When Goa comes calling…

This trip had to happen. One way or the other. Not that I have been enthralled by my previous visits but hey, it’s Goa. Who in their right mind would refuse?

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The roads to Goa from Hyderabad haven’t always been easy and not something that I look forward to. But this destination is more inviting than most others. It was also more enticing since the 3 of us cared more about the ride than the destination. This was probably the best way to know how far and comfortably Versys 650 can take us on roads guaranteed to test our limits.

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There were equal share of good and bad roads. Some sections were unbelievably good while the others tortured us with back breakers in the name of speed breakers. The highlight of the day came towards the fag end just when our bodies were giving up. The Amboli ghats were stunning and we couldn’t have ridden at a better time through them.

A friend of mine once told me that photography was all about getting the timing right and most importantly having the sun by your side. So, riding to Vasco Da Gama for sunset was probably the best idea ever and roads to reach there added to the fun. Got to give it to the lovely roads that Goa has connecting one beach/place to another.

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Easily one of the best pictures I’ve taken so far

We didn’t have an agenda. Everything was on the go, flexible and slow. We started when we want to and stop wherever we felt. What I should admit is that Versys was as much fun riding within Goa as much as it was riding to Goa. There were a few memorable moments: riding all the way Querlim to discover a beauty of a beach there and watch the sun go down at Anjuna lying on a stack.

The ride back was mostly fun except for the insane number of speed breakers and the really bad stretch of roads after Raichur after sunset. Almost a perfect recipe for disaster. But hey, we had the reflective suspenders, the aux lights, and an alternate route that took us back home safely. 1700km later, I’m glad I did this trip to Goa and gave the Versys 650 a real taste of Indian road conditions.

16+ hours towards Goa and 14+ hours from Goa on State Highways.  Body was aching but not as bad as I thought it would be. People ask me why bought a motorcycle at a price of a car. I probably have an answer now – to do what I would have dared to do in a car on just two-wheels. Therefore, the grin…

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Goa conquered! 

 

Tourers & the mad race for accessories

Once you own a motorcycle, it’s a very tempting proposition to seals one’s ownership on by making it personal and instantly recognizable. This can be done in many ways but the easiest is to stamp a few stickers on it and feel happy about it.

It’s almost become a mandate to have fancy accessories  and some stickering/wraps to make a touring motorcycle feel complete for it’s owners. I’m sure some of it is because of actual needs but rest of it is sheer marketing.  Here’s are a couple of my favorite and most colorful off-roaders from Icon Motorsports Youtube channel (some crazy videos in there).

Motorcycle manufacturers have long been extracting whatever they can from this consumer trend (craze) launching basic motorcycles and a variant that comes fully loaded with all the accessories.  The Versys 650 ABS and Versys 650 LT (accessories filled variant that didn’t launch in India).

The most annoying part is when you see that the version you have can actually fit every single of these accessories but you’ll have to now source one at time to feel that the motorcycle is complete. The argument of the super-overpriced stock accessories or picking up a well known accessory manufacturer for a complete kit from someone like Hepco Becker, SW-Motech or Puig from a reseller is ongoing.

I was a part of a pan-India Versys owners group for a while where there were three things were discussed and precisely in that order – accessories, rides, & booze! It was a very short but useful experience on how people think about their premium motorcycles. Incomplete until it’s got all cool gadgets that muffle it. Every second hour, there was a discussion around accessories and sourcing it to India.

Having done a few trips now, I must say that it’s very tempting to have some accessories but the cost of these will make you think long and hard. After months of researching, I had finalized the list of accessories. In fact, even got the Barkbuster VPS handguards (kit & shell)  fixed and waiting to fix the side stand extender and radiator guard.

(PS: a part of me still wants to fix the stock Kawasaki handguards.)

A crash guard  seems like a requirement considering the weight and height. Putting the Versys down is going to be a more frequent affair than one can imagine. Skid plate looks necessary but I’m still confused. Well, the list is endless considering the gizmos that can be fitted to these motorcycles.

But, something is making me think again as to whether all these accessories are a necessity or I can still continue to tour on the Versys comfortably, with what I already have, the motorcycle. The answer is actually and surprisingly ‘yes.’

