A year with the Versys 650

I’ve managed 9000km and almost zero close calls. I’ve hit speeds higher than 150kmph with so much ease on the National Highways. Contrary to my fears,  I didn’t put the bike down for rest of the year after putting it down on the first day. I’ve done three 1000+ km rides. I even ended up riding 4 days back to back with (almost) no pain or fatigue.

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The first time I saw the Versys in person. Stunning & massive

I’ve spent a lot on accessories: paddock stand,  side stand extender, handguard, LED lights, radiator guard, frame sliders, and rear tire hugger. Such a hypocrite! Although I have a pretty good soft-saddlebag, I’m still very tempted to buy the stock hard luggage bag just because it fits so beautifully. Not all accessories I bought fit seamlessly – I really wish I had gone with stock handguard & a radiator guard that would allow more air to flow. Even got myself an entire tool kit that I hope to use one day to service the Versys myself.

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All accessories fitted. Slowly becoming the LT version

I’ve done 2 services ( 1.5K & 6K km) and have mixed experiences from them. There is this whole apprehension around Kawasaki moving out of its partnership with Bajaj/KTM and the concerns around lack of spare parts and service centers for a few months. Just 3 water washes in a year. Can you believe that? Chain cleaning & lubrication every 700km that I did myself. Honestly, there’s very little to worry about this motorcycle.

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My first picture of the Versys. En route to Srisailam (Jyotirlinga 1)

Rides to two (Srisailam & Bhimashanker) Joytirlingas completed. Two more (Trimbakeshwar & Grishneshwar) planned. Another eight more to go after that. This was the real reason why I got a tourer. To travel around this amazing country and visit the most iconic and mystical places. I’ve got a flavor of it  and like what I’ve experienced so far.

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True test: Ride to Bhimashanker (Jyotirlinga 2). It handled rains & bad roads so effortlessly.

I rode around with a messed up suspension setting for 3000km. A period where I was wondering how did I end up investing so much for a motorcycle (a question I keep getting asked every time I quote the price of the bike) and that the RE Himalayan feels like it has a better suspension and amazing value for money.  But once I got the suspension sorted back to its stock setup, all those thoughts fell through and I had enough reasons why this decision was a good one. On days I couldn’t ride or didn’t want to ride it to the office owing to city traffic, I’d be happy just watching this video.

The Versys brought with it changes in my lifestyle and opportunity to meet new people. I had to move to a better place where parking it was safe and ended up in a wonderful house with a fantastic view. Better still, it has easy access to highways. I’ve met some wonderful people along the way to ride with and new stories to hear every time we stop for a chai or for that highway breakfast.

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Ride with Avi & Sunder. When weekend breakfast rides became the norm. First trail riding and it was scary as hell.

Although I did a lot of rides (some alone, some with my wife, and some with friends), the best moment of the year was when we were riding as a group somewhere near Telangana-Chhattisgarh border in a forest area with some wonderful curves. 5 superbikes riding in perfect harmony and following exactly the same line at a wonderful pace. Damn, this could have been anyone in any part of the world but hey, it’s us and we are riding in India! Such a dream come true moment. Riding a big motorcycle in my own country on some scenic roads.

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By far the best ride. #kawa #triumph #kawa #triumph #kawa

Enough weekend morning rides and weekday evening spins. If I have to sum up the year I’ve spent with the Versys 650, it’s definitely a mixed bag filled with serious doubts about my ability to ride and maintain such an expensive buy. But all those apprehensions aside, every time I rode the Versys, it brought a big smile on my face. Every time I got the gear change right, it reminded me how far I’ve come in terms of my riding skills. Every time I park and admire it after a ride, the question that runs my mind is, “where am I going next and when?” The roads have never been more inviting…

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My favorite picture of the year. This one tells a story of a very memorable trip.
  • Issues with the Versys 650: None
  • Service charges: Nominal (about 3-4K INR per service)
  • Current odo reading: 9010km
  • Top speed I managed: 185km/h (was too afraid to push any further)
  • Maximum distance in a day: 600km
  • Perfect riding speeds (from 75km/h to 120km/h)
  • Ideal RPM for gear changes 3K to 3.5K

What I love the most: insanely smooth engine and a fantastic suspension that makes any road a pleasure to ride on.

What I hate the most: the seat height. Because if it was even slightly lower, I know I would take this motorcycle virtually anywhere at any time of the year. The seat height makes me think twice before taking it into a potential high traffic zone or on challenging routes.

