Southern Sojourn: Honda CBR 250R

It was in August last year that we set out to explore this vast country of ours astride the Honda CBR 250R. Over the ensuing 11 months and about 10,500 kilometres, we were able to cover the upper half of India. So, come, join us on the fifth and final leg of our journey as we head southwards to discover coastal India.

Photography: Rommel Albuquerque

Riding gear, rain wear, woollens and shorts. The items in our clothing list were easily indicative of what we would be facing over the next 11 days as the southern States of India are diverse not only in terms of terrain, but climate too. In keeping with our earlier such expeditions we had a trusted steed: the Honda CBR 250R, which had served the Bike India team for almost a year as our long-term bike. During that time we had ridden it from Pune to Chennai in less than 20 hours, only to ride it harder on a racetrack the next day. Later on, it had also managed the 4,200-km-long western India ride with ease, before we bid her farewell. And there she was again, ready for yet another adventure, looking as good as new!

‘Going Goa’

It was on a dull, grey morning that we started from Pune, but our spirits were high with the anticipation of exploring a new region. We rode down NH 4 towards Kolhapur, home to some of the last remaining academies of traditional Indian wrestling (kushti), leather footwear and spicy cuisine. Just after Kolhapur, though, we had our first encounter with rain. Fortunately, respite came after Nipani as we veered off the highway.

Upon entering the Amboli Ghat, we came across a breathtaking vista. There was a dense fog on the winding road and thick forest cover on both the sides. The fog cleared away as we made it to the top and the forest opened up to offer a view of the valley on one side and numerous waterfalls on the other. Soon we were at Sawantwadi from where we reached Panaji in the estimated time.

Nature’s beauty, serene beaches and a comfortable, laid-back ambience have led to heavy commercialisation of Goa. However, in spite of the thriving tourism industry, the southern part of Goa has managed to escape some of this commercialisation. As you travel towards the east, it gets even better. Narrow rustic roads with colonial houses and beautiful churches speak of the Portuguese influence on Goa. In the evening we went to the Colva beach to have an authentic Goan dinner dominated by fish, with the sound of the waves forming an apt background music.

Towards Karnataka

The next day we entered Karnataka just before Sadashivgad and rode along the coastline the whole day. Konkani changed to Kannada now and along with the language changed the way of life. Hinduism replaced Christianity, saris replaced dresses and fish was replaced by pure vegetarian comestibles like idli-sambar and dosa.

But the food did not come as a surprise. After all, we were at the place from where it made its way all over the world! Udupi is a city about 60 kilometres north of Mangalore, where dishes like idli, dosa and rasam, together termed as ‘Udupi food’, were first prepared as offerings to Lord Krishna and went on to become one of the most popular cuisines all over India.

We reached Mangalore in the evening and visited the temple dedicated to Mangaladevi, after whom the city is named. St Aloysius chapel is another shrine worth visiting for the century-old paintings on its inner walls, done by Italian painter-missionary Antonio Moscheni.

Reign Of Rain

From Mangalore we turned eastwards towards Kodagu (formerly Coorg) with the aim of reaching Mysuru (formerly Mysore) by afternoon. The rain gods, however, had something else in mind. Our day began with heavy downpour that lasted for about six hours and the road too was in a bad shape, which reduced our pace to mere crawling speeds. It was almost evening by the time we reached Madikeri, a small hill town and a thriving market for Kodagu’s coffee and spices. The decision to spend the night there didn’t need much discussion as it is always wise to give in to nature.

Riding On ‘The Best Road In The World’

The road from Kodagu in Karnataka to Munnar in Kerala, which goes via Udhagamandalam (formerly Ooty) in Tamil Nadu, won the title of being the best riding road in the world in an international contest held last year. And fittingly so, for there were some of the best experiences of this trip in store for us over the next two days.

Our first halt was at a place called Bylakuppe, about 40 km from Madikeri. Bylakuppe has two settlements of Tibetan refugees, who sought asylum here back in the 1960s. Since then the Tibetans have established a few monasteries and are living in harmony with the local populace.

Thanks to the improved road surface, sparse traffic and the absence of rain, we reached Mysuru by noon. The Mysuru Palace belonging to the royal family is the main tourist attraction here, but the city is also home to many other palaces which are worth visiting. The Chamundeshwari temple, located atop the Chamundi Hill opposite the Royal Palace, is a famous shrine while the Mysuru Zoo is one of the best in the country.

We left Mysuru after lunch and headed south for Udhagamandalam (Ooty). En route we passed through a part of the Bandipur National Park and Tiger Reserve. We came across a herd of deer grazing about freely by the side of the road and also saw a wild elephant feasting on bamboo shoots. The forest changes its name at the State border between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu to Mudumalai National Park. Here we saw a couple of bison just off the road, who, mercifully, took no cognisance of our presence.

After the forest began the climb towards Udhagamandalam, which has no less than 36 very steep hairpin bends. However, all our CBR needed was just a downshift and up we went, with no sign of fatigue from the bike. As we neared the final bends, the weather became quite chilly and soon my riding gear proved inadequate to keep me warm. Once at the top, the road passes through tea estates and leads you towards this post-card town. Beautiful houses, tall eucalyptus trees and wide open grasslands make Udhagamandalam look as picturesque as the Swiss countryside. After a cup of hot lemon tea we moved on as we still had about 90 km to cover to reach our destination for the day. The ride down the mountain in darkness was even more enjoyable than that while going up and it kept me alert in spite of the exhaustion. By the time we reached Coimbatore, it was almost midnight. The city was asleep and all the restaurants were closed. So our dinner that night consisted of a few bananas and biscuits.

The next day we had our CBR serviced at the Honda dealership in the city and set out again for another hill station in yet another State. Rain threatened us with a few drizzles until Pollachi, but the clouds cleared away by the time we reached Udumalaipettai. We turned right from the town and headed for the mountains, passing the Anamalai Wildlife Sanctuary on the way. The State border changed ahead and we entered the Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala. Although we couldn’t spot much wildlife apart from a few monkeys that day, the road itself was exciting enough: a winding strip of asphalt going through tea estates that stretch from the top of the mountain to the bottom of the valley below. There were waterfalls on the way and the smell of tea was everywhere in the air.

