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?

_DSC4844.JPG

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.

PANO_20170310_173029.jpg

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.

IMG_20170311_183501.jpg
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…

IMG_20170311_184307.jpg
Goa conquered! 

 

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.

IMG_20160219_144113
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.

IMG_20161222_142725
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.

IMG_20160227_121720-2
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.

versys-650-abs-2015-highway
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.

IMG_20160910_084759
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.

IMG-20170114-WA0026
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 in my mind is, “where am I going next and when?” The roads have never been more inviting…

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0240.
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. Oh! that amazing saddle. 

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.

Coming to terms with Showa’s SFF

SFF = Separate Function Fork. One of the biggest reasons why the tag of being a ‘versatile machine’ actually makes sense for the Versys.

The stock set up: It’s true that Kawasaki has got the suspension setting spot on for the Versys 650 in India. When I went out for my first few rides, I was thrilled about how planted and supple it felt on the good and bad roads. My confidence in the suspension grew so much that I stopped caring about small pot holes and sometimes even the smaller speed breakers. The true joy of long-travel suspension and an insane stock set up. This is easily what makes Versys a special experience.  

Service time: When I gave my motorcycle for its second service (6000km), there were some issues as to whether Kawasaki or KTM should do it and finally KTM service center did it. I was 100% sure that it was the first time the mechanic was servicing a Versy 650 but wasn’t left with much choice. I had to ride to Bengaluru that weekend. Plus, what can one really mess up if it’s just about washing and topping up the lubricants?

Versys 650 2nd Service.jpg

Apparently, it can be messed up. For some reason, the mechanic had adjusted with the front and rear suspension. (God knows for what reason as it’s not a part of the service requirements). He didn’t bother to let me know. During my ride to Bengaluru something started to feel off-color.

The not so comfortable ride: It was my second ride to Bengaluru and this one seemed to hurt my shoulders and the bike wasn’t taking the bad roads too well. In fact, it was reminding me of how I felt when I was riding my R15 on the same roads a few years ago (except, that these seats were really comfortable).   On my way back, it became very obvious to me that something was wrong with the suspension. Dammit! It just killed the joy of that entire trip. Only reprieve being this beautiful picture my friend took when I was there.

kawasaki-versy-650-bangalore

Understanding the adjustable suspension: It became very apparent that I had to fix the suspension. That meant asking someone for help or trying to fix it by myself. I decided to go to Louis (the only guy at Hyderabad KTM service I trust these days) and we started going through the service manual together to figure out how to get it back to stock set up that I loved so much. What we immediately identified was that the fork spring preload  & rebound damper (tension) were set to the hardest.

After hunting around the service manual, we put it back to stock setting. It felt much better but it was still nowhere close to how it felt when I first rode it. Emotions that followed were disappointment, frustration, and finally helplessness. What seemed to be the biggest comfort had become my biggest grudge. With every passing day, the resentment kept increasing.

What I didn’t realize at that time was that I didn’t read the instructions as carefully as I should have. The rebound count is from fully clockwise position but the preload was actually from fully counterclockwise position. In my frustration or maybe excitement in getting it fixed, I counted both from clockwise position. Stupid me!

Still the same bad feeling: No amount of reading or asking around got me there. The only good thing that came out of it was that I was forced to work on the suspension even if I didn’t want to. I tried again and again but no progress whatsoever. Some days, the bike was jumping off every speed breaker and other days, it didn’t even respond to them. Sadly, the feeling of riding an exotic bike wasn’t there anymore.

A friend indeed: All this continued until a dear friend from US gave me surprise visit and was kind enough to teach me how to adjust suspensions. The same friend who once took me to Moto Guild, the place where he fixes and rebuilds his own motorcycles.

Moto Guild San Francisco.jpg

2 hours later, my friend confirmed that the suspension is closest to it’s base setting. The most amazing thing was that he was able to set it up for my weight and riding style even without riding the motorcycle. He even guessed it was a little stiff and I should play with it after every ride until I feel the suspension it just about perfect.

Riding after the manual set up:  Two weeks and several 5-10km rides and a couple of long rides later, it is almost close to the best set up it’s been and I don’t even know how many clicks/rotations in or out it was at. However, on my next long trip (about 300km), I realized that both the front and rear where just too stiff and I was still continuing to wear out faster than usual. I had learned how preload and dampening worked and what turning left or right really did to the motorcycle. But, I still wan’t getting to the same feeling as the stock no matter how many times I tried.

A day full of researching: One fine day, after reading as many articles as I could about Versys 650 suspensions including a stunning post called “The science & black magic of suspension setup“, I decided it was time to play around and this time start from the stock set up all over again.

