Sometime earlier this year Royal Enfield launched a new variant of the oldest motorcycle in continuous production, the Bullet. The Bullet series has been in production in India since 1955 when Redditch company partnered with Madras Motors in India to form ‘Enfield India’ to produce the 350 CC Royal Enfield Bullet.
The Bullet motorcycles have had a very old connection with me, from the times I would wait to hear the thump of my father’s Standard Bullet 350 when he came to pick me up after school to my uncle’s ex-armed forces G2 Bullet which he picked from the army disposal auction at Panagarh.
Last March they launched the Bullet Trials Works Replica 350 & 500 motorcycles in India. The question that popped in my mind, ‘Another Bullet! Why?’
I managed to take a spin on the 500 variant last week and this is what I found. The motorcycle is based on Bullet 500, which essentially means there is no change to the engine. This engine is the tried and tested 499 CC air-cooled fuel injected unit doing its job in the older variants of the Bullet. Oodles of low-end torque from the word go makes it an easy to manage motorcycle, in traffic or trails alike. Yes, trails and Yes, the motorcycle is called the Trials.
Back in 1948, the Trials Bullet was the first production motorcycle to feature a swinging arm suspension. And, the Trials Replica is a homage to the motorcycling legend, Johnny Brittain. He, as a young 18-year-old had great success at the International Six Days’ Trials with the Royal Enfield Factory Team.
The motorcycle has a stripped-down look, with a luggage rack where the pillion seat should have been. Maintaining an old school charm with a dash of bright coloured frames. Functional, with higher handlebars, raised mudguards and knobby tires to make it more capable off-road. An upswept exhaust to tackle deep water crossings without any worry. Though, personally, I would have loved slightly taller handlebars. With all these old-school and functional bits, Royal Enfield also ensured modern dual-channel ABS working in tandem with the block pattern tires to provide all the grip and stopping power you would need across varied terrains. Add to this a bunch of classy accessories to make the motorcycle look butch.
I have said this before and will say this again, Royal Enfield knows how to integrate a bullet motorcycle in your lifestyle. Did we really need another bullet or even a function-specific trials motorcycle? Maybe, Not. But they DO make it desirable. And that is what sets this motorcycle apart, with history and legacy from an armed forces work-horse to a lifestyle statement today and a fabulous service network across the country, Royal Enfield knows how to sell a lifestyle.
Concerned fellow biker buddies – “But, why did you ‘downgrade’ to a Royal Enfield Himalayan?”
One of the most common questions I was asked by people when I bought the Royal Enfield Himalayan. The funny thing is I find the tagging of ‘upgrades’ really stupid. You move or change to a motorcycle as per the riding style. If you can’t change you improvise and use what you have. And, on that point, people who know me well did not bother to question my choice.
Now, my question is, what is an upgrade? Is it bumping up to a higher cubic capacity? Is it a more powerful bike in terms of numbers? or just spending more money, compared to your existing one, on a new motorcycle? Or is it just doing more than what you did with the last motorcycle?
I feel the matter is imperceptible and cannot be summarized by just throwing around numbers. If I could afford to, I would love to keep both the motorcycles. Maybe, sometime in future, I will.
My last motorcycle was the Benelli TNT 300, a street bike which I had used extensively for the daily commutes and touring. Even a fair number of off-road trails have been covered on the motorcycle. And, I still do not have anything to complain about the TNT 300. A 360-degree parallel twin with oodles of low-end torque, kicking in as low as 2500rpm. Subtle linear power delivery made it a breeze to ride, especially while touring.
So, coming to the point of why I sold my Benelli TNT 300? Well, I have just one reason. My riding style changed. I started avoiding highways and travelling more of B Roads and off-road trails. People who have ridden with me also know that I have taken the Benelli to a fair number of technical trails. As long as ground clearance was not an issue, the motorcycle chugged away miles after miles. I loved the low-end torque and how useable it was when I was tackling trails and inclines. But – there is always a but, when it came to rocky terrain, the ground clearance was a hindrance. I had to take it slow and worry about the motorcycle making it past an obstacle. For water crossings, the under-belly exhaust was an added worry.
