Tag Archives: Motorcycle

What if a downgrade is ‘the’ upgrade you were looking for?

Concerned fellow biker buddies – “But, why did you ‘downgrade’ to a Royal Enfield Himalayan?”

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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.

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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.

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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.

Why the Himalayan? Why a Royal Enfield?

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.

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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.

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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.

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Almost There !!!

Last December, I spent a week with Royal Enfield motorcycles, in Rajasthan. The experience changed something in me.

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Sunrise atop the sand dunes.

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.

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Blessings at the Om Banna (Bullet Baba) Temple

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.

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The Classic 350 Signals

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.

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Regroup before we ride into the night

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.

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Under the starlit skies of Sam Dunes

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.

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Chasing the Sun, on the Royal Enfield Himalayan

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.

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The Himalayan feels at home here

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.

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We ride into the desert after dark

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.

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Bird watching at Luni

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.

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Chasing Shadows on the Classic 350 Signals

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.’

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At the Jaisalmer Fort with the Himalayan

Aarini – Benelli TNT 300 Ownership Review

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The search for my next motorcycle started soon after my last one, a Yamaha R15v2, which I fondly called Zurina, got stolen in Bangalore. This was in February 2014. I never got the motorcycle back, so I was managing my rides by borrowing friends’ motorcycles or renting one every now and then. I knew that I would eventually want my own motorcycle as soon as I got the moolah sorted.

The Selection Process

To start with, it had to be an upgrade to the previous motorcycle. A pillion-friendly naked tourer, something that could munch miles all day long and not stress me out, is what I was looking for. When I started off my search, the KTM Duke siblings, the Honda CBR 250, the Kawasaki Z250 and even the Royal Enfield GT Continental were the contenders. I was also hoping that the Mahindra Mojo and the TVS–BMW offering would see day light so that I would have more options. Keeping my budget in mind, there was nothing else I could consider. Having the Yamaha R15v2 as a benchmark, this wasn’t going to be an easy task.

Things I was looking for.

  • It should be an all-rounder, something I could use in the city daily and could tour effortlessly all day.
  • Should be comfortable to ride long distances, preferably the riding stance should not be too aggressive. Had to be pillion friendly.
  • Should not feel stressed cruising in triple digit speeds.
  • Good brakes and handling. ABS was not something I was looking for.
  • Good tires which would work well in dry as well as wet conditions and manage well some occasional off road too.
  • The build quality had to be good.
  • The motorcycle had to look good, but at the same time be inconspicuous.

I had already ridden the RE GT Continental and, even though it felt good to ride, I could not connect with it. I had rented out the Duke 200 for the BikeNomads Annual Meet in November, 2014. It was peppy and a lot of fun to ride. However, the 10 liter fuel tank and uncomfortable seats were a turn off. The limited range between refills and my sore bums were enough to strike it off the list. Honda stopped making the CBR 250 and I was tired of waiting for the 300. Kawasaki was another story altogether. My friend and I visited their showroom probably three-four times, but they did not have test ride motorcycles available for either Z250 or Ninja 300. The Kawasaki showroom sales people are probably the least interested bunch I have ever seen. Finally after pulling some strings through our network, we managed to get test rides for both the bikes. The Z250 was the one displayed at the showroom and it looked nice with the z800ish head lights and the green tone. But the ride was a disappointment. The power delivery was late and did not meet my requirements for the touring aspect. Add to that the seating, which was not exactly what I would term as comfortable. The Ninja 300 we got was a motorcycle being used on race tracks. It was pretty beaten up, and was missing rear view mirrors and rear foot pegs. Nonetheless, the bike was fun to ride and had a crazy acceleration. Pillion comfort and the price factor kind of kept this choice on hold.

