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…

 

Riding without a plan

Back in 1999 when I learned to ride, the days we’d look forward were weekends when we’d rent a motorcycle from Commercial Road in Ooty and ride on the Gudalur road that looked like this throughout the year.

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Our minds used to be our navigation units and if our mental GPS signal was lost, we’d stop and ask just anyone around how to get back to a place that we were familiar with.  The most beautiful part was that we never had a destination in mind. We could ride as long as our pocket money allowed us to rent the motorcycle for.

In 2009, we started getting bolder in our quest for exploring new places with the help of Google Maps. We knew that we’d be able to find our way back eventually, even with a very flaky GPS, GPRS, and battery life. However, one of the most memorable road trips I had was from Hyderabad to Goa, when we got lost and drove for hours together not knowing where we were going and having no one to ask. 22 hour later, we did manage to reach Goa.

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Slowly and steadily, Google Maps Navigation became a part of our day to day life and we kept reaching the destinations more consistently and without getting lost.  It also meant that most of traveling became a race against time. It eventually boiled down to how quickly did you reach or did you better your average speed.

I finally see this changing and guess who the agent for change is? The Versys 650, of course. The other day, I came back from office and decided to go out on a ride without a destination in mind.

When your ride is so good that the time you take doesn’t matter. When your ride is so good that the reaching the destination is not a priority. When your ride is so good that you just want to ride regardless of the quality of the road. That’s riding!

That’s riding because it’s just a beautiful experience and you are living in the moment. That’s riding because you’d rather be on the motorcycle than do anything else in the world. That’s riding because you just want to and there’s no plan.

Somehow, not knowing where you are going makes you be aware and live in the moment much more acutely.

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Registering the Versys 650

It’s easy to assume that everything will be smooth when one spends so much money purchasing a motorcycle and only a handful of us actually do it. However, as much I was impressed by the pre-sales of Kawasaki Begumpet, I was thoroughly disappointed by how the actual sales process happened.

A sales manager is expected to close the sale and sort most of the issues out without customers having to trouble him for it. Not to be…

  • On the day of delivery, they didn’t give the motorcycle manual. To pick it up, I had to go all the way to their showroom.
  • A couple of weeks after delivery, they hadn’t shared details of a broker because the sales manager thought I could save 300 INR that I’d pay to a broker to get the motorcycle registered (after just burning 7.5L on it). Wow!
  • They didn’t talk about Form 20 & 21 until it was 3 days to expiry of the temporary registration. These wouldn’t hand it over in person either. They made me go around in circles.
  • When I finally go to the RTA to get the motorcycle registered, the best thing happens. There is a guy who’s only job is to trace the chassis number on Form 20 with a pencil. That’s what he does for a living! This guy tries & gives up on getting it done for my Versys 650 and even ends up tearing the document in the process.
  • Also, remember to take a bill for a helmet purchase, you don’t want that to be the last reason

Better still, he has the audacity to ask me to go to the showroom so they can remove the fairing and just to get the number traced. Yeah, that’s how things roll here. He’s got absolutely nothing to lose.

Eventually, I had to squat below the fairing for half an hour and get the chassis number traced on the Form 20. This on a mid-summer Hyderabad afternoon. So much for a seamless buyer & registration experience of a premium motorcycle.

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PS: The chassis number can be found right behind the headlight on the right front suspension. If you plan to buy a Versys in Hyderabad, walking into the Kachiguda showroom would be a better idea.

 

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?

Highway

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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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.

Typical conversation at a gas station

Warning: When you are on a Versys, the following conversation could happen with you in any language in any state and almost every gas station you may stop to fuel up. 

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Me: Tank full, please.

Staff: How much did the motorcycle cost?

Me: Around seven lakhs.

Staff: Wow! that much for a two-wheeler?

Me: Yeah but…

Staff: What’s the mileage you get?

Me: About 20 if I’m lucky.

Staff: You could have got a car no sir? It would have cost you as much and would have given you same mileage.

Me: Yeah but…

Staff: Tank full done.

Me: Thank you

I’m just glad I have to have this conversation only once every 400km. Merits of the large tank capacity really appreciated. 

The first service blues & greens…

One of the big worries of buying a recently launched or even a higher capacity motorcycle is what really happens after it’s been purchased. It’s more like a relationship – days leading to the proposal are always more exciting than what really happens post that. No one around you actually cares from then on. They just assume a fairytale ending.

I’m continuing to have a tough time trying to keep my KTM Duke 200 running and was definitely concerned about it when buying a Kawasaki Versys 650 considering both are run by Bajaj. But hey, how can one miss an opportunity to be the psychotic rickshawalla of one’s dreams.  The sales experience was surprisingly smooth and some wonderful people through the entire process.