Eureka: Then just like that, the Eureka moment. As I read the stock set up on the service manual again,  I realized the clockwise and counterclockwise blunder I had done. By now, with the number of settings I had tried, I was a pro at turning in or out. I did exactly what the manual said:

Rebound: 2 1/2 turns out from the fully clockwise position.

Preload: 6 1/2 turns in from the fully counterclockwise position.

Rear preload: 1 click from fully counterclockwise position

IMG_20170224_080254.jpg

3000km later: I finally felt light headed and cheerful on my most recent trip. So much for an adjustable suspension. So much for well trained mechanics. So much for owning an expensive motorcycle and not having peace of mind. Sigh!

Versys rider’s take on RE Himalayan

First up, I’m staying away from the word ‘purpose’.

Come on, who are we fooling? We Indians can do just about anything with the motorcycle we own, can’t we? I’ve seen photos of RC390 with luggage in Khardung La and I’ve also seen TVS Victor leaning into the curve unlike any other at Kari Motor Speedway. So then, do we need to specifically call out what our motorcycles are capable of and not capable of?

All of us want to believe that the motorcycles we own are the ones that accelerate the fastest, can be flicked crazily from one corner to another, and can take us anywhere we want to go with any hassles. We want it all, we want it in one, and we want it cheap but we want it to last.

Truth is, I’m not a big fan of RE motorcycles and neither do I attach any sort of value to which region in the world a motorcycle is made in. I absolutely abhor vibes and loud exhaust notes. While it’s true that a design & engine being around for a long time helps in more mechanics being available in far corners of the country to fix it, that’s not enough for me to compromise on so many things when I head out on a long ride. Having seen a few of my friends riding the Classics, I’d be paranoid to take one on the highway wondering when something may just fall off the RE due to its vibrations – once saw a friend’s gear level come off. Nonchalantly, he picked it up, fixed it back and started riding again. I can never be so forgiving of my motorcycles.

royal-enfield-classic-500-desert-storm-2

I’ve ridden Classic 500 around for a bit to know that it’s slightly uncomfortable in the city and I start yawning incessantly 60km into the ride no matter what time of the day I’m on the highway. I also can’t come to terms with the fact that the engine heat screwed up more some good formal & track pants of mine. Such a bummer!

When RE Himalayan spy shots came out, I was in the market for a good tourer and there was enough hype about how much research had gone into building this motorcycle. All I wanted was a mid-sized tourer that could take me comfortably to few really good places around the country. ‘Comfortably’ being the key term since I’m well past my heyday when my body could take anything I threw at it.  With all the hype around, it was too hard to completely ignore the Himalayan.

royal-enfield-himalayan-hyderabad-showroom

Test ride: I’d be lying to you if I said that I didn’t like this motorcycle when I did the test ride. In fact, it was so good (except for the way it started & the below par brakes) that had I not owned a Versys,  I would have probably booked the Himalayan. I would even go ahead and say that it felt so good, that you could pretty much remove the RE badge on it and put something like Hero or TVS on it and it would still sell like hot cakes. It didn’t feel like a typical RE but it was still very much the RE I expected it to be. Truth is, the build quality felt phenomenal & it fit in snug!

First ride: After my cousin bought a Himalayan, I had the chance to take it for a spin. Mind you, by then I had done over 4000km on my Versys and was super comfortable with riding tall & heavy motorcycles including Triumph Tiger 800. When I rode the Himalayan, it felt like like it had the perfect height & weight for riding. I felt so comfortable doing whatever I wanted to-standing and riding, slow speed riding, and the brilliant balance when turning the motorcycle. Again, it felt like the motorcycle was extremely well built.

Royal Enfield Himalayan Ooty.jpg

Real ride: I had to do it. Spent a couple of days using and abusing the motorcycle. Riding over potholes and speed breakers without slowing down, just because I could. Revving really hard uphill with a pillion. Leaning a little on the blind curves and then going hard on the brakes to see if it can stop. The Himalayan did it all and didn’t seem to flinch even a bit. I swear, if I didn’t buy a Versys, I would have been really happy with a motorcycle like Himalayan.

Worth the ride? Now that I’m used to the luxuries of ABS, better wind protection, far more comfortable seats and riding more miles per hour, the Himalayan seems to be a slightly inferior ride. Versys as a benchmark is something I can’t take out of my mind. But, for anyone who hasn’t had such a comforting ride, Himalayan is the benchmark for comfort based on which the upcoming tourers/adv motorcycles (Kawasaki Versys-X 300, BMW G 310GS, & Suzuke Vstrom 250) will be judged on.