Now, coming to the Royal Enfield Himalayan. I had a few parameters for my next motorcycle. It had to be less than 3.0 lakhs INR on road in Bangalore. It had to be an off-road capable and comfortable stress-free touring motorcycle. The RE Himalayan fit the bill and the bonus was a wide service network across the country and low cost of ownership. This also meant I could spend on some good premium accessories and have extra moolah for my travel funds. Show me another touring motorcycle in India capable enough, within the said parameters. The Hero XPulse, some might say. A capable off-roader, yes, it is. Touring, maybe not.
So, in my outlook, the purchase of the RE Himalayan is an upgrade for me (even though I went from a twin cylinder to a single) as I can do all that I did with the Benelli TNT 300 and additional I can do more off-road trails, even the rocky terrains. I had money left after selling the Benelli and buying the RE. My service costs are less now because the motorcycle and spares are made in India and labour costs are less, which in turn lets me save more for my travel & motorcycle fund.
Eventually, I had to take a call between my ‘wants’ and ‘needs’. What I ‘need’, may not be what I ‘want’. But it will get me going for sure. And, what about my ‘wants’, well – that story is far from over my friend.
I am a motorcycle traveller and depend on my smartphone for navigation or tracking my rides. But the risk was damaging my phone, due to shocks and jerks or the exposure to the elements – heat, dust and the rains. Also, the notifications and calls to my phone were always a distraction. I was looking for something to avoid using my phone for all this.
This is when I got to know about Maximus Pro. The product was still at a very nascent stage and I managed to get my hands on it.
I have been using the Maximus Pro since Dec 2017 and think it’s high time I share my experience here. The version I am using includes all three modules, the App, the Display Module and the Connectivity Module. This version was sold for Rs. 12999/- soon after the launch back in Nov 2017. I can see now that Maximus Pro is also selling individual modules, which lets the user have an option to buy the Connectivity Module, only if they need it. The Connectivity Module takes care of theft alert and vehicle diagnostics. This way the ownership cost also goes down to Rs. 6499/-, for the Display Module and the App, if Navigation and the App is the only thing you need.
I have been using the Maximus Pro on my Benelli TNT 300. The Connectivity Module is installed under the seat and the best part is you do not need to cut any wire. Just two wires to the battery and one to take an ignition signal, which can be taken from any connector. So, there is no cutting of wires involved, thus not impacting your warranty either. The App is simple, and it is easy to link the Display Module with the app using Bluetooth. I have fixed the Display Module on my handlebar with the mount that is included in the package.
The app allows you to plan a ride and save it and the navigation gets displayed on the display module when you start the ride. The display doesn’t show the full map but the directions to be taken and distance to the next turn. You can additionally toggle to distance to destination. The display module is readable even in bright sunlight. The app, apart from helping you plan your route, also tracks your route and shares various parameters like average speed and top speed.
The connectivity module helps me locate my motorcycle. I can see on my app where my motorcycle is. Helps in scenarios of theft or something as simple as getting picked by the traffic police for wrong parking. Or, even when your friend takes borrows your motorcycle.
I have personally loved this product a lot. I do not need to worry about the elements damaging my phone. The device helps me navigate without any distractions and gives me point to point information to help me navigate. Once the route is charted, I don’t even need to keep my data on, thus helping save battery on my phone. Yes, it still uses the phone’s GPS for tracking and guiding on the display module. But, I have noticed that GPS and Bluetooth do not consume your phone battery as much as irregular data or network conditions. In case you deviate from the route, it shows a compass with the direction I need to take to reach the planned route. Yes, it does not reroute and send you through un-useable roads like google maps does at times.
I must add that their customer service is excellent, and they go out of the way to support in case you have any doubts or issues with the product. I am happy to know that the team behind this product is constantly working on updating the product with new features. I am eagerly looking forward to updates for the product soon.
Since my last post, “Almost There!!!”, two of the common questions that I have been asked are – Why a Royal Enfield and Why the Himalayan? I thought why not write about it to make things a little less repetitive for me.
So, let me start with the motorcycle first.
Why, the Himalayan?