We reached Munnar at dusk and went for a walk round the town. It is a rather small town, concentrated round the market place. Batter-fried bananas are a delicacy here and the town has a church and a mosque worth a dekko. We also noticed that the language had now changed from Tamil to Malayalam, we being familiar with neither.

Land’s End

We started from Munnar at 4.00 am the next day as we had about 400 kilometres to cover, with breaks scheduled at Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram (formerly Trivandrum). It turned out to be a good decision, because we were able to reach Kochi by 8.00 am due to minimal traffic. Kochi is an island city, including the part known as Ernakulam. It has been influenced by imperial powers like the Portuguese, Dutch and British, all of whom had their settlements in the city once upon a time. The Fort Kochi area bears testimony to these cultures in the form of the Dutch Palace and the Bastian Bungalow, whose architecture is a blend of Dutch and Portuguese styles. There is also a Jewish settlement and a synagogue while the famous Chinese fishing nets can be found near the beach here.

We left Kochi after breakfast and took the road that goes parallel to the coast. However, since the road was in a bad shape, we switched to NH 66 only to find ourselves in a similar situation due to heavy traffic. Therefore, we switched back again to SH 1 and were finally able to reach the State capital of Thiruvananthapuram before dusk.


After a quick snack, we continued southwards and re-entered Tamil Nadu. The 90-km stretch between Thiruvananthapuram and Kanyakumari was one of the hardest sections of our whole trip. One has to fight for survival on these narrow roads where bus drivers seek to fulfil their grand prix dreams. After a three-hour struggle, during which I had to often step off the road to make way for the charging buses, we reached Kanyakumari, the southern-most tip of India.

Divine Vista

Kanyakumari is situated at the junction of three water bodies: the Indian Ocean to its south, the Bay of Bengal to its east and the Arabian Sea to the west. The Kanyakumari seashore has many tourist attractions but the most famous ones are the Vivekananda Rock Memorial, established in honour of Swami Vivekananda, and the 133-foot statue of the renowned Tamil poet, Thiruvalluvar, both located on independent rocks just off the mainland.

After a visit to the shore, we geared up for the day’s ride. It was time to head back, but from the eastern side. Our destination for the day was the ancient city of Madurai, 250 km away. We covered the distance in about three hours, thanks to the excellent six-lane highway.

Madurai is a 2,500-year-old city, situated on the banks of the River Vaigai. It is known as the temple city of south India, the Meenakshi Amman temple (also called Meenakshi Sundareshwar) being the most noteworthy of them all. This 400-year-old temple is dedicated to Goddess Meenakshi (Parvati) and it is certainly one of the greatest Hindu structures in India. The temple is located at the heart of the city and built in an area of about 15 acres. It is one of the finest examples of Dravidian architecture with as many as 12 gopurams (temple entrance tower) and 33,000 sculptures within its precincts. A complete tour of the temple requires half a day, but then a visit to the city is incomplete without it.

French Bliss

We left Madurai to head for the coast again, this time to the Union Territory of Puducherry (formerly Pondicherry). Puducherry used to be a French colony on Tamil Nadu’s eastern coast, about 100 km south of Chennai. The French rule has long become a thing of the past, but the town shows a strong influence of their culture even today. We reached ‘Pondy’, as it is popularly known, by afternoon and soon started sweating profusely owing to the hot and humid weather. In the evening we went for a walk on the Promenade and had tea at le café snack bar facing the sea. There are many French eateries in Pondy and it is also famous for restaurants serving firewood pizzas. The area near the coast is called the ‘white town’, which resembles the small towns in France itself. The streets here have French names and the old buildings and villas too have French architecture. The extraordinary blend of the French and Tamil culture makes for a unique experience in Puducherry.

 

Running Behind Schedule

The 150-km-long eastern coastal road (ECR) that connects Puducherry with Chennai is a popular weekend gate-away in that region. We covered the first 100 km at three-digit speeds before making a detour for the ancient port city of Mahabalipuram.

Mahabalipuram was a flourishing port in the seventh century with strong commercial links with the western world. The historic monuments in Mahabalipuram like the stone chariot, shore temple, wall carvings and a few others date back to its days of glory and are truly a national treasure.

Our visit to Mahabalipuram took more time than we expected, which delayed our schedule for the day by a good three hours. We rushed to Chennai, had a quick lunch and were back on the road, because we still had 350 kilometres to cover. However, our speed dropped considerably, what with darkness reducing visibility, ongoing road work and, worst of all, fatigue. After struggling for about 100 km, we decided to call it a day and stay over the night at Vellore.

Catching Up

The next day we started early and covered the remaining 200 km to Bengaluru in just over two hours. But it took us more than an hour to get out of the city due to heavy traffic. Once on the highway, it was a race against the sun. We managed to cover the 200 km to Chitradurga just before sunset, but we now faced the task of riding the remaining 130 km to Hospet in the night. The distance wasn’t much of a challenge for us, but low visibility and traffic certainly were. We finally reached Hospet at midnight and so a long and tiring day came to an end.

Back Home Via Hampi

The mediaeval town of Hampi is just a 10-km drive from Hospet. Hampi was the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire and an important trade centre in ancient India. Horse traders from Persia and Portugal were frequent visitors to Hampi, where they traded their horses for Indian spices. In AD 1565, the kingdom of Vijayanagara was attacked and defeated by Muslim rulers, who destroyed the city, leaving behind the present ruins of Hampi.

The town has been declared a world heritage site by UNESCO on account of the 500-year-old monuments found here. The most famous ones are the stone chariot in the Vitthala temple, Zanana enclosure and the Hazara Rama temple. Apart from these, there are numerous other temples and edifices in this planned city with beautiful carvings and sculptures depicting life in that era. There are purpose-built markets and even water pipelines, all made from the local stone.