Then again, first version in a model in RE will have it’s flaws. I’ve heard a few including oil leaking from engine. Give it an upgrade with ABS (even a brake that works better) and a little more power (oh! please) for me to consider it as my second motorcycle. Until then, there is only one thing I’m clear about. If I ever go on a road trip around the Himalayas, it will be on the Himalayan; not on a Versys or any other Royal Enfield.

A Versys owner’s take on Ninja 650

It was imminent – both riding and writing how I felt riding a Ninja 650.

The odds are clearly stacked against the Ninja considering I already own a Versys 650. Fact is, Ninja doesn’t have ABS or Showa separate function fork, both of which makes for a really safe and comfortable ride regardless of the road condition. It also falls short by 5 liters on fuel capacity.

But, I got to say, it did have a few things going for it. Especially the dual tone color that I sorely miss on my Versys. Ninja 650 is a stunning looking motorcycle and my Versys looks like an ugly twin that wants to disappear into the darkness to avoid any comparisons. Ninja is all about pleasing the eye and everyone around knows it’s a sportsbike even without a second look. Give me that green shade on my Versys, please?

Ninja 650.jpg

The moment I sit on this Kawasaki, I breath a sigh of relief. I can plant both my legs and
there is absolutely no fear of putting the bike down because of it’s the height or weight.
Instinctively, I know I would have taken this motorcycle into the urban jungle more than the number of times I would have even contemplated taking the Versys.  It’s just far more easier and simpler to manage because of the lower seat height.  Never thought 4cm would make such a huge difference.

donald-trump-huge

Sitting on the Ninja, a few things become very obvious. It cries of sportiness – hard seats that will help you move from side to side when cornering, comfortable but forward leaning stance, and yeah, ball crusher alert! It all reminds me of some of the tough times I’ve had trying to ride my R15 on the highway. But hey, that’s not what it’s made for. Take it into the city. Take it to the track. Take it on a Saturday morning breakfast ride and you’ll never be short of a grin.

As I ride the Ninja for the first time, I wonder why I never considered purchasing this motorcycle. Just a few minutes into the ride, it all seem to make so much sense. The super sensitive and powerful throttling almost surprised me. Too hard to believe it was the same engine. I loved how the Ninja picks up speed but I couldn’t stop thinking how my Versys keeps cursing even after I stop accelerating. Clearly, Ninja lives in a two dimensional world of acceleration or deceleration. But my Versys, it has a third dimension called cruising and that’s exactly what makes mile munching a joy!

Versys 650 vs Ninja 650.jpg

As I ride more, it becomes clearer why these two motorcycle exist. One for the highway and one for the corners – no questions about it. Versys seems like a slightly more competent vehicle, but let’s get ABS and a slightly more sophisticated suspension in the Ninja, and you’ll have nothing but your riding requirements to fall upon to decide which motorcycle you’d buy.

As I ride faster and it wasn’t buffeting that was on my mind. I was wondering what to do with the wind blast that was wearing me out so fast. To me, this is the only disappointing thing about the Ninja knowing that I’ll be tired much earlier and there is only so many miles I can do riding in a racer-like position. Unfortunately, I had to slow down for every speed breaker and pot hole too. That’s so passe…

Let’s throw a curveball at it though.  The 2017 Ninja 650 (let’s hope it launches with ABS in India) has a ZX-10R inspired look that makes it look even more stunning.  There was also a half-hearted effort by Kawasaki designers to make the 2017 Versys look slightly less duller. Who’s the winner? The riders of course. Kawasaki seems to have make the consumers decisions making pretty easy.

For looks and performance, it’s always going to be the Ninja. For comfort and touring, it’s going to be hard to match the Versys. Choose wisely, my dear friend.

As I rode back to return the rented Ninja 650, I was comfortable pushing the motorcycle hard and couldn’t believe how quickly I’d gained confidence in riding the Ninja compared to the 3000km it took for me to feel half as confident on the Versys. Ninja is definitely the friendlier motorcycle of the two but it’s more of an adrenaline junkie who wants to go to a party every other evening.

I’ve never liked parties and it’s hard for me to stay awake long into the night. I’d rather travel a bit through the day without it feeling like a penance, find a quiet place and meditate a bit as the sun sets. Versys it is!

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.

hough-proficient-motorcycling-more-delayed-apex

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.

 

Tourers & the mad race for accessories

Once you own a motorcycle, it’s a very tempting proposition to seal one’s ownership on it 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.

Versys 650 ABS 2015 Highway.jpg

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!

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.

versys-650-5000km

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.

bike-trip-ananthagiri-hills-015

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.

img_20160402_074335

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.

FullSizeRender 4.jpg

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.

IMG_20160910_084759 (1).jpg

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.