To begin with, off-road capability. The Himalayan is the first purpose-built motorcycle from the Royal Enfield stable. 21-inch wheels up front, mated with a 17-inch at the rear, with dual purpose tyres to tackle no-road situations. Ground clearance of 220mm while keeping the seat height at a comfortable 800mm. This was the perfect recipe for a dual-purpose motorcycle, regular highway touring and off-road trails, both could be handled with ease on the Himalayan.
One might argue that the Himalayan had so many issues when it was launched. Yes, it did. And have you ridden the BS4 variant yet? Anyone who has ridden the BS4 variant will agree that Royal Enfield has no doubt taken all the learning and feedback and fixed most, if not all, issues in the Himalayan. The engine has got a good low-end grunt and stress-free even at high speeds. The motorcycle I tested allowed me to cruise comfortably at 120/130kmph. The low-end torque is a saviour in off-road conditions. It would have been nice to have a little more power and torque but nothing to cry home about. All this at a lovely price point of just 1.8 lakhs INR ex-showroom. Honestly, I do not see any other motorcycle in the country which is as purpose-built as this in such a price point. Before I continue, I think I can get the 2nd question into consideration here.
Why, a Royal Enfield?
Continuing from where I left off, one of the reasons for selecting the Himalayan is the low cost of ownership. Royal Enfield has somehow managed to price it right. I do not have to worry about dropping the motorcycle, which is inevitable in an off-road terrain as the spares are pocket-friendly and easily available. With over 1000 service centres across India, I will never be far from one, in case I need help. It’s like the SBI of motorcycle service centers, you will always find one, no matter which part of the country you are in.
Additionally, the roadside assistance also ensures you do not break a sweat trying to get to one either. Royal Enfield has managed to build an ecosystem around motorcycles and motorcycling activities. From being the oldest motorcycle manufacturers in the country to creating a community around riders. No other brand can boast of having a dedicated ride team which creates experiences for its riders. Various brands, like Mahindra-Jawa, KTM, Bajaj have tried their hand at creating something similar and I have been to a few. However, none of them implement it as grandly as Royal Enfield. The legacy and lineage show in the finesse with which these rides are conceptualized. There is no stone left unturned to ensure that the rider is part of the entire experience.
To cut the story short, I chose the Himalayan because it meets my requirements as a capable off-road motorcycle, one on which I can also tour comfortably. I chose a Royal Enfield motorcycle because of the low cost of ownership and easy access to spares and service.
No manufacturer can vouch for a 100% perfect machine, what matters is what they are willing to do to address the issues if you have one. I believe Royal Enfield is doing a good job of it.
Last December, I spent a week with Royal Enfield motorcycles, in Rajasthan. The experience changed something in me.
On a cold winter afternoon, as I walked out of Jodhpur airport, I was wondering what’s in store for me, for the next week. I was part of a new concept, a ride which would start late afternoon and take us through the night. Aptly called the Royal Enfield – After Dark.
Over the next few days, I rode various motorcycles from the Royal Enfield stable. Some modern hooligans, some old school classics. It took me back to my early teens when I rode pillion on my father’s black Bullet 350. I fell in love with the distinctive ‘thump’ and loved the attention, the black and chrome motorcycle gathered, as we rode across our small steel city township. I was never allowed to ride it (not surprising, of course) but I could push it in/out of the garage. I would get my hands dirty when my father used to work on his motorcycle. Engine-oil leaks, throttle/clutch cables breaking and even the wiring harness burning out were part and parcel of the experience. Old school motorcyclists were meant to know how to fix and tinker with their machines. Certain circumstances led to the sale of the Bullet before it could be passed on to me. I wished to keep my father’s motorcycle, however the sentiment was gone.
Over the years I never got around riding a Royal Enfield long enough, let alone, own one. I am not sure what kept me away. I think somewhere between working on the motorcycle with my father to touring around the country on one, I was looking at spending more time on the road than in the garage. My love for touring surpassed my love for getting my hands dirty. I wanted to ride and not spend all my time fixing my motorcycle. I was looking for more reliability and maintenance free motorcycles, compared to what I had come across so far. I don’t deny that the learning from those DIY sessions still got me out of sticky situations.