A service at 1000km was going to be my first experience on how things would look like in the coming years. Booked an appointment. Went in early. Waited for everyone to turn up and then the service manager took over. While I was waiting for the work to get done, I couldn’t stop drooling over the greens in the showroom. Were they trying to indicate something?

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The overall experience was impressive and I wish it continues to be so. Guess it helps when you are still an exclusive customer.

Washing was clean. Oil and filter changes were swift. The final checks were thorough. I loved that they allowed me to watch the work being done and even answered some curious questions. They were full of smiles, excited, and willing to listen to my concerns. Such a joy! (Note to self: Get a paddock stand)

I was taken aback when the service manager decided to fix a broken indicator himself (remember I put it down on first day?). He ensured it was all sorted and even asked me not to bother changing it. All this, more than enough for me to feel that I could be in good hands.

When I was riding back after spending a few hours, five thousand rupees, and some good discussion , I knew it was all worth it. At least for now, the blues have gone and the green lights are in!

6000km or 6 months from here… Something tells me that the kilometers will come sooner.

A thousand kilometers later…

Of what use is telling how the Versys 650 feels after a few hundred kilometers. Isn’t it supposed to do those hundreds in a day?

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Now that thousand is here and the hundreds are behind me, it’s time to break the truth on whether Versys lives up to the excitement or ends up being a very expensive buyer’s remorse?

Height & Weight: Two things that intimidated me so much in the first few days. With the right technique for mounting, a complete clarity on which leg to put the weight on, and a newly acquired smartness in how to park the motorcycle (so there is minimal requirement to pull/push it), means I can now leave these fears behind and focus on the riding experience.

In the city: Riding in the city isn’t too difficult but my heart continues to skip a beat every time one of those ignorant/stupid Activa rider (without helmet & in most cases riding triples) comes too close to my comfort zone. Of course, he’s the hero of his life with nothing to lose. I’ve got a lot to lose in one fall, especially time waiting for a spare parts to arrive if something breaks. Such paranoia!

On the highway: A completely different story here. There is so much space on the roads and ample horsepower to play with. The real joy of the Versys is when you are by yourself cruising at 90km/h at 4,000rpm. To know that you’re merely using only a third what’s on offer will make you grin.  By the way, wait until you hear the engine grunt when you hit that magical 5000rpm – that’s when the beast inside wakes up. Turbo boost!

The trips:

Srisailam Temple: 500km round trip over a weekend. This trip was supposed to take care of the engine breaking-in and check how well it fairs in a typical Indian terrain that includes good & bad roads, national & state highways, straights & curves, plains and hills too. Throw in the tropical heat.

In a typical corporate rating, I’d give it a “Consistently Exceeds Expectations”. The motorcycle is stable & comfortable, eager  & responsive. A real joy.  The fact that I could do a 90 mins non-stop ride on the second day afternoon at speeds consistently close to 90km/hour is a testimonial. First returns for the massive investment!

Bidar Fort: 300km in a day. The Mumbai roads for some reason are eternally in bad condition and under construction. Having a pillion did seem like a burden when the roads went missing. But, when the roads were back, it was as good as riding alone. A different route back meant unknown roads and a real test. Ended up being an amazing idea. Fantastic state highway with limited traffic was just perfect to cruise at 90km/h for hours again. Oh, so lovely!

Ananthagiri Hills: 160km in an afternoon. With 800km behind me and a road I’ve traversed enough times in the last decade, I hand enough confidence to push the boundaries a little. I’ve never ridden a horse but this is the closest I’ve come to riding one and that wonderful feeling of taming a mustang – the reins were in my hand and I finally felt in control.

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Time to go wild but also happens to be the time to get it serviced.

Many firsts with the Versys 650

So many firsts that come with this motorcycle…

# First Versys 650 in Hyderabad and all of Telengana they said. Could have been first across Andhra and few other states too. Who really cares.

# First mid-weight segment motorcycle I’ve owned. It’s definitely much more heavier than I’d anticipated.

# First motorcycle I tried with ABS and it stops just about fine. Here’s to safer rides in the highway.

# First fall wasn’t when I was riding it. I just put the motorcycle down trying to pull it back. Such a bummer.

# Easily the tallest motorcycle I’ve been on. But the height is a concern only until you start riding it, just like the weight.

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# First road trip too is done.  Srisailam was just the perfect getaway for a weekend ride and some good highway and ghat roads. Sweet.

Kawasaki Versys 650
# “Saurashtre Somanathamcha Srisaile Mallikarjunam” First of the 12 Jyotirlinga covered. 11 more to go.