The kind of rider that I am and for my lifestyle, I’ll probably do a maximum of two weeks ride for which a simple soft-case luggage & a tank bag should do. Unless I’m riding at speeds that are above the limits, I don’t need those fancy gears for myself or for the motorcycle. And, if I could do a 4 day ride with none of these accessories then I should be able to do a 10 day or 14 days ride without much hassle. Everything else is just a good to have.

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Well, if things have to go down south, they definitely will.  The Versys 650 (your fancy touring motorcycle) is probably by itself the only must have in the bigger scheme of things. The mad race for accessories is probably unnecessary. This one is definitely not made for a race anyway – it’s just to stroll on the highway. Amble away!

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. 

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.

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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…

 

This one’s for the highway…

Through my college days, motorcycles were just about commuting. It was a more convenient way for going from one place to another. Having a motorcycle meant I could avoid hours of waiting at a bus terminal every Friday evening to go back home. What it brought with it was about 150km ride every other weekend through ghat roads to Ooty. Pretty much everyone around me was stunned when I’d completed about 13,000km within one year of purchase.

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After I had got a job in Hyderabad (and it took me 6 months to gather courage to get my Libero here), it didn’t take me long to realize that the fantastic roads here deserved more than 110cc commuter. Thankfully, it was a phase where my friends were buying motorcycles – Pulsars, Unicorns, & Apaches. My first experience with 150cc and instinctively realized that my riding experience can be better in a higher displacement motorcycle.

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The next couple of years were spent in mastering four-wheeler and the comfort/convenience of a car slowly overtook my craving for riding two-wheeler. It needed something really special to help me get out of this somber life I was living. That moment happened when Yamaha R15 Version 2.0 launched in India. One look at the motorcycle in the showroom was enough for me to book it. Honestly, this was the moment I stopped commuting. This one was for the corners. This one was for pure selfish riding joy.

One led to other, and the other led to another. Within no time, we (our friends & me) had a KTM Duke 200, RE Classic Dessert Storm, and a Pulsar to ride around the amazing roads of Hyderabad.

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I was this happy guy with enough motorcycles to ride around. Had ample time to get used to the thump (and vibrations) of a Classic 500. Then spent few months to master the raw pick up (and the strange exhaust note) that came with Duke 200. A content Indian motorcycle enthusiast who even managed to do 2,600km in 8 days road trip on the R15. I would have claimed that it was one of my best road trips, until I rode in the suburbs of California.

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This man, and these two motorcycles changed my perception forever. Ever since I came back from this dream road trip, nothing was the same anymore. Almost, every motorcycle I rode felt like a compromise. First, I wanted two-wheels to travel places and not to just ride everyday. The Suzuki V-Strom 650 showed me what touring on motorcycles actually meant. Two days of riding covering over 400 miles and the only pain in my body was in my left hand because of a hard clutch. Second, India didn’t need a 1 liter engine. Anywhere around 500cc was more than sufficient to traverse the length & breath of India and the kind of terrains it has to offer. No, RE was not my type. ( update: Himalayan is the closest bet but I know I’ll start yawning 45 mins into the ride)

I didn’t have a lot of choices – Tiger 800 was out of question – paying over 10 lakhs for a motorcycle and then maintaining it was out of question. I waited a year for the launch of Benelli 600GT only to be disappointed by it’s size and weight. I contemplated settling down for the TNT 300 but gave up. I was pinning my hope for KTM to launch a 690 (or even 390) version of their Adventure. Everyone in the internet was talking about it except the company itself.

Just like that, out of the blue, Kawasaki did the most amazing thing it ever did in India. Almost with no notice, in spite of their 1000cc not doing well, they launched the Versys 650. Every damn review on the internet was so good, that it didn’t take me too long after they announced the price to book it!

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No, it’s not my mid-life crisis. Yes, there can’t be a better time to launch/buy an adventure touring motorcycle in India. It’s need of the hour for our constantly improving road qualities and a mandate for comfortable touring to overcome the compromises we’ve had to make all these years.

This one’s for the highway alright. But, it picks up crazier than my Duke. It leans almost as well as my R15. It commutes reasonably well from home to office. Munches miles as quickly as my car. It’s quiet and buzz free. Doesn’t trouble people around or warrant unwanted attention (like those Harleys). It is an absolute delight as it cruises for hours at 95km/hour effortlessly. 

Note to self: Get over the frustrations of buffeting. Get a earplug.