Coming back to the After Dark trip, I rode the Thunderbird 350 & Classic 350 Signals motorcycles. These were still the old generation motorcycles from the Royal Enfield stable. However, they felt different. Different in a good way. Unlike the older motorcycles I had come across in my early teens, these felt better. Gear shifts were smooth. Fewer vibrations. Comfortable seats. Overall a big jump from the oil spewing, bone shakers I had known from the olden days. All this was without changing much of how they looked. Old school, the legacy was kept intact.
Next, I got my hands on the Thunderbird 500x, a modern funky take on the older sibling. Black treatment on most of the motorcycle and contrasting bright colours on the tank, made it stand out. The overall styling was urban centric, and the updates did not end there. The engine was more refined. The overall dynamics of the motorcycle was a lot better than the older sibling. And I realized, I could keep good speeds without any jarring vibes, so much that I did not realise how fast I was going till someone said she was having a tough time keeping up on her Himalayan. Flicking it around city traffic was fun too and it did make heads turn.
A couple of days into the trip, I got my hands on the Himalayan (BS4). The youngest (the 650 twins had just been launched and were not yet available for the ride) of the Royal Enfield stable, the one I call, the hooligan. This one blew my mind. Yes, most of you who know me might find it hard to believe that I am saying so.
I will explain. I like my motorcycles fast. My existing one (Benelli TNT300), touches 170 kmph, but in a true sense, my cruising speeds were never over 130 kmph. I loved hunting for trails, always looking for ‘slower’ roads to reach my destination. I could do that on my TNT300, but off-road capabilities – well, let me not get started. It was a good motorcycle, but I must admit the maintenance was a little on the pricier side. Also, the cost of spares, most of which imported, kept me recalling my balance sheet while tackling technical trails off-road.
Now, in case of the Himalayan, it is bang for the buck. I was able to do decent triple digit speeds and it handled well. The motorcycle was equally at ease in off-road terrain. It was lighter than most adventure motorcycles, except may be the BMW GS310. If I wanted to buy one, I would have to sell my kidney in the black-market. I had ridden the Mahindra Mojo earlier when I was considering a tourer which would help me occasionally bash some trails. However, the overall ergonomics of the Mojo did not make it comfortable for me. Something always felt a little off for me. I’d probably avoid the Jawa for the same reasons.
The Himalayan is butch to look, and the features are more function than form. I felt that it would fill the blanks for my trail riding requirements. I was looking for a comfortable tourer that could do good speeds and tackle off-road terrain, without breaking a sweat. Something, I will not be worried about dropping as it won’t be that expensive to fix. Something, which has a massive service network in India, so, I am never far from one, if I need one. By the end of the trip I had made up my mind, the Himalayan will be part of my stable soon.
Overall, as if the motorcycles were not enough, the trip was a lot more to talk about. May be, I will talk in detail about it in another post. The places we stayed at, were unique in its own sense, two of which were age-old palaces. The amazing team from Royal Enfield worked in sync to ensure we had a fantabulous experience. I will not leave out the Gun Wagon, which was tailing the group all through, ensuring they are present to support, in case needed. Though we did not need their support, it was reassuring to know that the Gun Wagon had our back.
Coming to the point where I mentioned, something changed in me. Well, I started looking at Royal Enfield as a legacy, something which got my father and me on common ground. An entity existing to ensure that they don’t just sell you a motorcycle, but an experience. I am glad I went for this ride. It helped me reconnect with my past, one which I had almost forgotten.
Like someone once said, ‘Royal Enfield does not sell motorcycles anymore, they sell a lifestyle.’
All ye riders and motorcyclists, lend me your ears!
Summer is here and by the likes of it, it’s gearing up to be a scorchingly unbearable one. So what I’m gonna do is slap-on my ventilated riding gear – Mesh Jackets, Mesh Pants and Mesh Summer Gloves and my BluSnap to beat this heat and hit the road.
Wait. Blu what?
BluSnap is a wearable cooler for your helmet. You just snap it on and enjoy the ride as it helps you stay cool in traffic. When fixed onto your full-face helmet, it cools your head through a water-based cooling mechanism which uses a battery-operated fan to pump air through a wet air filter to direct cool air into the helmet. This, in turn, creates a microclimate inside your helmet which is 6-15 degrees cooler than the surrounding environment. In a nutshell, BluSnap is like a desert cooler for your helmet.
