than an hour. The first few kilometres into the valley are all about wide sweeping curves with very gentle gradient.

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A short stop to regroup, before we begin our descent into the valley

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First sight of the hills, always lifts my heart. 🙂

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The approach into the valley, is all about wide sweeping curves on well laid roads.

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Sunlit morning, two roaring British twins, winding roads and no traffic. Motorcyling Nirvana? You bet!

At the start of the famous twisties, we stopped for a breather to take in panoramic views of woodlands and Patratu Reservoir. With this becoming the new hotspot in the state, the area gets its fair share of tourists. Luckily most of them were still waking up at this hour, and we found the generally crowded spot devoid of shutter-mongers. We did however, find a romancing couple, cat-walking on the highway, posing for cameras of a professional crew. Apparently this latest trend in pre-wedding shoots, is big business in the state.

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One incredible road, leading all the way down the mountain!

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Panoramic views of the reservoir from the top

Later, we made a slow descent, stopping now and then to take in incredible vistas, that unfolded, with each bend of the road.

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Spot the motos!

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Stopping to take in the view, along the descent.

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Gabion walls retain hillsides as we begin the steeper part of the descent. The roads are an engineering marvel.

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Conquered the loops-now a photo session. First the men…

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…then the machines.

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Hills and rivers are plentiful in ‘Jharkand’ , which loosely translated means ‘land of forests’

We had a long, leisurely breakfast at a roadside dhaba, near Patratu town. Egg bhurji, Plain rotis and aloo bhujia. A welcome change from the traditional fare of idli vada/ dosa down South. After breakfast, my cousin very generously traded his Street Twin for the CBR. I am seriously impressed with the motorcycle- but will go into detailed review in another post. We skipped the dam visit, as there was some construction activity near the entrance and a pile of tourist buses. From here the roads to and beyond Ramgarh, were a combination of two and four lanes with very good surface.

Ramgarh town is an urban horror. Riding in straight and fast from these immaculate roads, we were soon in a quagmire of honking buses, bullock carts, bicycle rickshaws, wayward pedestrians, stray cattle and everything else a busy small town in India can throw at you. The roads in town are nothing to write home about it either. The upside though, was piloting the Street Twin through this mess. The bike is so easy to ride and handle, its hard to believe its a 900cc parallel twin. Of all the larger bikes I have ridden, this felt the friendliest and most accessible. The Royal Enfield Interceptor, may hold a lot of promise on the question of accessibility, but I will ride it to believe it. Until then I’m sold on the Bonnie. 🙂

Few miles after Ramgarh, near a settlement called Gola, we stopped for a cuppa at a dhaba aspiring to be a resort. Over tea we decided to check out Getalsud Dam and Reservoir nearby. Now the dam is an okay visit at best. However the road leading to the reservoir is a gem. Cutting straight through a large swathe of Sal trees, this road is spectacular- check out the photos.

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This road was pure discovery…

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…and everyone wanted a piece of the action, for their Instagram and WhatsApp feeds…

 

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…including yours truly. 🙂

 

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Photo opportunities weren’t scarce on a road like this, on the move…

 

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…or standing still.

 

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Heading out of the sal forest, towards the reservoir.

 

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At Getalsud Reservoir

 

 

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A moment of calm in the Sal forest. All we needed was a tent, a fire and some beers. 🙂

Towards late noon- after a brief wander into the sal forest, we started for home. Lunch was a longer affair, complicated by the need to chase, capture, dress, cook and serve a free roaming country chicken (Or so the dhaba staff claimed). We called it a day at my uncle’s moto stable, piping hot tea in our hands, exchanging motorcycle tales, and making plans for the next ride.

 

 

New lid on the block

Got myself a brand new Bell Qualifyer helmet. Wifey and me just fell in love with the retro themed stripes. Already appreciating some of the finer detailing compared to the outgoing MT Axis, I have used for more than 2 years. Will poke in a review soon!

Date with Versys

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The Versys loves the open road

A few days ago, I got a cool birthday surprise from my dearest wife. She sent me a Wicked Ride reservation for a Kawasaki Versys 650. It was to be mine for a day!! Read on for some first impressions.