After leaving Hampi, we rejoined NH 13 to reach Hubli. Here, we came back to NH 4 for the final 430 km of our ride and made it to the Bike India offices in Pune by midnight.

The southern States of India are blessed with a great variety of terrain and climate, but, more importantly, the local populace appreciate and have preserved their natural resources. All the three States that we travelled through have a long coast-line with serene beaches and clear waters. There are mountain ranges, lush green forests and outstanding religious shrines and monuments, influenced and enriched by a mix of local and foreign cultures. With almost 4,300 km on the odometer, this southern leg was our longest trip on the Honda CBR 250R and a fitting end to our 15,000 km pan-India ride.

Retracing The Dandi March

Mahatma Gandhi marched on foot and defied an imperial power to break the Salt Law. Eighty years later, we retrace his footsteps albeit astride the TVS Apache RTR 180 ABS

Photography: Sanjay Raikar

About eighty years ago, the Father of the Nation staged what would go down in history as one of the most extraordinary rebellions ever. Unique in a number of ways, but foremost on account of the fact that the rebellion, right from the outset, set out to achieve its objectives without the slightest trace of violence or a voice raised in anger. That against a repressive government – a vast empire upon which the sun was rumoured never to set.

Cue back to the present. The January issue being sent off to the press, the entire office took a collective break and started planning for the holiday season. The western part of the country being hitherto alien to me, I decided to go there. Acting on a brainwave, we decided that I would attempt to retrace the route that the Father of the Nation had taken during the Dandi March. I would start my roughly 390-km-long trip from the Sabarmati Ashram, near Ahmedabad, to culminate at the Saifee Villa at Dandi Beach, the very same house where Gandhiji broke the Salt Law.

TVS Motor Company Ltd very kindly agreed to provide us with a TVS Apache RTR 180 ABS at our intended starting point and we were all ready to go. Arriving at Ahmedabad, we went straight away to the TVS dealership where a pearl-white RTR 180 ABS stood gleaming in the winter sun, ready to be our companion and steed for the next few days. Having ridden the ABS version hard in the twisties around Mahabaleshwar earlier, I was glad of the added safety that the anti-lock braking system had to offer. By eliminating wheel lock-ups and skids, the ABS transformed the character of the TVS Apache RTR 180 ABS,making it a more forgiving long-distance tourer.

The Sabarmati Ashram, our starting point, was just a few kilometres from the city. After the requisite photography around the Ashram, we went inside to glean more information on what the life of Gandhiji was like, for Gandhiji had spent a major part of his life at this Ashram.

 


The first thing that strikes one upon entering the Ashram is the sheer sense of calm and peace that pervades the entire atmosphere, rendering even the squirrels and various species of sparrows a quiet dignity. It almost seems like an anachronism compared to the hustle and bustle of Ahmedabad that we had just exited and the presence of which was still just barely audible on the banks of the River Sabarmati. Parking the RTR in the shady two-wheeler parking lot, we went inside and immediately to our left lay the Gandhi Sangrahalaya, which housed the library, visitor centre and photo gallery. The large, airy courtyard was adorned with large black-and-white photos of Gandhiji as well as some of his most famous quotes – quotes that helped define the views of an emerging nation, quotes that shaped the lives of millions of followers not only in India, but the world over.

Gandhiji made the march on foot in 24 days, with a number of stops en route to address the nation. We, not being mission-bound and having the RTR at our disposal, made swift progress, covering the same in one day, passing through four districts and 48 villages. The added power of the 180 made the highway jaunt seem like a walk in the park, passing lumbering trucks and tractors as though they were standing still and I found myself keeping up with the speeding cars without even realising it.

Approaching the coastal area, the pleasant breeze on the visor turned into disquieting crosswinds and, thankful to the RTR’s sporty riding posture, I crouched a bit forward and kept on riding with almost no drop in the average speed. Taking the advice of the local people, we halted for the night at Navsari, the last town near Dandi.

The next morning, we woke up early to catch the first rays of the sun as it touched the Dandi Beach. Our lensman was a little sceptical about the aesthetic value of this endeavour considering that we were in the western part of the Indian peninsula, but, nevertheless, we rode out into the dawn. The 40-odd kilometres to the beach snaked through a smoothly paved single-lane road rendered even more dark by the overhanging branches of large, evergreen trees. With the razor-sharp and agile nature of the RTR 180 egging me on, we raced onwards to the beach, the sonorous burble from the exhaust providing acoustic accompaniment.

 

Bikers being bikers, we couldn’t resist playing a little on the beach with the RTR 180 and the white beauty responded beautifully. With ample torque throughout the rev range, getting ourselves out of wet sand was never a bother and we confidently ventured upto the water’s edge. After having our fill of drifting in the sand and completely ruining the office camera, we headed to the Saifee Villa, the house where Mahatma Gandhi had stayed on the night of April 5, 1930. A kindly gentleman clad in khadi explained that the Saifee Villa had fallen into ruin after its moment on the world stage and it was only a few years ago that it was restored to its former glory, thanks to the efforts of the Archaeological Survey of India. Today, there is a statue of the great leader in the courtyard while, inside, visitors can still see the iron trough that Gandhi personally used to make the first handful of salt.

 


It was time to head back after paying our obeisance to the Mahatma and, oddly enough, I was eager for more riding. The Apache RTR 180 ABS is a truly sterling machine, a track beast that can also take on long hauls and the open highways with equanimity. It is comfortable enough for such a focused and sporty bike and reliable to boot. The added benefit of the ABS system, coupled with wider tyres at both the front and the rear, also inspires greater confidence than before, which is saying something, because the RTR 180 was no slouch either.

Although the Salt Satyagraha did not bring about the Independence our forefathers were after, it went a long way in showing the British that Indians won’t be repressed for much longer and it was only a matter of time before they had to concede independence to the Indians. Time magazine declared Gandhi its 1930 ‘Man of the Year’ and American civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr, cited the influence the March had on his own fight for civil rights for the blacks in the 1960s. Mortals perish; their legacy remains.

