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.
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
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!