In between all this, DSKBenelli created a flutter by launching five motorcycles, and the TNT 300, with its naked street format, managed to catch my attention. As I started researching it online, I realized that almost every Indian reviewer was gaga over the sound it made. It was as if most were sold the moment they heard it roar. Digging for more details got me to a post in Cycle World, which had a good detailed review on the bike. Also managed to find a very nice comprehensive review by Shumi from Overdrive. I decided to test ride the TNT 300. I told my friend, who had come along, to not let me buy the bike only for the sound. 😉

The dealership managed by Vinayaka Cars Pvt. Ltd. was very pleasant with a very good sales staff. They knew their motorcycles and were more than willing to answer all my queries. I spent a good hour scrutinizing the motorcycle from every angle. I was pretty impressed with the build quality, something I was a little skeptical about as the motorcycles are manufactured in China. The TNT300, if I may put it this way, was over engineered. Benelli is owned by QJ and they have partnered with DSK in India to get the Benelli range of motorcycles into India.

Finally I decided to take a test ride. The motorcycle was a black one with a red trellis frame, shod in Pirelli Angel ST tires. It was quite inconspicuous till the engine was fired up, when the nice growl of the engine/air intake caught my attention. It actually sounded like an inline 4. This is a 300cc parallel twin, by the way. Like I mentioned earlier, I will get to the acoustics later. I loved the fact that the weight of the motorcycle was very well balanced and you would not realize how heavy it is as long as you are in motion. Tipping the scales at close to 196 kgs kerb weight, this was way heavier than others in the segment. The engine with close to 38 BHP of power and 27 NM of torque had a linear power delivery and I found that I could putter around in city traffic and do good speeds on open roads with ease without the engine feeling stressed at any point. I adjusted very easily to the motorcycle and found the upright seating with slightly rear set footpegs quite ergonomic. The seats were comfy for the rider as well as the pillion. It almost matched all my requirements for my next motorcycle. I left out mentioning ABS because I did not want one on my motorcycle. Somehow, I trust my instincts more than electronics. On that note, the dual disc brakes upfront and the single disc doing its job at the back were confidence inspiring. They have a very responsive feel and do a great job at getting this heavy machine to a halt from triple digit speeds. The brake levers are adjustable for reach and can be tinkered with to suite your need.

Extensive research online post the test ride, and endless discussions on xbhp, with my biker buddies (Santa and Sanket) and partner in crime (Poornima) led me to confirm the motorcycle which would fill the void left by Zurina.

Selection done, I had to wait for three weeks for the motorcycle to be delivered. Due to some delay in imports, it got extended by one more week. What I liked was that the sales team kept me in the loop about the delay and did not wait for me to call and enquire about the status.

Ownership Views

Finally, I got the call to come and pick up my motorcycle. The dealership guys made me stand on a podium to take delivery. It’s a custom they follow it seems and, I would not deny it, it did make me feel special. I christened her Aarini, the adventurous one.

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The first service was due at 1000kms and the run-in was 1600kms. Manufacturer recommendation was to keep the engine running below 5000rpms during the run-in period. I was too eager to open her up and managed to finish my run-in within a matter of weeks. The motorcycle did not have any issues all this while and performed well even in the stop-and-go traffic in Bangalore.

This would be a good time to mention the heat it generates. The meter console has a temperature display and the fan kicks in once the temperature crosses 92–93 degrees Celsius. The heat is evident but not too much. The fan does a decent job of sending the hot air towards the side away from the legs. This happens only when you are not moving much. As soon as you are able to get a clear road and get moving, the temperature drops and you don’t feel any heat on your legs.

The bottom mount exhaust was another area of worry for me. I was worried it might touch the ground, especially over nasty bumps we find here in India. However, I have had only a couple of instances with the pillion sitting where it touched the bump. You just need to be a little careful when going over un-scientific bumps with a pillion.

The mirrors may need to be adjusted to suit your height and riding posture. Once adjusted, they are very functional. The ends of the mirrors jut out beyond the handlebars, something you might need to get used to.