 

 

 

 

Mettlesome Apache

We take India’s first ABS-equipped motorcycle, the TVS Apache RTR 180, onto the twisties of Mahabaleshwar to see how well it fares in real-world conditions

 

Ever since Adhish came back from his visit to the Oragadam race-track, near Chennai, where he experienced the stopping prowess of the TVS RTR 180 ABS at its extreme, he couldn’t stop singing paens of praise about it, making the rest of us at Bike India impatient to get a feel of the bike in question. “Even on practically frictionless tarmac the RTR ABS imparted to its riders a confidence that definitely wasn’t there earlier,” was how he summed up his experience astride it. That was nearly a year ago and, as most of you know, the bike had gone on sale since then.

So when a sparkling white RTR 180 ABS made its way to our garage one fine Thursday, I immediately pocketed its ignition key and refused to let it go until the editor assured me that I could have the bike for the ensuing weekend. That decided, I set about searching for a picturesque location that would give me ample space to check out the ABS set-up, one that would also not be too distant to make me miss office on the following Monday.

Only one destination fulfilled this requirement: Mahabaleshwar.

Being only about 120 kilometres from Pune, Mahabaleshwar, the highest hill station in the Western Ghats of Maharashtra, was an easy choice. And since most part of the ride leading up to it would be on the superbly paved National Highway 4, I was confident of an easy and brisk journey. Spread over 150 sq km of pristine nature at an elevation of 4,500 feet above mean sea level, Mahabaleshwar is a tourists’ paradise. It also helps that the zigzag road leading up to it is one of the best paved in this side of the country. As it turned out, however, I was forced to share it with a number of lumbering lorries and overbearing MUVs, which, frankly speaking, took some of the fun away from my ride. There were a number of occasions when I had to rely on the brakes to save myself from getting plastered onto the windscreens of oncoming vehicles and that was when the electronic aid first proved its usefulness. The short-stroke engine of the RTR shone here, letting me sprint in and out of slow-moving traffic without the slightest delay.

The TVS boffins have calibrated the ABS system on the RTR to just the right extent. It is never intrusive, never feels like an electronic nanny cutting you out on a bit of fun, and yet you can feel it doing the utmost to keep your rubber side down. Once you get used to the slightly softer feedback from the control levers – a pleasant departure from the conventional braking systems – it imparts to you a confidence that things won’t get out of hand easily.

Confidence is also something that is imparted in a great measure by the longer wheelbase of the TVS Apache RTR 180. The bike feels much more stable and planted than before not only round corners, but also on the straights.

This being the off-season, I also had the opportunity to take the RTR to the famous Harrison Folly and indulge in a bit of off-roading. On gravel and loose soil, the ABS set-up showed a discernible increase in its functioning, eliminating almost all wheel lock-ups and skids. Even jabbing the front brake in a deliberate effort to unsettle the bike did not result in stoppies. And just in case you are in the mood for some skidding fun, there is a knob above the RTR’s LCD readout that enables you to turn the ABS completely off. Doing this prompts the LED display (with ABS etched on it) on the analogue tachometer to blink orange, which serves as a reminder to turn it on if you had inadvertently turned it off in the first place.

 


After four hours of revelling in the sights and taking in the scenery, it was time to head back to the hustle and bustle of the city. The sonorous burble from the RTR’s exhaust did a good job of parting the evening traffic and, before long, I was out of the town centre. While riding down the Pasarni Ghat after Panchgani, I had an aerial view of the flatlands that gradually grew dimmer and dimmer as the sun set behind yonder hills.

 

 

Things To Do While You Are There

Paragliding at Harrison’s Folly

Boating in the Venna Lake

Horse-riding

Buy leather footwear, purses and bags etc

Visit the Sherbaug Theme Park at Panchgani

 

You May Like To Savour

Strawberry shakes and strawberry jams/jellies

Corncobs around the Venna Lake

Honey products

Chana and groundnut

 

How To Get There

From Pune take NH 4 towards Bengaluru

Take a right turn below the flyover bridge at Surur

Go past Wai towards the Pasarni Ghat

You fetch up at Panchgani, also a favourite hill station

Mahabaleshwar is about 19 km from Panchgani

 

Accommodation Options

There are a number of hotels (range from Rs 700 to Rs 20,000). We recommend the Saj Resorts (Rs 2,900 per night)

Racing Against Time

With an excellent all-rounder like the Honda CBR 250R raring to prove its mettle it was but natural that Bike India should put it through its paces. And what better occasion than the sixth anniversary of the publication?

 

Story: Adhish Alawani
Photography: Sanjay Raikar

It was that time of the year when everyone at Bike India was in the brainstorm mode in an attempt to come up with novel ideas for the sixth anniversary issue. So while a track test to pit the CBR 250R against three other highly potent motorcycles was being finalised, we also thought of actually riding this Honda from Pune to the race-track in Chennai and back to see how this bike could prove itself to be a real all-rounder – in congested traffic, on highways and, finally, on the track.

The idea was that while my colleagues drove in a car to Sriperumbudur, I should hop on the CBR to cover this distance of approximately 1,150 kilometres in one day. In spite of everyone warning me that it was not advisable to ride for that long a distance in one single day, especially considering that the monsoon was round the corner, I stuck fast to my idea of leaving in the morning and reaching the destination by night. It was going to be a long chase, and a timed one with 1,150 km to be covered in approximately 17 hours.

On May 28, I left Pune at 4.00 am sharp. My initial calculation was to travel 75 km per hour to cover those 1,200 km in 17 hours safely. However, I soon realised that I had to cover at least 90 km every hour – taking into account the numerous breaks for fuel, food and rest – so as to make it to Chennai by nightfall. As I covered 80 km in the first pre-dawn hour of riding, I realised that I had to quicken my pace if this time chase was to be successful. With the sun now starting to peep out of the horizon, the second hour of riding proved to be quicker as I covered 180 km by 6.00 am. Another 40 km later, at 200 km on the trip meter, I took my first halt at hotel Sai International, where my colleagues in the car had promised to catch up with me for breakfast. However, a phone call to them revealed that they were still 100 km behind me. Should I stick around, waiting for them, or head further on alone? It was risky both ways, but I decided to wait, have breakfast and then start again with my car-borne colleagues.
Unfortunately, the car got stuck in traffic around the Khambatki Ghat and my colleagues reached the hotel by 7.30 am. A quick breakfast and we left the hotel at 7.50.

