When it rains after sunset…

Rains are good. Especially, when you are sitting in your balcony and admiring how the place around you is turning green because of the incessant monsoon rains.  This is a view I’ve gotten used to recently.

Yeah, they are great when it’s a drizzle at 11am after a hot morning ride. They’re enjoyable when it starts pouring at 2pm and you have to take an impromptu chai, wait for bit and then ride again. My rides to Bangalore and Pune had it’s share of heavy rains and both didn’t matter because it was in broad daylight. Riding through strong breeze and into dark clouds always brings a sense of excitement.

However, rains aren’t fun all the time. They are deadly when it’s already past sunset especially when you wear prescription glasses. Then, the life in front of you will be a blur. Every time a headlight hits you, the only thing you end up seeing through your helmet and glasses would be something like this or even worse. You just realize your life (or someone else’s) is at risk for sure.

I’ve had a few of such dramatic moments when life became a blur. It scared the hell out of me. It also didn’t help that I’m usually the only one who wears glasses in my group.

Act 1 Scene 1: An unplanned weekend ride to Nizamabad went out of hand when it started to rain on our way back to city. We decided to wait until the rains stop – a terrible idea since the rains just wouldn’t stop. Eventually, we decided to ride and sun had set by then. It was raining so bad, that I couldn’t ride with the visor down or with my glasses on. I ended up asking my friend to ride slow, removed my glasses, and just tailed him all the way back to safety of the city lights. It’s then that I realized why the reflective stickers (white, red, and yellow) are a blessing.

Act 2 Scene 6:  We were doing the trip of our life – the ultimate riding wonder. It started drizzling around 3pm as we started our climb to Munnar. Our bad luck, the rains continued and as is the case in most of the hill stations, it’s accompanied by mist that reduces visibility to zero. Yes, I’m still wearing my glasses. This time, I tailed a tourist van for 2 hours before we reached our hotel safely.

Act 3 Scene 4: We had safely reached Bhimashanker on the Versys and for some reason, I wanted to see the temple that evening. I thought we had time and could come back before sunset – turned out to be a gross miscalculation (ps: I suck at any type of math). Add mist to the mix too along with bad roads. There was no vehicle to tail this time and I did the 12km ride back to the hotel on the second gear and almost went off the roads a few time.

Sunset + Rains + Prescription Glasses + Motorcycle  = Worst Idea. Avoid at any cost. 

Truth is, you can’t avoid such things when you keep going on rides. So some thoughts on how to overcome this mix.

 

  •  Glasses: A Lasik Surgery is the best option so you don’t need to wear glasses anymore. A cheaper alternative would be to just carry disposable lens in your kit that you can use if you are forced to ride in such situations.
  • Rains: Not sure how effective they are but I’ve come across these water repellent for plastics. I would love have carried this during all the 3 instances mentioned above to see how well they work. Pretty expensive though!
  • Hi-Viz: Do yourself and the word a favor by going hi-viz. Get some colors and get a lot of reflective material on your helmet and jacket. Neon is the new black when it comes to motorcycles.

Rule Book: Follow the sun – rise and ride with it and be sure to rest when it sets. Start your day as early as you can, you rider. Be safe!

At 5111km, my first review of Versys 650

For press reviews, 6 months or 5000km usually marks the time when they do their long term review before sending back the motorcycle back to the manufacturer.

For owners, this is usually the time when they’ve come to terms with their motorcycle. Enough time and/or distance to overcome their purchase bias and give an honest opinion.  At this point, it’s become clear whether they want to sell it or ride it for few years.

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Since I’ve passed both these critical marks, it’s time to give my perspective on how it feels like to actually own the Kawasaki Versys 650.

Purchase decision: To make it clear, this process of owning a mid-size tourer was not as impulsive as it seems – it was very calculated. Included 2 years of reading, researching, and patiently waiting for a  motorcycle that fit my requirements and budget.

A litre-class motorcycle just didn’t appeal to me as much for it’s price  as its practicability on Indian road conditions.

In the small-size tourer segment,   KTM Adventure 390 was (and is) still a rumor. BMW 310 GS was never in discussion. No one could guarantee how RE Himalayan would end up.

That’s when Kawasaki surprised the Indian market. Timing is everything and Versys 650 launch couldn’t have come at a better time especially considering the disappointment I felt after riding the Benelli GT. In fact, Versys fit my bill perfectly, except that it didn’t come in the ‘candy lime green’. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I booked it without seeing it in person. When I saw it, it was bigger, taller, and larger than I had imagined.

Initial hurdles: The first thousand kilometers were all about overcoming fears. Fear of its height. Fear of its weight. Fear of a fall. Fear of maintenance. Fighting off the buyer’s remorse especially when everyone around you is questioning your purchase decision in a snarky manner.