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First stop, the office!

The model I got was from 2016, all black and missing the green livery and newer bits and bobs from the current model. The bike is tall and gangly, no matter how you look at it, with that rear overhang tad longer than it should be. Seat height at 840mm will be a struggle for short riders, and the screen on centre stand was higher than my Himalayan’s. The good thing though, is the incredibly rider friendly nature of the bike. It felt familiar within the first 20 minutes. Ergonomics are great, the seat has enough room for movement and tall ride height, a boon in traffic.  I would have preferred a wider, taller handlebar, which would have helped maneuverability and standing on pegs while negotiating potholes.

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The cockpit gets a rev counter and digital speedo. Tell tale lights for ABS, indicators, high beam and engine warning light. Miss the nifty bits from the Himalayan like the service reminder and gear indicator.

Rolling around in the city, on a public holiday, proved to be effortless. I was worried that the engine would start cooking my legs in stop and go traffic situations. When that failed to happen, I realised that the large tank, tall seat and rear set footpegs keep your legs away from the heat. The only thing to be careful with then, was the throttle. A slight rev on the throttle would pummel the motorcycle towards triple digit speeds, instantly. Ten odd kilometres later, with the art of throttle control mastered, I was flicking through traffic, having a ball.  Later, trundling along at 60kph on a traffic free flyover, I decide to gun the throttle. The bike darts like a hooligan! Over the crest, in the next instant, I see the speedo flash 120kph, and know that I have crossed the speed limit set by the hiring agency.  This transpired in a few seconds, without the need to down-shift. Ample torque figures of 64NM and 68/69 PS, from a refined twin cylinder, crafted out of the Ninja lineage, take credit for this performance. The bike measures the same as my Himalayan, length and breadth wise, so carving up traffic was all about getting used to the extra power on tap. The brakes, with ABS, were excellent.

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Felt like a king, for a day, with two able stallions in the stable

As a commuter then, the bike is pretty desirable. But an entry level tourer is best tried outside the city. Next stop, the highway!

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Too many sharp edges, if you ask me. (I’m still a sucker for curves)

Out on the freeway towards Krishnagiri, I’m constantly aware of one nagging reminder- stick to the 120kph speed limit. It seems impossible to do this, especially on straights.  And on wide sweeping curves, I had some trouble understanding how to keep to the centreline. The front felt heavy and there was quite a lot of understeer. Now this may have been an issue with the rental bike- I don’t recall reading anything of the sort while going through reviews on the bike. Well, that was a downer, as a lot of the stretch from here till Krishnagiri has these long winding curves.

Everything else, was just dandy. The bike excels as a mile muncher. Covering large distances, at speeds around 120kph, all day long, with an unstressed engine, is this bike’s forte. The seat is gloriously comfortable. Hepco and Becker, in addition to Kawasaki, have a full range of luggage accessories for this bike in India, and mounted up, its a formidable tourer. I did not get much sense of the mileage, but I was told its in the range of 23-25kpl, which I thought was pretty decent.

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One feature I really loved, was the hazard light switch (red) on the handlebar. I use this quite a lot on my Himalayan, both in the city and when on a ride. Its a pain to let go of the bars and reach towards the centre console. On the Versys, the switch is within easy reach of my thumb.

 

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Rear and three quarters views of the bike are best, the front and side views are a bit awkward, IMHO.

So is this something, I’d like to lay my hands on in the near future? I won’t deny its a tempting proposition. The pros outweigh the cons- its got a super smooth, terrific engine, good torque and power figures, great brakes and ergonomics. Most importantly, its not ridiculously expensive, like say a Triumph or a Ducati. I’m not a hard corner hugging rider, nor have any experience on the race track, to comment on the bike’s track abilities. But I wouldn’t bat an eyelid about it’s excellent touring capability.

At the end of the day, however, I think I would look further for two reasons. For starters, I’m not entirely sure, how well this entire package handles off road. The bike’s weight tops 200+ kgs, which will be higher still when loaded with luggage. The tyres are not really dual purpose, and from the reviews I read, not very inspiring, even on flat dirt tracks. Suspension travel or the handlebars aren’t great for off road manoeuvres either. And I reckon, in real off the grid conditions, the bike will feel top heavy. I’d strike out the ‘adventure’ prefix from the bike’s ‘tourer’ moniker.

