Thursday 26 October 2017

A Ride to Kolli Hills

What would happen when two solo riders plan a ride together? First of all, it doesn't really happen that often, then when it finally does, it turns out to be an epic trip. A very short one though, but still, epic! So Sandesh and I had been talking about doing a short spin together, ever since we bumped into each other at work, right after my northeast trip. It was enough of an introduction on his part that, he too had done the Indian north-eastern belt (all the way from Bangalore) solo, in early 2016. We had our own stuff (life, ride, job, family matters, etc) to take care of, so, despite our regular coffee time discussions, nothing materialized regarding a ride together. This was the case for almost a year, until last Thursday; i.e. 19th of September 2017, when we could finally take the bikes out for a spin.

For the ride, the suggestion of a route came from Sandesh and he picked Kolli Hills (locally known as Kolli Malai). Now mountains are always the preferred destination when motorcycling pleasure is what we seek. This mostly had to do with the twisties one gets to enjoy flicking the bike on, also the lean angle you achieve (MotoGP anyone ?!!) while doing it. Now, these aspects also have a lot to do with making motorcycling dangerous as well. Because in the mountains, we may not always get a second chance to correct ourselves, after a serious mistake. As that would either throw you off the cliff or put you right in front of an oncoming vehicle or ram into the stone sidewall/tree within seconds. These scary bits of the scenario need to be told, as we have a higher number of younger and inexperienced riders in the country now (including some from my family/friends circle) than experienced ones. So they must not follow everything they hear or read (even in this blog) without knowing all possibilities of a route/ride.

So coming back to the ride planning, I had a look at the route to realize, it's 80% highway and 20% twisties, that to hairpin turns. What surprised me most is the number of hairpin bends this place has. Guess what 70 in total!!! I personally have never ridden (or been through) that many continuous hairpin-bends in my life so far. Take a look at the map view of that stretch:-

Sandesh rides a Duke 390 like a pro and I was supposed to ride my bull. The average speed a KTM 390 can do on a good road like the Hosur-Salem highway, would be close to 120 kph;  Mind you, I am talking about the average here, not the top speed. So one day trip to do a highway run with such a route, got me thinking to try something new in terms of my ride. Why not the very best mountain carver out there to match; there I was enquiring about the Duke 390 itself as my preferred motorcycle for this very trip! I found one available with Wicked Ride (WR), Koramangala. Booked it in a jiffy. I had some prior experience with WR guys and they were fairly good in terms of rentals and choice of motorcycles they had. Sandesh wanted me to try out the Ducati Scrambler, but unfortunately, that was no more available at the time I was booking. Plus, riding the same bike will not only allow us to keep up with each other, but it will also mean we carry only one set of spares and tools for road repair scenarios, resulting in reduced luggage. This actually turned out to be a good decision, as we were able to do some good speeds on safe stretches and none of us had to struggle to keep up (slow down or speed up) unnecessarily, which happens when you ride with different bikes with different capabilities.

Picking up the motorcycle from Koramangala:
Wednesday night, the plan for me was to leave my car at the office, take an Uber to the WR outlet in Koramangala, pick up the motorcycle, and ride home. And so I did. However, I had to replace the Duke they first gave me, as it was part of a crash recently. Even though it was serviced after the incident, I didn't want to risk my safety on the highway or twisties, suspecting possible fork or wheel alignment issues. Thankfully they had another 390 around and they were happy to offer that. That had just come from a ride and was covered with mud. Getting it cleaned was a much simpler task on my part than figuring out a handling issue while on the road (had I taken the other bike). So  I picked up the motorcycle, tanked up just enough to get to Shell Bunk near my home, and rode back. To be honest I hated the ride back home in heavy traffic. I cursed the bike and its short gearing all the way until I reached Shell at Bannerghatta road. However, just before reaching Shell, I took some empty back roads and it allowed me to open up the throttle a bit, and whoa!!! The feeling was so much better, that I decided to keep the Duke and see what it does when it gets the much-needed highway. I called up Sandesh to give me a quick 101 on recommended tire pressure and about the tell-tale lights on the console, etc. I didn't have time (or energy) to go through the user manual for the bike. Thankfully Sandesh's instructions were good enough for me to get going on this machine. Oh wait, the bike was still dirty and I don't like a dirty motorcycle to start a trip with. It was already 10PM1 and hardly any bike-wash shops were open. Still, I was able to locate an open garage and thankfully was successful in convincing the workshop guy (who was working late) to get this baby cleaned and its chain lubed. Am so glad he obliged and did a great job too.