Reading about riding.

A fractured ankle can only bring your riding to a halt but it can’t prevent you from reading about riding. What I realized pretty soon was that it’s as much fun reading about riding as it’s actually riding a motorcycle!

While it was 6-weeks long ‘stay at home’ path to recovery, I went (figuratively) on a few hundred rides with author, David L. Hough and learned so much about riding that I probably wouldn’t have had I continued to ride without this break.

It’s very easy to get carried away thinking that in the years of riding, I’ve probably mastered all the skills required to be a proficient rider for life. However, all it takes is one small article or a conversation to realize how little I actually know. These are learning I’m more than happy to learn from others’ experiences and mistakes than my own.

I’m grateful to have read these two books that will hopefully improve my riding skills when I get back from my longest riding slumber.

There is no way I can do justice to the books but the table of content remind us of all the areas of riding we need to master to ride safely for as long as our soul wishes (and live a long life too by not getting killed on the road either due to our own mistake or someone else’s)

  1. Canyon bites – basics of riding in the twisties 
  2. Motorcycle dynamics – don’t be surprised at how little you know! 
  3. Cornering tactics – corners always bring a smile, don’t they?
  4.  Urban traffic survival – because this is where we end up riding for most part of our lives
  5. Booby trap – nay, it’s not what you think it is. I’ll leave it to your imagination though.
  6. Special situations – oh yeah, most of these are common situations in India!

Isn’t that a comprehensive list? What makes it better are the photos that show what the author is talking about. Makes understanding even the complex situations pretty easy.

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Some quotes just to get your started:

“The self-balancing action of a motorcycle front end is a result of the combined effects of a number of details, including rake, trail, steering head rise and fall, mass shift, contact patch location, and tire profiles.”

“less experienced riders look closer to the bike with a more fixed gaze, while skillful riders look farther ahead and frequently change their focus.”

“12 seconds represents about as far ahead as you can see details. If you’re not in the habit of looking that far ahead, then you should be working on that important technique.”

“it’s not only a matter of controlling the motorcycle you’re riding but also controlling the situation around you.” 

I really wish I had read this book around the time I was learning to ride. Although, I must admit, even 15 years later, it doesn’t seem to be too late to pick up some new skills, overcome few bad habits, and apply the right technique – especially if it promises to help me ride more with less risk and obviously has the potential to avoid a few accidents that the world has already learned from.

If you don’t have the patience to read the entire book, then read the part on braking – may reduce your braking distance significantly and even save your life one day. Of course, all of this is assuming you are wearing appropriate protective gears. Ride safe.

Are there other books you know of? Do share it in the comments.

 

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!

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.

The first 1000+ km ride

Taking a flight to Bangalore from Hyderabad is a scam. One ends up spending more time traveling to the city from the Airport than the time spent flying to the city.  Taking a train is a pain. The time to Kachiguda station or time from Majestic to the city (in it’s glorious traffic) just doesn’t make the trip worth it.  The only option left is to take the roads and I don’t have much to complain about.

It’s easily one of the best highways to drive on except those annoying tolls the crop up every 75Km of the entire 570km. However, if you decide to ride down, then even the tolls don’t matter. If the ride is a Versys 650, then there’s pretty much ‘nothing’ to complain.

You know what’s even better? When you decide to ride early morning on a weekday with hardly any traffic on the road. Pleasure, of course, knowing that most of my colleagues are stuck in the city trying to commute to office while I’ll be ambling on a highway to another state.

Versys Hyd to Blr

There have been rides I’ve done in other motorcycles where I’ve regretted the decision just about 100km into the trip or had the urge to find a nice spot under a tree and sleep instead of riding. This one was a bit different and it had it’s phases:

Hyderabad to 200km: getting to know –  The phase where I really understood what it means to ride this tall motorcycle.  Listening more carefully to the engine and finally managing to shift gears without that clunky noise. Aaah! Trying to get comfortable with my seating and holding of the handlebar. It was only after I passed Karnool, when I felt that I was finally in control of the motorcycle and not at it’s mercy!

200 to 400km: settling down – The phase when I got over the constant concern of potential ‘buyers remorse.’ The slow realization of what I had invested in and getting to experience it in the fullest. Knowing that there are going to be more such moments of absolute bliss in the coming years when I’m riding by myself feeling happy and blessed for having come this far in life.