Almost an hour-and-a-half of sitting idle was a big setback for me. There was a lot of catching up to do time-wise and twisting the throttle a little more was inevitable. By 10.30 am I found myself crossing Hubli in Karnataka. A distance of 460 km had been covered in six-and-a-half hours and the average speed was now pretty much close to my target. The credit for this goes to the CBR, which showed no hint of nervousness or stress even while cruising at 120 km/h.

The speed dropped once I rode past Dharwad where the road narrowed down to two lanes. Heavy truck traffic made it a little difficult to maintain a constant speed. Now there was a different problem I had to face. The fuel tank of the CBR holds just about 10 litres and owing to the high speeds that I was constantly doing, the bike was returning a fuel efficiency of not more than 30 km per litre. This necessitated a tank-up after every 250 km. Moreover, the inlet of the fuel tank is such that it has a metal strip across its diameter from inside that prevents the dispenser nozzle from going in completely. The attendants at every petrol pump grumbled about it.

As I neared Chitradurga, the road improved drastically and the four-lane, straight highway incited me to test the top speed of the CBR. Going flat out, ducked down, I managed to touch the 158 km/h mark on a slight descent. On the flat surface, the bike reached 153 km/h. The second problem of the day arose now: the right hand side mirror’s allen-key screw fell off. The mirror started rotating around one screw and what a rotating mirror can do to your speed is quite surprising. One, it distracts you and, two, it restricts your ability to ride confidently and execute safe overtakes. Since the road had opened up, the car was going great guns and there was no chance of getting the mirror fixed until we stopped for lunch. Just after Chitradurga, we took a break for a quick (and bland) lunch after which I used a duct tape from the car to fix the mirror temporarily.


We were close to 700 km on the trip meter and over 550 km were yet to be covered before the end of the day. The next destination was the NICE ring road that bypasses Bengaluru and takes you straight on to the Hosur Road near Electronics City. It is hard to believe that we have such a road in our country, which is constantly ridiculed for the pathetic condition of its roads. Get on to the NICE Road and you may think that you are in Malaysia or Singapore. Four lanes and at times even six lanes of tarmac with lush greenery separating the two driving sides make for a relaxed and pleasant ride. For the first time in all the rides I have done across the country, I came across a toll booth for motorcycle. Rs 50 for that kind of a road (and bypassing Bengaluru city completely) was well worth it.

Another hour or so in the heavy truck traffic and narrow roads of the industrial hub of Hosur and I was ready for the last 300 km of the ride. I caught up with my colleagues in the car for a final refreshment at a Kamat restaurant en route. A last tank up was also required.

It was already five o’clock in the evening and we decided to extend our arrival in Sriperumbudur by one hour. A distance of 300 km in the next five hours was not impossible. However, the rain gods had something else in store for me. At about 6.30 pm the sky became completely overcast, dampening my hopes of achieving the goal on time. It started pouring very soon. I was forced to dump my mobile phones and camera in the car. The rain lasted hardly for 20 km, but it still left me completely drenched. Now the final 200 km were a real test both for the rider and the ride. On that wet road I thanked Honda for equipping the CBR with C-ABS, although I didn’t have to call the system to assist me even once.

Fatigue had started creeping in. My eyes were struggling for vision in the darkness through a visor that had become dirty after the rain. The bum was aching and the wrists felt strained. The brain was hard put to concentrating on the road. Whereas I was able to do non-stop runs of 150 to 200 km in the morning, I started halting for a couple of minutes after every 30-35 km towards the end. After what seemed like hours, I finally saw the Nokia factory board – the sign that told me I was very close to Sriperumbudur. With a sigh of relief, I rode the last 10-15 km down the highway and reached Pleasant Days hotel. The clock said 10.20 pm. It had been 18 hours and 20 minutes since I left home in the morning and 1,166 km had been travelled. Even though I had become tired towards the end, it was obvious that the bike was capable of doing even more. I could manage to ride for that long a distance because of the comfort offered by the CBR. The bike had proved to be more than an able tourer.

The big ride was over, but a lot was still to come. A day’s rest and I had to head for the race-track for a track day on the CBR. I had heard people say of the CBR that “it handled like a boat”. Now it was time to check the final attribute of the bike – performance on the track.

 

 

 

Harleys Head For The Himalayas

Two Harley-Davidson bikes, three days, torrential rain and, to cap it all, complete bliss. A lovely ride in the Shivalik range of mountains at the onset of monsoon.

 

Story: Ravi Chandnani

Photography: Adhish Alawani

It was in the summer of 2009 that I first visited Uttarakhand, pilgrims’ hub and home to a number of holy places. I could make out then that it is a State that needs to be explored. I visited some of the remote corners of Uttarakhand then and learned that the roads leading to these places were good for motorcycle riding and touring. The roads start by being two-lane highways in the plains. However, once you near the Shivalik range, these two-lane roads turn into narrow, uphill ones, full of twisties and blind corners. The adventure quotient here is so high that you would be riding literally on the edge all the time.

Bike India was going to turn six and we wanted to do something special to mark the occasion. Accordingly, we drew up a plan and decided to do a ‘travel story with a twist’. As I mentioned earlier, Uttarakhand has some very good ride-friendly roads and undiscovered places that still retain the beauty of nature in its pristine form. These locations are spread all over the State. We zeroed in on a destination in western Uttarakhand. This place was once the summer getaway of the British Raj officers. There is hardly anything around that can be described as a ‘tourist spot’, but the road leading up to this place is surrounded by enchanting beauty that would sweep you off your feet. The place is called Chakrata and is located about 90 kilometres from the capital town of Dehradun.