Normally, by the time I reach my destination, my hair is sweaty and my face, due to the constant opening and closing of my helmet visor at the traffic light, is so baked it would put Jesse from Breaking Bad to shame. In short, it’s suffocating and icky to ride in traffic with a full-face helmet. Not to mention the tiredness and burnout. Sound familiar? Now, thanks to BluSnap, created by BluArmor Helmets, I can kiss my helmet woes goodbye.
I’ve been using BluSnap for a few weeks now and I’d like to share my experiences.
Cooling – City Commute
Yes, it works! It was an absolute ‘breeze’ during my city commutes especially during stoppages. Once on, I felt a subtle draft of cool air on my face and around my head. The closed helmet visor ensured no loss of cooling. What a difference compared to before when my entire head would become unbearably sweaty or worse, when I’d open the visor for some air circulation, I’d be exposed to the elements, mainly dust which would stick to my sweaty face. Now, not only is my face dust-free but the cooler temperatures inside the helmet ensure a freshness and comfort I’ve never known before.
Cooling – Highway Commute
Once proved during city commute, I decided to test run BluSnap on a stretch of highway, where speeds are higher. And it didn’t disappoint! As I increased my speed, I switched off the fan on the device. As a result, the air got pushed in automatically because of the higher speeds. The subtle flow of cool air became cooler and the air flow, faster. The best part is that I wasn’t even using the device battery power to do this. The device was working on its own, assisted by the air flowing into it, due to high speeds of the motorcycle. While this device may be pitched for the folks from the two-wheeler user segment for the daily city commute, BluSnap packs quite a smart punch also for those who hit the highway for longer rides.
1 minute. That’s how long it takes to install BluSnap. In case your helmet chin-bar is not rounded and not an exact fit to the device, a couple of Velcro strips are added to hold the device in place. As a norm, the funky colorful elastic band holds the device to the helmet. And, you get five different designs to choose as per your liking. I used it across multiple helmet brands – Daijya, HJC, SMK, MT to name a few. It worked fine with all of them.
Once fixed, all you need to do is fill the water reservoir and charge the battery and you are good to go. One full charge lasted me around ten hours – that’s enough for a five-day working week, assuming daily usage of two hours. A reservoir full of water will give you around two hours of cooling. A knob at the bottom of the device switches off the water-flow into the filter while the helmet is not in use. The air filter is washable and can be used for six months with regular use. The product, replacement filters, and straps are available in their online shop. Basically, I like the simplicity of the product.
Room For Improvement?
I love BluSnap. It’s a simple device that does what it claims to do and does it well. However, being a seasoned rider and a strong advocate of anything that makes a rider’s life easier while on the road, I’d be very interested in seeing how the makers of BluSnap iron out the following observations.
Size – Currently, it’s big and bulky because of which it tends to catch the wind, albeit slightly if you turn your head at high speeds but it’s manageable. Although it doesn’t block your view or cause discomfort due to weight, I’d have liked it to be smaller.
Water Level Indicator – There is no water level indicator. So, there is no way to figure out if the water is over. I realized it was over when some fine dust crept in as the filter dried off. The workaround is to fill water after every two hours or so.
Air Flow – There is no way to stop or filter the flow of air into the helmet. Even if the fan is off and you are moving, the air movement through the fan will suck in any ambient smells, too. So watch out while riding next to a drain or a garbage dump. But hey, this happens in regular helmet setup too.
At the end of the day, I would highly recommend this product to anyone who loves traveling by motorcycles, especially in the summertime. And at a price point near 2000 bucks INR, which includes a strap and an extra filter, this portable helmet cooler is the coolest thing bikers could want this summer!
I have covered 24000kms on Aarini, and it’s time for another update on my ownership of the Benelli TNT 300. I will not be repeating most of the things I have mentioned in Part 1. Here it will be more of my ownership experience with the motorcycle, usage and issues.
I have done multiple trips over the 20 odd months, including a 5000km trip across the west coast of India for 18 days. One thing I can say right away is that this motorcycle is totally at home when on the highway, munching miles, as it tours across a myriad of landscapes. Good roads or bad, Aarini munched away the roads like a piece of cake. Mind you, all my trips I have travelled with my better half as a pillion. The Benelli TNT 300 is very comfortable with two people on and with all the luggage we were carrying. The below image will give you an idea of how we were loaded during the 18 days trip.