Getting rid of the mud and grease

Applying the chain lube

Once the bike was all ready, I was relieved. Now all I had to do was to pack. This time packing was much lighter, as I didn't have to carry any tools at all. Only clothes, my RAM mount, first aid kit, a few bars of sneakers for snacking, and usual electronics. Chucked the camera this time. So all in all, it was one of the lightest setups I have had in a very long time. This allowed me to focus on handling the beast that the 390 is on the highways as well as while cornering in the mountains. So with packing done, the alarm was set for 4AM. Meet up time was decided to be at 5:30AM, at NICE road's Bannerghatta entry point, while heading towards Hosur/EC exit.

Leaving Bangalore on Thursday Morning:

The motorcycle is all set with a duffel as the tail bag

I used 2 bungee cords tied in an X shape, which held up fabulously during the whole trip

Got onto the NICE road from Bannerghatta Road, and waiting for Sandesh

Early morning fog and usual traffic on Nice road

Sandesh was riding so fast, he missed seeing me standing on the side of the road, so he stopped some 3 km ahead and sent me his location. I caught up and we officially started off together from that point, with him riding in the lead. 

First stop at the fuel bunk next to A2B; for filling up fuel in Sandesh's bike

Two KTMs with a full tank of fuel and an open road; you can see the smile right through the helmet :D

First proper break during the ride to cool off and have some breakfast

We were staying above 110 all through, as the road condition was excellent and traffic was manageable. I remember touching 1X0+ (X=unsafe digit to be shown here :P) at few stretches (unintentionally of course!) when the road allowed. Duke got me hooked on the power delivery and the ABS-assisted braking. Then came the first few corners before Salem. These are 3-5 bends on the highway which are notorious for accidents, as they bank too sharply for a 3-lane national highway. I realized I was going wide on the first two turns. So I had to dial down the speed and get the knee down a bit to maintain my line. It took me a few hours of riding the 390 and a couple of more turns to realize, that the chain on my bike was more loose than it should be. The night I brought it home, I hadn't noticed this. It affects the bike so much, I never had assumed. This was (one of) the reason, I had a tough time riding it in stop-go traffic the night before, as the chain was making noise at the lower gears and making me shift too much in traffic. Having said that, once we got the chain adjusted, I was right at home in the twisties. The bike handled flawlessly from that point on. This was good learning for me. I wish I had noticed/fixed the chain issue much earlier.

Stopped here to check the map/GPS, just after leaving the Salem highway, to head towards Kolli Malai

The only viewpoint on the way up to Kolli Malai

Found this small tea shop on the side, just before the temples' area.

We made it to the top by noon as planned. Found ourselves at a restaurant inside a resort, for having lunch. We took a rest at the restaurant post lunch before our descent started from Kolli Hilltop. Our destination for the night was Yercaud, which too has a couple of twisties but neither as many nor as sharp as what we came across at Kolli Hills. So we started off around 3PM from Kolli Hills towards Salem and then from Salem towards Yercaud. By the time we entered the foot of the Yercaud, it was dark already and there was this crazy beeline of cars on the ghat road. Most of the traffic was coming from the opposite direction. That was the good part. We could filter through easily and made it all the way to the top of the hill station by late evening. We could find ourselves comfortable accommodation. We didn't have to sweat much to find this place, all thanks to Sandesh and his contacts. Got fresh, had some coffee, and then decided to head out for a spin and possibly find a good place for dinner.

While looking for a place for dinner, came across this interesting place. Alas, it required a prior appointment to get a table here.

So finally after a bit of goofing around the hill station at night, we got into Silver Oak Restaurant, inside Shevroy Hotel. It was a bit pricey, but the food was delicious, and we had a stomach full. Well deserved supper after a long day of riding. I presume they stay open till late. So just in case you land in Yercaud late and don't find any decent eatery nearby, do enquire about this hotel. Post dinner, we sat there with a cup of coffee in our hand, discussing the day's ride. After a good long hour, we headed back to our hotel and before we know it, we had dozed off.

Morning at Yercaud:

Our stay at Yercaud.

We checked out from the hotel around 9AM and headed to the place for breakfast, which we had found last night :). Visiting this cafe was an interesting experience for sure. The place is called 'Sweet Rascal', it's a resort and cafe. Founded and owned by Mr. Vishu Kalliappa. Our visit here became more interesting when we bumped into the man himself, who turned out to be a biker. Well, what are the odds?!! We had a great time chatting with him and knowing about his collection of motorcycles. His taste in things and the choice of businesses that he has created and runs are very unique.

We had a booking for breakfast this time :D @ Sweet Rascal Cafe!

This place is green, and tastefully decorated, with lots of bonsai plants, many dogs, a few exotic birds, and tons of funny quotes :) Yep, all these are part of this quirky resort and cafe.

After a hearty brunch and a cup of coffee, before we catch up again with our good 'ol National Highway 44

Taking a break under shade for sipping water and some chit-chat; on the way down from Yercaud 

The beasts in their natural habitat; at the twisties.

