Monday, 18 April 2016

Mandalpatti Revisited

Back in March this year, I considered a proposal from Abhijnan (a colleague, who rides an UCE electra to work) to conduct a ride to Bisile Ghats. A bit of research on the secluded route and deep forest cover of that stretch, got me all excited. We kept a date of April mid and continued with our daily grind. I made some rough route planning and itinerary and passed it on. As the days got closer to the second week, Abhi started getting calls from family and friends on chucking this idea of 'Bisile Ghat', as they were worried about the elephant menace on that part of the jungle and add to it there were some recent casualties due to similar human-animal encounters. Eventually due to the growing concern about our safety in that abandoned stretch of the mountain road, we decided to change our plan and head towards Mandalpatti instead, which in my experience has some good off-road stretch with a possibility to camp for the night. I had done this stretch near Madikeri, back in 2014. Meanwhile Manju (another colleague who heard about this plan) jumped in, with a Pulsar NS200. I prefer to ride solo or else would prefer to ride with old school bulleteers, simply because of the die-hard attitude some of them have towards travelling. But for this ride, I made an exception for Manju, considering his genuine interest and enthusiasm for going on his first long ride, and so he was in. We three, decided to start from Bangalore after office hours and reach Hassan by midnight. Considering my personal experience with riding in summers, our expectations as a group seemed spot on about starting the ride at 6:30 PM from Bangalore and reaching Hassan, which is 180 KMs away, at around midnight, with a quick dinner break on the way. But there was something waiting for us ahead, which I least expected to be honest. Read on to find out..

It was a beautiful calm night... with surprises ahead.

Sorry no photos for this bit, though I wish I had some. We were struggling to keep the bikes up and rolling, which took more courage than I had assumed. For starters it included rain..wait, actually no. It included storm, bunch of lighting all around us, bursting electrical lines on both sides of the road (yep, movie kinds!), heavy cross winds and not to forget freaking 'HAILSTONES'!!! Tons and tons of it. So much that even armoured riding jackets couldn't help our hands and shoulders from feeling the brunt. Eventually we stopped at a bus stop and took shelter for next hour or so, sharing the space with some stranded NHAI staff. One of the most fun riding in rain experiences I have ever had. Bit scary due to the lightnings striking around us, but nevertheless it was tons of fun:) Wait, there is more. When the stormy rain calmed down after sometime, and we were ready to make a run, Abhi's bullet refused to start. Perfect timing, is what I must have told myself. I love troubleshooting motorcycles and this was more of an opportunity than an issue, for me. We got to work with a small torch, tool kit and bit of patience. Well we won the challenge and got it started in 15-20 minutes. The carburettor drainage bolt was so tight, it couldn't be removed. So it took a bunch of kicks to drain the water that had gone in, which was making the engine to stall at high revs. I was instructing and Abhi tried the kicks, add to it the rain, which was still on. The smiles at the end, were well worth the effort I would say.

Made it to Hassan by 2AM and after just 10 minutes of checking in, this was the view of our hotel room. Riding in rain is indeed fun, but on a multiday ride, this is the price you pay to have so much fun in rain.

Saturday morning brought us lot of joy and more importantly a fairly dry weather. The joy was mostly due to the all dried up underwear I guess :P, especially after going through that horrible (but fun!) ride in the stormy night.

Good weather continued and the enjoyment of being on a roll was just kicking in ;)

Bullets, both new and old generation models, but there is one thing in common; the touring pedigree!

We went through all kind of roads; city roads, state highways, national highways and the mountain roads. Some of these routes can be called beautiful, like this stretch near Madikeri. It had lot of flowers on the side of the road in full blossom. We couldn't help but stop for photo.

My arch nemesis (or so I thought about) this route. In the December of 2014 I rode this stretch with Gopal, and labeled it as a Leh contender in terms of off-road terrain, cause both me and my steed struggled to make it to the peak. The stretch in this photograph is probably in the best condition compared to the rest of this road. 95% of this road has no surface at all, let alone a tarmac. There is a reason why only hired Jeeps are seen on this road not a single private vehicle.

Never get so engulfed in the process that, you forget to absorb the view around. Despite the craving to keep riding, keep pushing through the rough terrain, we chose to take a break, just for the heck of it. We all should!

Just before the last steep climb, there was this broad and good stretch of road, where it was safer to stop for a good view of the mountains and we stopped. All thanks to the self-timer who gave me 20 seconds to run down the mountain and join the boys in this frame. Thank you Nikon!

Beautiful place, stunning view, but was a horrible idea to set the tent on the surface seen in this image. Its a concrete surface used for drying coffee or pepper seeds. On first look, it looked alright, but after 2-3 hours of setting up, the temperature inside the tent soared to such a level that we got almost grilled. It was not before 3 o'clock in the night we realised, that it was not the weather which is hot here, its the surface we have set up the tent on. We had to do a hunt for a better (more importantly cooler) place to move the tent to. Same we found in the veranda of the cottage we had booked to keep our luggage in. And so we moved.

Manju (the guy in the red Tee), was enthusiastic to take some pictures, and as Abhijnan had slept off, I was the one who got photographed. As I got a chance to get photographed with my bike, I didn't mind. My happiness was more due to the stunning performance it gave on both on and off-road stretches compared to my last visit.