Even with all this load, we faced no issues riding all the way to Kutch from Bangalore and back down the coast of Maharashtra. The motorcycle did not feel stressed or out of power even when it was tackling the Western Ghats. The tall gearing helped us effortlessly cover distances, day after day.
Starter Relay stopped working intermittently – The motorcycle would not start and give a click sound when you press the start button. The spare was replaced during one of my visits to the service centre, in warranty. I have never faced any issue related to this after replacement.
Rear Brake Disc Rotor developed cracks – This was during our Kutch trip. As we were approaching Surat, we heard a scraping sound when I applied the brakes. On inspecting the rear discs, we found that the discs had developed cracks, two big ones and multiple hairline ones. We contacted the Pune service team for DSK Benelli and updated them about the concern. We decided to ride all the way to Pune without using the rear brakes. As it was a Sunday, getting support at Surat was not possible. Next day, the service team arranged for a replacement rotor and it was replaced along with my 20k service. The replacement was under warranty. The cause was suspected to be overheating. The exact cause (of overheating) is not known yet.
Apart from these two instances, I have not faced any problem with the motorcycle and I must add that DSK Benelli was prompt in resolving the above-mentioned issues.
Consumables & Rate of consumption
Brake Pads – My front brake pads are still running the stock set. For my rear brakes, I am on my 3rd Set. The first two were replaced during the 8k and 16k service. My second set of rear brake pads got replaced at 22k, a little premature, probably to the disc crack issue or due to us running a higher load than usual. Here, I would like to point out that the life of brake pads is totally dependent on riding environment and individual riding styles. I have not met a single fellow rider who has got the same life out of his brake pads.
Engine Oil – 3 Litres replaced every 4000 km. Yes, I hate the fact that the manufacturer forces you to change oil every 4000 km. The oil definitely has more life left in it. In my opinion, I feel that the oil change interval should be 6000km, at least. Replaced oil filter every time I replaced the engine oil. UPDATE – DSK Benelli has come with an AMC scheme (will discuss in detail on this later) in which the oil change interval has been updated to 8000kms. This move will help reduce ownership costs.
Air Filter – One replaced every 8k km. The stock ones are the basic foam filters. The plan is to change to DNA Air Filters. There is a stock replacement model available.
Spark Plugs – A pair replaced each at 12000kms and 24000kms.
Tyres – The motorcycle was shod with Pirelli Angel ST as stock. Replaced the tyres at about 23500km on the odometer. I was looking for the Angel GT as the replacement but the availability of the 160 size tyres was an issue. Came across the Metzeler M7RR Sportec and liked the review and ratings. The M7RRs are stickier than the Angel STs, so I am expecting a slightly less mileage. Review on both the tyres will be posted soon.
Custom made Pannier Frames (pictures shared in post)
Puig Rafale Universal Windscreen – works well for solo riding but is of no help for pillion, hence removed now. Pillion’s helmet experiences a lot of wind buffeting due to the visor.
Overall, the motorcycle has been a great experience. I wish I could say the same about the cost of ownership. The service is quite good, however, very expensive for a 300cc motorcycle. At 22000km, in less than 1.5 years, I had already spent a little over Rs. 50000/- on routine maintenance, which includes regular service, oil change and consumables like brake pads. That’s like over Rs. 2/km and it does not include fuel expense, of course. You can maintain a car at less than this.
I did raise the concern with DSK Benelli and I am sure many other owners did the same. The good news is, as I had mentioned earlier, the manufacturer has come up with an AMC option. This is reducing the cost of service by almost 30% annually. They also have plans to localise spares like the brake pads and chain sprockets to reduce the costs. How effective is this going to be? Well, we will have to wait and watch. I will update on this later.
To sum my experience, all I would say is that the Benelli TNT 300 is an able tourer which can be a street hooligan if you want it too. And sounds the part too. This is by far the most melodious sounding motorcycle in this segment. If DSK Benelli can help owners by reducing the overall ownership cost, they will be around for good. The bikes are built rock solid and I for one have not come across any major issues. And if at all they did come, they are machines, after all, the service centre was able to sort it out, right away.