400km to Bangalore: the rains – Just when things were getting a little monotonous and way too comfortable, the rains came to the rescue. Meant that it would be a test of a different kind. After a chai break and tired of waiting for for the rains to stop, I knew it was time to start riding again if I had to reach before sunset. What followed was an hour of 100km/h ride in monsoon rains with an ever increasing confidence on the brakes!

The ride back home had two modes:

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Cruise mode: For most part of the ride, it was experiencing the Versys at it’s best – 6th gear, 4,000 to 5000 RPM, speeds between 80 to 110km/hour and absolutely no grunt or vibe. That’s when the motorcycle almost disappears into the background and it’s just you on the road experiencing the visual delight around you.

Highways usually give me the much needed hope that this world will continue to be a beautiful place for humans to live. Our cramped cities just make me feel the opposite.  The real reason why hitting a good highway is such a critical part of my for life itself and I end up doing it as often as I can.

Race mode:  The fastest speeds I’ve been on wheels have invariably come in the Hyderabad-Bangalore roads mostly because there are sections after Anantapur where there are hardly any animals or humans on the roads doing the random things they keep doing elsewhere. It’s the first place I hit 200km/h on a car and the quickest I could do on the Versys 650 was 189km/h before the fear kicked in.  The double century can wait for a bit – even Sachin took quiet a while before he got his.

On it’s part, the Versys 650 felt extremely stable at all the speeds and didn’t flinch a bit even when I had to hard brake to slow down at speeds above 150km/h. The long winding corners were a joy to ride but then these are not the usual twisties. That too can wait until my next ride…

 

Cruise baby cruise

As a kid, my reading was limited to just two things – cricket and motorcycles. It was by no means a scheduled reading habit but almost picking up anything (mostly magazines) that interested me.

A lesson about city riding: One such random article remained etched in my mind forever – an article that spoke about how having a powerful motorcycle can increase the safety of a rider. The argument being, you are most likely to meet an accident when you are slower than the traffic and if you have a motorcycle that has enough power to help you ride at speeds just quicker than the average traffic, then no one is going to drive into you from the rear and you still have a choice whether to run into someone/something.  That’s still for the city safety. What about the highway?

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As a kid, I traveled a lot. Considering, I was from Ooty, it meant that most of the routes we took were scenic. During my vacations, I’d end up with my cousins doing trips all over Tamil Nadu in their trucks or vans. Highways trips were at my disposal. Lucky me!

A lesson about highway riding: Can’t remember when, but I was in a car (Maruti 800) with my uncle and he made 3-4 motorcyclists to go off-road so he could overtake a slow moving bus and uttered the lines that will again be etched in my mind. “A motorcyclist’s safety is in his/her hand. They are the ones at risk. They should take all precautions and adjust for the oncoming traffic.” In a way, that sums up how most four-wheelers think and drive in India. Forget thinking about you, even if the bus/truck driver sees you on your motorcycle, you’re a lucky person.

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Having done a good number of trips on the highways over the years, it’s obvious that any motorcycle with less than 500cc will be on speeds that are above it’s cruising speed (add vibrations if you are considering RE Classic 500). Not that it’s a big deal, since I’ve done 100+ speeds on my R15 and Duke 200 for over 2 hours non-stop. I even know of a friend who did 100+ speed for at least 3 hours or more on his ride to Bangalore from Hyderabad. It wears you and the engine out quickly. You know you are pushing the motorcycle to it’s limit and riding at speeds outside of it’s comfort zone. Keeps you on the edge of your wit and alertness.

Ride the Versys for a few hundred kilometers and all that will change…

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The cruising factor: The biggest joy about riding the Versys 650 is how it cruises. Cruises at speeds that other motorcycles are running hard and wearing out the parts. Cruises on roads you’d need to be holding the throttle hard to hit top speed to cover distances. Cruises so well, that you want to be doing nothing but cruise. As a result, I’ve found myself riding my other motorcycles at much lesser speed allowing them to cruise as well.

1/3rd of the engine power and maybe somewhere close to half the power is what the Versys 650 will be running throughout it’s lifetime with you – especially in India. That means a lot of things apart from, of course, covering a lot of kilometers with ease.

  • Means that the engine will last much longer than most other motorcycles that you may ride at those speeds while covering such distances.
  • The wearing out of parts would be much lesser as you’re not really pushing the motorcycle hard.

In general, what that means, it’s a longer lifetime on the Versys 650. I’m counting down a 2,00,000+ km on the odometer as a minimum it can handle if it’s maintained well and doesn’t have a bad fall/crash that messes it all up. Fingers crossed!

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