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Almost every biker who gets a bigger bike—in the Indian context that would be a 250cc plus machine—fulfils a dream. The long winding highways, the experience of being on the road, and the ultimate adventure, which invariably is Ladakh!
Thanks to American popular culture deeply ingrained in the Indian biker’s psyche—from James Dean to Hell’s Angels and the Harley Davidson marketing campaigns—this dream bike has always been a cruiser.
I have dreamt of cruisers too—a Harley or a Triumph, or the Indian, which hit the market of its namesake country only recently. Having started on Royal Enfield bullets (older-generation cast Iron-engined beauties), my fascination was always with a Triumph Bonneville-ish bike. All that changed when I realised that the fun actually starts when the road ends and the trail begins.
A few years back, when I was based in Chennai for a brief period, I used to hit the picturesque, winding East Coast Road (ECR) on weekends. The highway, crowded now with bikers and weekend racers, hugs the Bay of Bengal from Chennai to Pondicherry and passes by some coves and virgin beaches. I discovered my virgin beach around 100 km from Chennai. During my rides, I used to go past the entry to a canopied trail which, I felt, was calling me into its secrets. It was one of those hypnotic moments while on the bike, you see.
My RE 350 was not equipped for that trail—loose gravel and then beach sand. But I relented one evening, and around 15 minutes later, found myself beached, staring at the beautiful moon over the sea, with the Chennai lights blinking far away to the left, almost on the horizon. However, my reverie was short lived with a more pressing matter.
My bike was stuck and, later, I would discover that its suspension had bent too. But I was back on the road, after pushing and coercing my bullet, followed by a stopover for straightening the forks at a local workshop the next day.
That day the rider within me changed. I started craving for more unpaved roads than highways as my heart demanded raw beauty than the regular asphalted, laned existence on two wheels.
Kawasaki Versys is all set to hit the road
After riding extensively across the country, I have realised that in India, with all its extreme highway conditions, a rugged bike with good suspension travel makes more sense than a sleek chrome cruiser. A few brands have launched their adventure bikes in India—the Triumph Tiger 800 XC, which is prized beyond the reach of the average Indian biker, and the rather delicate Royal Enfield Himalayan, which seems to shudder and almost fall apart when one hits a decently rough road.
But wait, more excitement is on its way as there are more of them coming—from high-end big beasts to quarter and 650cc bikes, that I feel are best suited for India.
From the Kawasaki Versys (in 650 and 300cc—the Ninja 300 engine) and KTM’s 390 cc adventure (on a Duke 390 platform and the Adventurer’s R-based frame) to BMW Motorrad’s 310 cc, with engine sourced from the 310cc R and geometry from the famed F800 GS and R1200 GS adventure bikes, all are making a beeline to India. Honda will come in with its Africa Twin by 2019, say sources, while Suzuki is set to jump into the fray too, with a 250 cc V Strom, along with its larger sibling the V Strom 1000.
There are more than a few reasons why one should wait for the adventure machines to come in. Till then, one can always indulge in a healthy dose of adrenalin on the bullets and Dukes.
The Rear Needs Care: With great distances comes greater pain, on the bum. A typical cruiser has about three-and-half inches of suspension travel, which is inadequate for the potholes that we encounter even on city roads, forget remote highways in India. Most adventure bikes come with at least seven inches of travel in the rear, thankfully, and more suspension travel means more cushion to take the punishment on off-road conditions and bad highways.
Versatile Beasts: This is the best reason to wait for and splurge on an adventure bike. They give you the best of an endurance bike and a sports tourer with a negligible compromise on highway performance.
You, obviously, can’t go on a full-fledged motocross ride on them. But you can pretty much hit any trail, carrying anything on them, including a kitchen sink if you feel like it, as their trellis frames come with provisions to attach anything from hard cases, dry bags, tyres, and camping gear to food and water rations.
In India, with its extreme road conditions, a rugged bike with good suspension makes more sense than a cruiser.
Rough And Tough: Adventure bikes are carefully fitted for the off-roads, and with some aftermarket planning (sump guard, knobby tyres, hand guards, engine guards, fog lights, aluminum panniers and the likes) you can get to do much more. But, the biggest advantage of an adventure bike in India would be its ability to glide over rough roads, without falling apart like some bikes in the market now. Your bum and spine will thank you later.
Totally Ergo: The fad these days are street fighters, sports bikes and the V-twins. I have seen some street bike owners trying to make a touring bike out of their machines. Adventure bikes roll out of the showroom customised for the long road. To start with, the ride position—that falls between the insanely upright position of cruisers and the back-breaking position of a sports bike—is just perfect for long hours on the road.
And, did you know that on adventure bikes, one can stand up and ride for long distances? That’s a God send when your limbs go numb on the ride. The neutral riding position and the comfort these bikes provide to the rider are heavenly.
As with everything, there are the cons too. Don’t expect to go fully off-road on these bikes. And while the 800 to 1200 cc legendary adventure bikes offer a lot of power, they tend to be a little sluggish on very rough roads. Not to mention the price tag. That’s where the mid-level displacement bikes (250cc to 650cc) make more sense. To start with, they would be reasonably priced, and since they are based on legendary adventure tourers, they will come with the ruggedness and versatility of their bigger cousins.
One has to admit that we Indians are pretty nascent in this whole motorbiking for adventure idea. So, a small to medium-sized adventure bike would be ideal as far as safety is concerned.
So, the wait makes a lot of sense. Many undiscovered trails await us out there. This is one wait that’s worth it.
(The author is former editor of mobilemag.com, and loves the open road and two wheels)