We started the ride from New Delhi on two iconic bikes from Harley-Davidson: the legendary Fat Boy and the contemporary Night Rod. Heads kept turning on the streets of New Delhi as everyone wanted a glimpse of these big machines. We were forced to spend an extra night in New Delhi because our flight was delayed by seven hours. Anyway, the best part came as a surprise the next morning when we hit the highway leading to Meerut. I had heard stories about the treacherous highways of Uttar Pradesh. However, I was surprised when we moved out of Delhi and into UP. The big, four-lane, straight highway continued from the capital until Muzaffarnagar in UP. This 125-km stretch, flanked on both sides by sprawling green fields, is bikers’ nirvana. Unfortunately, however, it was soon succeeded by a two-lane, highway chock-a-block with slow-moving traffic. To make matters worse, it started raining heavily. A perfect day for riding was ruined by the rain, tardy traffic and a narrow highway!

We were now headed for Dehradun, a nice place aswarm with tourists. It was not on our list of stopovers, though. We just had to cross Dehradun to reach Chakrata. The weather gods and we had formed a special relationship by now as the rain made sure that it stayed with us for as long as possible. Although we were tired because of the rain, our bikes kept running well without any complaint. We had purposely taken the road to Chakrata through UP, because we wanted to see how tough these bikes would prove in adverse conditions and, to our surprise, both the bikes gave us no trouble.

 


We crossed a milestone near Vikasnagar that read ‘Chakrata 55 km’. It was time to stop and refuel the bikes for there are no petrol pumps after Vikasnagar. This is also where the Shivalik range of mountains begins. The moment one rides out of Vikasnagar towards Chakrata, one instantly realises why the British chose this place as their summer getaway. The narrow, winding roads leading to Chakrata are replete with spectacular scenery and beauty of the Shivalik range. Time seems to stand still as you begin the ascent from Vikasnagar. The weather was just ideal for a ride, notwithstanding the fact that the start-stop rain had ruined most of the day for us. But as we made our way into the main square of Chakrata, the rain stopped and we were now greeted by a heavy fog. The whole atmosphere was so enchanting that for a moment we thought we were in Switzerland!

The very idea of a ride to Chakrata was novel to us. We had not heard much about the place and thus there was the thrill of discovering its beautiful surroundings. Chakrata is basically a cantonment town where access is strictly regulated by the army, the reason being that the town is home to an elite special force, known as the Special Frontier Force or Establishment 22, which consists of troops of Tibetan origin. Security forces also use Chakrata for their special training programmes. One noteworthy aspect of Chakrata is that, unlike in other parts of Uttarakhand, foreign tourists are not allowed here. Indeed we came across a signboard that said, ‘Foreigners Prohibited’. It was paradoxical to realise that this place, which in the past was the preserve of the foreigners ruling this country, was now out of bounds for all foreigners!

 

The sky cleared up as we approached our hotel and a gorgeous valley stood revealed to us with all its great verdure. It was a highly soothing sight. Chakrata is a tiny cantonment town in the Shivalik range, which, on a clear, sunny day, would reward you with a spectacular view of the western Himalayas. However, we were not that lucky and could only see the valley because of the rain.

 

  1. The very idea of a ride to Chakrata was novel to us. We had not heard much about the place and thus there was the thrill of discovering its beautiful surroundings

  2. We started the ride from New Delhi on two iconic bikes from Harley-Davidson: the legendary Fat Boy and the contemporary Night Rod

 

 


The Legendary Fat Boy

We chose the Fat Boy for this ride because of the nature of this bike. Since its launch in 1990 the Fat Boy has been a popular highway cruiser. People around the world think of the Fat Boy as a bike meant just for the open highways. However, we wanted to see for ourselves how it faced the challenge of a difficult terrain. The design of this motorcycle is such that it may give some of you the goosebumps on account of its intimidating appearance. Its huge tank embellished with a chrome centre console housing the ignition switch and the speedometer looks very classic. One of the most dominating factors of the Fat Boy is its front end, which is neatly done up with a lot of chrome on the handlebar, triple trees and the forks along with a solid chrome wheel and huge fender. The enormous seat of this bike ensures that there is no fatigue even after long hours of riding and its huge foot-boards keep you feet nice and comfortable. The seating posture is very laid back, just as in a typical cruiser.

The power and acceleration of this bike are also very good considering its bulk. The Fat Boy is powered by a 1,584-cc motor that produces 125 Nm of torque, which is available right from 3,500 rpm. Its formidable weight of 330 kg seems to vanish once you start rolling. However, it does make itself felt round corners. We took the Fat Boy over all manner of terrain – from straight highways; narrow, broken roads of UP and pothole-filled paths in Himachal Pradesh to the winding roads of Uttarakhand. Initially, I was a little worried about the bike’s ground clearance, but the frame did not kiss the tarmac even once.

While climbing uphill, the bike never felt underpowered and just kept charging forward even round sharp bends thanks to the immense torque available at lower rpm. The fat rear tyre made sure the bike never lost its balance and provided ample traction even on wet surfaces.

The Fat Boy’s exceptional performance during this ride proved that India has an assured place among the ‘Harley Countries’.


The VRSCDX Night Rod Special

Just a cursory glance at this Harley and you cannot help falling in love with it. At least, I did. Ever since the V-Rod was first unveiled a decade ago, I had dreamt of riding it and this ride of over 700 km was for me a dream come true.

The Night Rod, painted in matte black with silver stripes, is simply the best example of styling that commingles the stance of a cruiser and the aggression of a powerful and speedy motorcycle. The black slotted disc wheels introduced on this bike are unique and exceptionally good-looking. The bike is low-slung with the seat at just 690 mm from the ground. The seating position is a little confused with the handlebar in front like a sportsbike and the foot pegs in the front too like a typical cruiser.