Most of these fears have subsided. But, recently when I saw a Versys recovered from an accident, some fears started resurfacing. The fear of spare parts not being available and fear of the motorcycle just standing in the service center for weeks/months. As for the height and weight, it’s just a matter of getting used to the motorcycle. Then, it’ll feel just fine and you’ll end up in places like this.

The amateur psychologist in me wants to review it using a Freudian concept. So here goes:

Id (It – the motorcycle): Enough reviews are already out there but there are some things that I love about the Versys 650.

  • One of the most refined and quiet engines you’ll get to ride. Yes, you’ll learn to forgive the demanding and noisy gearbox for the sake of this lovely engine that feels at ease no matter how and where you ride it.
  • I don’t know how ABS in other bikes feel because this is my first one. Even without any relative benchmark, I love the bite of the brakes and the confidence the ABS gives me to ride it fast.
  • It looks good. From close and from far. It may not be colorful but it’s got a majestic stance. A show stopper. There will never be a moment without you getting the attention on the roads.
  • Fit and finish. Attention to detail. No loose ends. No moving parts. Everything about the motorcycle is high quality. How I wish Kawasaki gave us the accessories to jazz up the Versys instead of waiting for a friend to travel to US or constantly visiting Ali Express.
  • The seats are a joy. They are wide and extremely comfortable. Doing 8 hours a day for 4 back to back days with almost no effort is too good to be true. I won’t say it’s the same experience for the pillion though.
  • Night riding isn’t going to be fun. You would really wish that you had better lights or offered auxiliary lights that can brighten your ride.  You may be able to do max of 70km/h ride safely.

Ego (I – how I feel): Happier than I thought I’d be owning and riding such a big motorcycle.

  • I do miss the gear indicator a lot and DC power output worked. I really would have loved to have the LED light bar as well. It hurts to know that these things could have been there but aren’t there. These things can be fixed but aren’t available in India. Even if they did, they are all freaking expensive.
  • There is not much to complain when you are in the highway. Bad roads don’t matter. The unexpected speed breakers or potholes don’t affect you. Sudden crossing of animals and mankind don’t scare you. In the city, the weight and height do start mess with your mind and body after a while.
  • The suspension makes you smile. Every time you make a mistake on the roads and the long travel suspension covers it up for you like nothing really happened, you will feel that the massive investment was worth it. So many times, I did things which I knew would have shook me up on any other motorcycle, this one handle with so much poise and grace. Even the rains don’t matter…

Super-ego (Above I – does it make sense for this society): Absolutely, yes!

  • Mid-size, twin-cylinder motorcycles with long travel suspensions are the best answer to all the questions that the Indian roads throw at us. This country definitely needs more tourer-based models (sports or adventure doesn’t really matter). Most motorcycles need to be this versatile or they are just compromises.
  •  Anyone in the society who wants to go on 1000+ km rides once every two weekends definitely needs something this good. Not having to worry about road conditions or your comfort will make you want to be out there in the highway more than you do.
  • In a couple of years, the touring motorcycle segment between 300 to 800 will be the hottest market for any manufacturer to be in and makes perfect sense. It will be the perfect detox for mankind that spends 5 days comfortably in front of screens. They can then spend the remaining 2 days of the week as comfortably on a motorcycle like Versys and enjoy the highway for whatever it’s worth!

In closing: All ye tourers, who will ever ride a motorcycle with beak or even ogled at the white/blue Tiger 800, take a moment to thank BMW for launching the R80G/S.

Without this icon, the touring segment as we have come to know and live may never have existed. Thanks, Kawasaki, for jumping on this trend and giving perhaps one of the most underrated and versatile tourer at a price point that’s not outrageous.

Every time I’ve come back from a ride (short or long), the urge to go on a longer ride increases. I guess that how you really judge a tourer –  the heart crying for more miles and knowing that motorcycle will happily oblige. 

Saturday morning ritual

Tea and me go a long way.  People who know me are aware that I would go to any extent for a good cup of tea. I can smell or even see and tell how good or bad the tea is going to be. Although it’s nowhere close to being as complicated as wine tasting, tea tasting has it’s own charm. Sometimes, I even use Google Maps to keep track of places where I’ve had good tea.

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Why did I just talk about this? Because, I have made it a habit of getting up early on Saturday mornings to ride about 100km to have a good cup of tea. No doubt, it’s best way to unwind after a hectic week at office and a fantastic excuse to ride the Versys regularly on the highway.