Reason number two, has simply to do with how ungainly the bike looks. I’ll get to the point- it does look like a pelican on two wheels. And I’d rather not be seen riding a pelican, don’t you think?

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On the highway, this mid segment Kawasaki is nothing less than incredible.

 

 

Motorcycling Country

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Roads around Steel City, like this one, are newly laid blacktops to motorcycling heaven

The last few years have seen a host of transport infrastructure improvements in many parts of the country. On a recent trip to my hometown of Jamshedpur, I was pleasantly surprised to see some excellent tarmac connecting major cities in the state. The bountiful, naturally blessed topography of the Chotanagpur plateau is also a delight to discover on these new roads. And what best way to discover new places, than on a motorcycle?

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Subarnarekha river glimpsed from a Ghat section near Jampot

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A village pond near Chandil

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Forests give way to fields, Kandra

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Topography, Taimara ghat section 

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Fields of ripe green paddy stretch to the hills, Bundu

Hold that thought, I say to myself. Have to spend a few days touring here, sometime in the near future. Until then, I will keep these photos as a memory, captured during a three hour drive from ‘Jampot’ to Ranchi.

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Sangam- Subarnarekha and Kharkhai

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Old Faithful

You know, how sometimes, a certain tool or machine or even a personal item, feels so much a part of your life, because its been around forever? Tried, tested and weathered over time, this object of affection has an enduring significance that’s part and parcel of your being? Well oddly enough, for me, one of these objects is a pair of utilitarian motorcycle luggage boxes.

The Studds Vault, is an unchanged design dating possibly back to 2002. I first used these on my Kawasaki Caliber Croma motorbike, way back in 2004.  In those days, all I had was a helmet, a pair of gloves and a backpack, in the name of riding gear. So these proved ideal for short weekend getaways. They were great for regular office days as well- I could stow away a fair sized water bottle and lunch box. Capable of taking on rigours of daily use- the simple construction and robust detailing made them road worthy for many years.

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At Hatu peak, beyond Narkanda, 3500m above sea level. Circa 2004.

I got hooked onto motorcycling and long rides on my Kawasaki Croma- tripping around North India in the first few years of my professional life. The boxes were the perfect setup for hauling my meagre belongings. The photo above was of a day outing from Shimla to Hatu Peak beyond Narkanda, where on a shepherd’s trail, we got stuck because of melting snow.

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Studds Vault boxes on the Avenger 220, with a Givi top box. Bangalore, circa 2010.

My first machine after my return to India in 2010, was an Avenger 220. Intending to make this little cruiser little more functional, I stalked stores on JC road in Bangalore, until I was able to set up the bike like this. These were a good fit on the bike, along with the Givi top box. The machine got its fair share of attention, and I could pack enough for a two to three day tour.

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The Avenger 220, seemed custom made for flaunting this little piece of storage equipment.

So when the time came to consider some serious hard luggage for the Himalayan, I did not immediately think of the Studds Vault, as an option. After all, this is 2017. The Indian motorcycling scene has exploded. Almost every major manufacturer has the top of its product line selling here- from adventure tourers to sport tourers to cruisers. There’s no dearth of premium luggage options as well. The RE branded panniers for the Himalayan are expensive, German made, sturdy aluminium hard case ‘swallow it all’.

But I needed something smaller to cope with the monsoons. The Via Terra tail bag gets wet in a downpour. The Givi Top Box had been given away. I wanted luggage that could stay on the bike permanently, whether I’m touring or commuting. It should hold everything I carry on my regular commute, and supplement saddle bags and carrier tailbags when I’m on tour. Scrolling through my biking archives I came across the above photos. And remembered a pair of old friends.

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The bike comes home shod with boxes…

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…they integrate well with the side profile of the bike…

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…some road presence added to that slim front…

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…don’t look too bad at night either.

More information on the product can be found here:

http://www.studds.com/Home/accessoriesDetail/64