However, what makes this bike very special is the fact that it is an unmistakably modern-day Harley. Unlike a typical H-D, it doesn’t have pushrods, it doesn’t have an air-cooled engine and it doesn’t have the thump. So is it really a Harley? Well, that is a question some of the hardcore H-D fans have raised in recent times. As for me, I just brush such reservations aside because I love everything that goes into this VRSCDX.

At the heart of the Night Rod Special is an engine that was developed in collaboration with Porsche – a 1,130-cc V-twin with its cylinders banked at 60 degrees to each other. This engine produces over 125 PS of peak power and 115 Nm of torque. The engine is so refined, so smooth and so blisteringly fast that it really made me wonder if I was riding a V-twin Harley. It works like a sportsbike engine. Redlining the first three gears took me past 165 km/h – which was the best speed I had managed on any other Harley in its top gear!

High-speed cruising is very stable because of the bike’s long wheelbase and the rear 240-mm rubber section. The only area where the Night Rod possibly suffers is on bumpy roads due to its low ground clearance of 140 mm. Apart from that, there is nothing that will keep you from smiling – be it while riding the bike or simply admiring its beauty with every other onlooker envying you for possessing it. Well, really speaking, you don’t possess the Night Rod, it’s the Night Rod that possesses you!

This ain’t just about money (and glory), honey!

motorcycle travel sun setTravel enthusiasts, helped by new age technology, join forces at various forums to help each other while on the road

When Dwarakanath and his friends set out for Ladakh on their two-wheelers, In June 2008, they were going great guns till they reached Rohtang Pass. At that point, the clutch plates of one of the bikes gave way, and they had no clue how and where they could get it fixed. They called friends and fellow riders who asked them to retrace their steps to Manali, where they would find find mechanics who could fix the problem.

New age technology, has made riding to the most inaccessible corners of the country so much easier. Mobile phones with 3G and and laptops with data connectivity have made a huge difference. Lost? Just call a friend for directions on the mobile or log on to your iPhone or android phone and check out your latitudes yourself. When did our parents have such an advantage?

But apart from mobile phones and laptops, there is a third dimension, which has made driving around the country a pleasure, and that is a travel forum. Get on to one and a first-time rider or even the most experienced one will get the latest updates on everything he or she needs while driving from point A to B – road condition, directions, number of toll booths, toll amounts, traffic rules in each State etc etc. There are numerous travel forums that have a very strong online presence, where a huge number of automobile and two-wheeler enthusiasts congregate to get the latest information on travel routes, road conditions etc of places they intend to visit.
bike on a hill ride
Nithin KD, is one such frequent rider who not only keeps himself updated on the latest developments of the road he is about to travel on but also helps others who drive around the country. Though his travelling has been curtailed due to his work, he still helps anyone who asks for information on road routes.

“I once guided a friend, who was riding a two-wheeler all the way from Shimla to Manali via my phone, giving him directions till he reached his destination. The friend would stop at regular intervals and check on the route he was taking, by talking to me,” says Nithin. Like him, there are others for whom travelling is a passion and helping other riders a bounden duty. There are no rewards, just the satisfaction of helping another fellow rider that drives them.

For Yogesh Sarkar of BCMTouring (www.bcmtouring.com) helping travellers is a 24×7 experience. “Whether you are on a bike or a car, the basic requirements remain the same – road conditions, availability of petrol pumps, weather updates and accommodation,” he told Bike India (www.bikeindia.in). The basic idea is to keep each other updated about these factors while travelling around the country.

“When I travelled extensively around the country, I took the help of travel enthusiasts for my requirements, so the idea behind a travel forum was my way of paying back to the community of travel enthusiasts for all they had done for me.”

He says he realises how desperately people need information today. “Last year there were 1.5 lakh views for the condition of the road between Manali and Leh, and this year so far we have received over 70,000 views for the same route.” The minute a rider does a difficult section, he or she posts an update about the condition of the road, and since weather conditions in this section can change travel plans overnight, there are constant updates about this stretch.

Around the same time when Dwarakanath and his friends were riding through Jammu & Kashmir, the Amarnath land dispute also erupted. They immediately got in touch with friends who kept them in the loop of events unfolding across the valley. He says he too has helped numerous two-wheeler riders who called him for help in an emergency.

Rushabh Parekh who runs popular automotive forum team-bhp.com (www.team-bhp.com), which has an on-the-road section, believes it’s about sharing your experiences, so that others can benefit. Over a hundred travelogues are uploaded on his site every month and they along with travel logs are available on request to any member of the forum. Team-bhp boasts 12.5 lakh unique visitors on their forum and the increasing number is proof of the burgeoning community of travellers in the country.

“The idea is to give instant and invaluable feedback to travellers in real-time, which could benefit them, whichever part of the country they are in,“ Rushabh told Bike India (www.bikeindia.in).


Another name that crops up frequently on travel forums is HV Kumar. His name is on almost every second travel-related discussion on the forum. Get on Facebook and type HV Kumar and you’ll be taken to his personal page, and more interestingly, to a page which goes by the title: HV Kumar – Fan, Forum & Message Board. On this page, anyone who needs information of any route around the country, affordable hotels, road taxes, condition of the roads – whether it’s the Golden Quadrilateral, National or State highways, or even the roads in a city or town- he or she will find it. His travel logs are also at your disposal if ever you need them.

In the end, for people like Yogesh, Kumar and the others like them, it’s not about the money or recognition.

A Memorable Experience

Sixteen Harley-Davidson motorcycles, three days and unforgettable memories left me longing for more
Words: Ravi Chandnani
Photography: S Bharath and Ravi Chandnani

I distinctly remember it was 2001 when I first learned about Harley-Davidson motorcycles. The contemporary VRSCA V-Rod had just been launched. It was an arresting sight even though it was just a photograph in a foreign magazine. I bought the magazine because of the photo. My heart skipped a beat at the sheer grandeur of the bike. It was the beginning of a love affair and I started indulging myself in the world of Harley-Davidson. I began dreaming of riding an H-D one day!