The first time I went on such a ride to one of my favorite drive-in cafe, Hill Park on the Bangalore Highway, I ended up seeing a bunch of riders from Pune riding their (loud) Harley on their way to Bangalore. It’s always nice to see proper riders – the kind that is fully geared up and well packed.

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But then, there are 2 type of riders: ones who want the world to hear they are riding and ones who want to hear the wind as they are riding. Now, clearly, these riders belonged to the former and me to the latter. The quietness and refinement of a motorcycle are probably the first two things on my list when I choose a motorcycle. I use the same parameters to judge other riders too. Sorry for the bias, gentlemen.

The second time I was performing this ritual, I ended up seeing something oddly familiar – another Versys but nothing about it was similar to mine. It was jazzed up, looked fancy and stood next to an extremely well maintained Triumph Tiger.

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Meet Avi (mobike008), the person who wrote his first impression of the Versys in Hyderabad sitting on the display unit that was eventually sold to me. First and second owners  of Versys 650 in Hyderabad finally get to meet each other. Just as a perspective, a grand number of 4 Versys 650 have been sold in Hyderabad, the third I recently saw parked in the service center after it had  met with an accident (godspeed for the next ride). I’m still waiting to see the fourth one.

The third time was a planned one thanks to Avi. The weather couldn’t have been any better. Srisailam highway from Hyderabad is probably the best getaway road from the city. We were in for some pleasant surprises that included:

  • a brand new hotel which servers good tea & coffee along with tasty food.
  • catching up with fellow Hyderabadi bikers on Triumph, Harley, and a Moto Guzzi Griso
  • more importantly a trail to do some off-roading which was both fun and scary at the same time.

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All I can say is that this ritual is becoming very addictive and hope I keep discovering more places that serve good tea and riders who like to hear the wind more than the thump of their own motorcycles.

Multi-day rides have begun!

The last time I did a multi-day trip, it was a completely different story.

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8 days long trip with two cars and another motorcycle with me. Safety net was always there with one car ahead and the other behind. But I must say, riding 2,700km on a Yamaha r15 on India roads is a feat of it’s own. In a way, it was the prelude to me understanding why different genre of motorcycles existed and why I need a tourer!  That was is 2012  and a younger version of me.

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Buying the Versys 650 was almost like culmination of all of my riding experiences. A realization of what Indian conditions really need and a little comfort my body deserves when my heart longs to go on and on. On a side note, my heart also longs to ride a few other motorcycles – BMW R1200GS, KTM Adventure 1050, Tiger 800XRx (only the lucerne blue color), and maybe even the Ducati Multistrada 1200!

So, here’s what a real adventure looks like. Knowing just the destination and riding with absolutely no safety net. It was just my nephew (who was doing his first multi-day ride) and me on the Versys and 4 days of riding! So many things could have gone wrong, but they didn’t. So, I’ll take it.

4 back-to-back days of riding. Started with some really good state highway. Followed by  detours that took us through enough villages and non existent roads. Then, some really steep ghat roads in the rains. Finally, we hit a good patch of National Highway before under-construction roads that tested my riding skills, patience, and aging body. It’s what anyone would call ‘a complete package’.

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How did the Versys fair?

10/10 for rider comfort: The seats are a joy and no you don’t need gel padded shorts. I could ride for another 4 days and not feel a thing.  I even did 2.5 hours of non-stop riding without any discomfort.

10/10 for the ABS: There were multiple instances where I know that the ABS helped me navigate through  a sudden appearance of some animal, or a crazy road crossing by our intelligent mankind, and the unexpected speed breakers. It stops and how!

9/10 for the handling: It is steady and remains planted. Even the worst of roads don’t make it nervous and you can just keep riding like it didn’t matter. Wish I could lean with a little more confidence around the corners.

7/10 for the gearbox: It’s a very unforgiving gear box. It makes you feel like an armature rider just by the sound it makes when you miss the timing of a gear change even by a fraction. It demands nothing more than perfection in your gear changes and while you can master a smooth upshift at 4K RPM, you will have to deal with the clunky sound not matter how you downshift.

7/10 for pillion comfort: My nephew had a great time as  a pillion behind but after a while, he hated getting on & off it. He’s all but 17 now imagine taking a slightly older or unfit pillion. The struggle is real – the height is a pain.

6/10 for the instrument cluster: I sorely miss the gear indicator.  Occasionally, the tank range goes blank instead of showing much how much more I can ride at low fuel.  The fuel indicators can act a little crazy once in while.

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I can definitely say that this trip really tested the worth of investing in the Versys 650. When I reached home, just before sunset on day 4, after having done 1700km, I knew it had faired the test really well. The fact that I didn’t have any withdrawal symptoms and wanted to ride the motorcycle to office the very next day meant that it had passed the test in flying colors too.