The headlights were good but did not provide adequate throw, even after adjusting high and low beams. You can adjust both individually by yourself and need not go to the service center.

Run-in completed and this purring cat became a roaring lion. The induction roar beyond 5000 rpm is just mind boggling. Yes, the induction roar. Most people mention the exhaust note to be really nice and forget that the air induction also plays a good role in the symphony this machine creates. Both together definitely make this motorcycle the most harmonious parallel twin in the world. Unlike other LOUD motorcycles, this one did not tire you out, even on a long run.

The Pirelli Angel ST rubbers complement the motorcycle well and perform very well on dry as well as wet tarmac conditions. On the occasional off road runs through slush and gravel, the tires hold well and motorcycle is very much in control. To say the least, I am pretty impressed by these tires, which come as stock on the Benelli.

The seats are very comfy, unlike the other bikes in the segment, even for the pillion. You can do long rides effortlessly with good distances between the butt breaks complementing the 16 liter fuel tank, which gives it a decent range of around 350 kms.

The windblast is evident considering it’s a naked motorcycle. However, the weight helps keep it planted and doesn’t shudder even with crosswinds at speeds of over 140kmph. I have managed around 157kmph with a pillion and around 172kmph on the odo while doing it single. My phone GPS based app showed a speed of around 164kmph when I did the latter, an expected speedo error.

Kon Si Bike Hai? Kitne Ki Hai? Kitni Deti Hain?

The most common questions I get asked, by family, friends and strangers alike.

I have been asked why I did not buy a car instead. I have had to explain the origin and existence of Benelli, as not many know about the Italian, now Chinese owned, brand. I have been told bluntly, “My bike gives four times the mileage you get, even though it’s way cheaper.” All I do is give that sheepish grin, knowing that they would not get it.

On the efficiency bit, I have got the worst in city stop-and-go traffic, around 22kmpl and the best on highways, where it touched 30kmpl. Pretty decent for a 300 cc parallel twin. I have been using fuel from Shell as much as possible but switch to other brands enroute my long trips. It definitely runs smoother and cooler when running on Shell.

I faced only one issue till date and I can’t really blame the bike for it. I managed to damage both my wheels. Yes both. Let me explain, I was doing around 70-80kmph and entering an underpass near IISC in Bangalore early in the morning. There are two grilled drains that run across the underpass, roughly 1.5 feet wide. One of the sections of the grill was broken and I took a hit. I had a pillion with me too. Now before you jump to conclusions, No, I did not fall. No, the wheels did not break apart like we saw in the case of some Dukes and Pulsars. I rolled to a stop to the side of the road almost 20-25 feet after the underpass. I started slowing down when I started feeling the front to be heavy, a sure sign of the air leaking out of the tires. On inspection I realized that both my front and rear alloys had taken the impact and they were bent on the left side. The impact was nasty enough to even tear the front tire. You must be wondering why I mentioned this incident in an ownership review.

Well, I got to test the RSA – Road Side Assistance. Yes, a one year RSA support is included when you purchase the motorcycle. I called the number and the vehicle was on the way to the service center within an hour. It would be good to mention that DSKBenelli has tied up with Rescue Vehicle Services. They did an excellent job in handling the motorcycle properly and waited at the service center till it was received by the technician there. The Service Manager was kind enough to open the service center on a Sunday to take in the motorcycle.

Spare inventory and warehousing was still in progress, and so my spares took around two weeks to arrive. DSKBenelli needs to work this bit out. The insurance guys took another seven days for the payout. The repair was cashless so it’s kind of easy on you in case of any such misfortunes.

I have done close to 7000kms on my TNT300, and I have not really got much to complain about, except that the service intervals are too frequent and expensive. They are scheduled after every 4000kms and cost close to 5000(INR) bucks, including the consumables.

So that kind of sums up my first few months with Aarini. Follow me here for more posts on mods and ownership views in the days to come.

UPDATE :

Read my long term review at 24000km on the TNT 300.