Stopped at Krishnagiri around 3PM, for the last fill-up of our hydration packs. 

Whew! By this time, it was starting to get a *butt* painful to be on the saddle :P Hence this break!

So that's how I celebrated this year's Diwali :) Riding a cracker on and off the twisties and open highway!

We had recorded some footage on Sandesh's action cam, but not sure when that will make it to youtube. As and when that gets uploaded, I will try and put a link here.

On Friday I finally made it to my office around 4 PM and after a quick change in the washroom could get back to my desk (with regular clothes) and finish some work. I wasn't that tired from this ride, so decided to save half a day's worth of leave, maybe for some future ride ;)

My observations from riding the KTM Duke 390:

It was a fun group (well.. kinda!) ride I had in a long time. KTM Duke 390 got me hooked and I ended up loving this machine. My elated appreciation partly could be due to the exceptionally good condition of the roads which we picked to ride it on. Even then, for a newbie (to KTM) like myself, I could push it through its paces, and not a single time worry about its ability or my safety. Handling was way better than I had expected, both on the highway (while doing higher speeds) and while cornering in the mountains. KTMs (in my limited knowledge) mostly have the short stroke, high revving motor and that is evident from the moment you push the start button. They behave/handle better when they are pushed. This trait is completely opposite to what bullets (or even the Honda motorcycles) offer in terms of riding experience. I had to change my mindset as a rider from passive (/relaxed) riding to that active (assertive!) riding, and only then the bike starts obeying your commands (or so to speak). Yes, its weight and power might be a bit too much to handle for a new rider. For them, I would suggest Duke 200 would be a better (and much safer) choice, yet equally fun.  Lastly, both the KTMs we rode were running on Michelin tires, which performed well without any issues.

** Useful Info: **

Bangalore to Salem (195 KM)

Bangalore > (via Electronics City road) > Hosur > Krishnagiri > Dharmapuri > Salem bypass road
NH 44: Srinagar-Kanyakumari Highway: 3 lanes, in very good condition

Salem (bypass) to Kolli Hills (60 KM)

Salem > (via bypass road and then on NH44) > After appx 40 KM Turn Left onto > Kalangani-Thirumalaipatty Road > Thirumalaipatty > Karavalli > Hairpin Bends Starts!

Salem Bypass Road: Flyover construction was going on, so in some stretches bypass road was narrow creating a bottleneck for 3-4 KM or so.
Kalangani-Thirumalaipatty Road: Good tar condition, but undivided (/single carriage) highway, can maintain 50-60+ KPH safely.

70 Hairpin Bends (14 KM)

95% in very good condition and the remaining few patches have mild gravel due to damaged tar surface. Corners are free from debris/sand and hence safe for tire grip.

Ghat Riding Dos/Don'ts:-

  • Always decide your speed before you arrive at the turn and select the right gear for that speed beforehand (downshifting mid-turn would put stress on your gearbox and be risky as the rear wheel may lose traction due to the sudden change in speed)
  • Slow down before entering a turn and always be careful/attentive to correct/change your line of the ride; Because turns are very sharp, and all vehicles (going up or down) would take wider turns sometimes coming on your path.
  • Before braking, check your rear-view mirrors, so that no vehicle should be behind you (or approaching fast).
  • For breaks/halts, pick a spot visible to traffic coming from both sides, at least 50-100 meters away.
  • Do not over speed on the way down, and do not overuse the brakes (you may wear out your brake pads and that would be very dangerous).
  • Always give way to vehicles climbing up the ghat, so keep an eye on those and slow down before a turn to allow them to climb safely.
  • Keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front (even if it's your riding buddy) at all times. And at the bends, have more space for your own safety.
  • Avoid this route at night (so better plan your climb and decent when daylight is still around).

General Tips for riding on this route:-

  • Ensure the engine oil level of your motorcycle is proper (if a cast iron bullet, carry extra engine oil, as the highway is good and you possibly would end up ripping at higher speeds than usual, which in turn would burn more engine oil)
  • Ensure your brake fluid level is proper and brake pads are in good shape
  • Ensure your motorcycle chain and sprocket are in good shape
  • Ensure your motorcycle chain tightness is adjusted correctly (or at least get it done at Salem before reaching the Kolli Hills ghat section)
  • Carry a hydration pack or water bottle and keep filling it on the way as you run out (stay hydrated at all times!)
  • Too much sun and too little shade on this highway, so use sunglasses/built-in sun shade/tinted visor.
  • Wear protective gear (as always), as the highway is good and most vehicles would be at high speeds (even if you are not riding fast)
  • There are many petrol stations on NH44, but not that many once you turn towards Thirumalaipatty; so better do a full tank at Salem

Hope you enjoyed being part of this ride.

Ride Safe & Ride Far, 


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