Remember the midnight fiasco?!! ..well it ended well after all. This is where we finally found peace. Considering we could only sleep after around 3, waking up at 8 was nothing but expected. We got all the rest we needed to do the long return ride home.

After the amazing hospitality, with sumptuous homemade food and a crazy night of camping, this place felt more like home than a homestay. This was the last recorded memory, before we said goodbye to our hosts.

A detour at Kushalnagar and a quick stop at Golden Temple (/monastery). 

We rode all the way to Bangalore just to come across a maddening traffic on Mysore road. We did lot of lane splitting and somehow got into NICE road and took the bannerghatta exit. All in all it was fun and memorable ride and the stormy night we were cursing on the first day, clearly had become the highlight of this trip.

Until next time...

Ride Safe & Ride Far,


Monday, 4 April 2016

First Timer ? Joining a long group ride ? No problem.

This is a random-yet-should-come-in-handy kinda post. So following are few points, which in my humble opinion, a new rider, who is participating in a long ride with a group/friends, should know/understand/learn.

1. Your motorcycle should be serviced at least 2-3 weeks before taking it on a long ride.

Do not take a bike straight from the service center out onto a long ride. High chances there would be some item on the mech's to-do list been missed out. If it was the engine oil top-up, you would probably get scr#wed on the way while ripping. So use the bike on a daily basis, at least for a week after servicing and sort out any niggles you may find, well before the long ride.

2. Always have the manufacturer given tool kit in your bike.

I know you have no clue what a 'torque wrench' is! Still leave that tool kit on your bike. Why ? Cause when you get your bike broken down after ripping mindlessly on the highway, any mech/gearhead who comes for your rescue would ask you for the toolkit. At such moment following shouldn't be your reaction..

3. You must wear the best safety/riding gear that you can afford. 

Being safe is cool. Enuf said!!

You thought a helmet was enough ?? Ask him!!

4. In terms of riding both on and off-road, stay within your riding skill level. 

Do not ride faster than you feel you or your bike can handle in a given situation, just because your lead/group is riding that way. Alternately request your group to slow down for you or better find another group with a matching skill level/experience. During leisurely group rides, other riders would oblige to your request, so do not hesitate to ask.

5. AVOID overtaking vehicles (cars/bikes/trucks) from left side. 

For starters, it is against the rules of the road. Again most vehicles do not expect a bike (or anything for that matter)  to over take from the left, so high chances if they need to swerve/turn left, they will do it without a warning. Now imagine where you would be, if you happen to be next to it and caught unaware. Scary stuff!! Psst.. there are exceptions to this in India. If you already know about such exceptions, then you must be somewhat experienced at riding/driving, in which case you shouldn't be reading this post in the first place:) If you don't know about the exceptions, then there is a reason for that, it is because you are a newbie. Stay there for a while and be safe until you figure it out yourself.

6. Learn to ride in a staggered formation.

While following another bike, always stay either to the left or to the right (depending on space available in the lane) of the motorcycle in the front. This will give you some head space while emergency/panic braking, if the situation arises, without hitting the front motorcycle. Also you can feel safe while breaking hard, that your buddy riding behind won't mow you down by mistake.

7.  Drink more water than you think you need.

In India, this one trick alone has helped me do more miles in a day, than any other tips (above) combined together. Only the people who have been into any kind of the endurance sport (starting from marathon runs to Dakar rally) can tell you the importance of hydration. So don't be a smart a$$ and tell me how you have gone for months together without water. Either have a bottle with you, always filled and keep sipping every hour at least. Or do yourself a favour and get yourself a hydration pack. Any make/model is way better than a bottle, cause it is easier to drink on the go. If you happen to be a bit cranky like me and do end up riding in peak summer months, then add ORS (Oral Rehydration Solution) or Gatorade kinda stuff to the water, as it replenishes the lost minerals and after a long day of riding, keeps the headache and fatigue at bay. :)

8. Be predictable while on the road.

Easier said than done. What I mean by this is, the vehicle at the back as well as front (who can see you) should be able to predict your move from your actions. Which roughly means you use indications (head light flashing before overtaking, switching on blinkers before changing lanes, activating brake lights as you slow down, etc). Though it sounds obvious, but you will be surprised how many accidents occur on the road every single day just because the rider didn't follow these basic protocols.

9. Check ahead before accelerating and glance back before hitting the brakes.

This also means checking your left/right rear view mirror before switching on the turn signal and well before changing the lane (to overtake or to pull over to the curb). DO NOT stare (fixation) in any of the directions for longer than 2 seconds, other than the front. 

10. Keep distance on all sides at all times.

I mean it. Population density in India takes away some of this luxury, but in any given situation, it is always possible to maintain some space in the front and possibly at the back of our motorcycle. Depending on the speed you are travelling, the distance between your front tyre and the back of the vehicle you are following, should be maintained. Learn the two-seconds rule and then make it 3 or 4 seconds depending on your speed. Also do not entertain passing bikes/cars to get too close to your motorcycle, no matter what is the reason. Either way your life/bike will be at risk, so stay safe and keep distance.

Thats all!! Now get your goofy butt off that couch and go ride that bike you bought to show off anyway. Jeeeez. Ride safe out there. And if any of these tips helped you be a good rider, do drop by with a note of thanks. Not that I care if you don't! lol