The V-Rod started it all. As I started to dig deeper into history I learned more about the company and discovered that Harley-Davidson is much more than just a motorcycle company. It’s a cult that is almost as old as the motorcycle itself.
I got a chance to live my 10-year-old dream towards the end
of the same decade, thanks to Harley-Davidson India, who were kind enough to organise a ride especially for us bike journalists.

It was a hectic Monday when I started the day filled with great enthusiasm to meet the Harley-Davidson family. After flying from one part of the country to another and again to the starting point of the journey, which took up an entire day, I was greeted by the H-D ladies at a royal palace in the Pink City. The beautiful XR-1200, enchanting Night Rod, macho Fat Boy, elegant Softail Heritage and nine other models were neatly lined up. Sixteen bikes for 16 riders, including myself. Indeed, it was difficult for me to slip into slumberland that night with all those dream machines parked outside!


 

Ha! What a beautiful experience it was to commence the journey. I had requested the H-D folk for the XR-1200 and they duly obliged. I was assigned the XR for the first leg on the first day. Once out on the highway, it was just me and the XR. Nobody else mattered. Even though we were riding in a group, I was engrossed in my own world, enjoying the journey all by myself. I had read a lot about the XR back in 2008 when it made its début. It is relatively a fresh product from the American manufacturer. Just like every other model, the XR has a special character. This bike has been developed keeping the European riding style in mind. It is a sporty, naked bike which also has the ability to cruise for long distances like other Sportster models. Though it is capable of handling zigzags, we hardly came upon any throughout the journey. It was a brief 100-km run before we stopped to re-fuel – both the bikes and their riders. This was also the time when we had to switch bikes. I was sad to let the XR-1200 go, but the delight of riding the Night-Rod made up for it. It was the best of the lot. The second leg also made me aware that sometimes our government does work for the betterment of the masses. I realised this after riding the Night-Rod on the beautifully smooth and straight highways of Rajasthan. Harley-Davidsons feel at home on such smooth roads. One can experience their true character on such roads.

I rode the Night-Rod for most of the afternoon before finally getting onto the Street Glide. Most of you would be familiar with big bikes from H-D that are loaded with saddle boxes, huge front fairings, foot boards and wide handlebars. The Street Glide is that true-blue cruiser with the rustic tourer element that forms the basis of the H-D touring family. It is a bulky machine, albeit well-balanced. You do not feel the bulk once you start rolling.

After the Street Glide I jumped on to the legendary Fat Boy. All ‘Terminator’ fans will remember this bike. The Fat Boy makes you feel royal! I rode it only for 30 kilometres, but that was the most beautiful stretch of the entire journey. I felt like a superhero headed to save the world. The Fat Boy has a unique charm about it, which is difficult to describe in words.

At night we got together on the lawn for an important announcement. H-D India announced two new bikes, the Super Low and the 883 Iron, that would be assembled in India at the company’s new facility in Haryana. I was eager to get on these new H-Ds and ride into the sunset the next day.


The sun was up and I was ready to meet my first date of the day. Forty Eight is the latest machine from H-D’s stable. A retro styled Sportster that has all the right elements of a bobber blended with true Harley character. This was the surprise apart from the Super Low and Iron. Today we were to travel from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer on one of the country’s best roads. This stretch is well known for its long, smooth and uninterrupted straights. Here you can let your H-D talk to you. It is here that you can listen to the loud roar of the 45 degree V-Twin motor as you open the throttle. You don’t care about how fast it can touch 100 km/h or attain its peak speed. It’s about being one, being equal. And being astride a bike that would transport you into nostalgia was an even greater feeling. Thank God, the Forty Eight will be in the market this year.

Next in line for the day was the Super Low, the most affordable and easy to ride Harley-Davidson model in the country. It is a part of the Sportster family and is powered by a 883-cc motor. It may be smaller than its siblings, but it has the true Harley character all the same. The unique roar produced by the 45 degree V-Twin motor, the awesome amount of torque and little things like the Sportster fuel tank, short dual exhaust and twin rear suspension are all present on the Super Low. It is going to be the first Harley for many youngsters.

After the Super Low it was time to hop on to the Iron. It is basically the same 883 R which was already available in the market. However, it now comes with a matte finish paint, which is quite interesting. Again this Sportster maintains a low profile with minimalistic design and features. It is a raw bike meant for the no-nonsense guy. You can enjoy one for Rs 6.5 lakh (ex-showroom).

Day two was dedicated to these new machines that are destined to become the largest selling H-D models in India. After being with these beauties on a smooth, straight highway and an uninterrupted day of riding, I felt what it was like to ride back then. I had spent the entire day on bikes from the longest running series by H-D – the Sportster.
The last day of the journey turned out to be quite interesting. It was the day when this dream journey came to an end. Street Bob, a humble machine, was my steed for the first leg of the last day. I remember it was standing in the sun and had a purple shade that had the ability to appear blue from certain angles. It was one of the best cruise bikes I had ever ridden. Nice power combined with comfortable seating and good handling made riding the Street Bob a memorable experience.

In the second leg of the day I was handed the legendary Road King. One of the oldest running H-D models, the Road King has a mix of many different touring models. It was a bike that can truly make you experience the Harley character. However, you have to be an enthusiast to appreciate it.

After going out with the most lovely H-D ladies for three days I was disappointed not because it was the end of a fine journey, but because it was time to say good-bye. I had come to feel like a member of the Harley-Davidson family.
I met 13 ladies, all of whom had something special about them. Some were naughty, whereas some others were mature and serious, but no two were alike. You have to be a die-hard enthusiast to understand the true nature of these motorcycles. They might not be tech-packed like the Japanese machines, but they have something that the latter lack. These are bikes that you can connect with…bond with. After a while a Harley-Davidson does not remain just a bike, it becomes a member of the family.  

The feeling of being free and one with nature can only be experienced on a raw bike like an H-D. They can kill stress and make you forget about the mundane issue of life. They did that for me.

‘If you have to ask, you wouldn’t understand’, reads a Harley-Davidson slogan and this journey was no different. It’s hard to explain everything I experienced, but what I distinctly remember was that I lived my dream. And I hope to do it again.