Sunday, 19 April 2015

Himalayan Flowers

Dear Motorcycle Lover,

I am going to disappoint you with this post. I am going to digress from my story and post photos of flowers that were shot using a Samsung S4 in some far away places in the Himalayas. The Flora and Fauna in higher grounds have a mere 4-5 month period to grow after a brutally cold winter when no vegetation survives. Its nothing short of amazing ! It's hard to believe that the snow melts and it becomes this !

Friday, 17 April 2015

The Lone Wolf

I prefer riding alone. I ride otherwise with friends and fraternity, but certainly not with any "group". I have written about this earlier in this blog. So my suggestion or advice to you is to be a "Wolf", & not a lion not a tiger or any other metaphorical animal.

There is an overwhelming sense of freedom when I travel alone. My family is nuclear and I grew up as a single child with no siblings, so it was very easy for me to adapt to being a "Wolf". The single child syndrome caught up with me very often when life happened. Earlier, when I gave a damn about things, people's comments like "Oh, that explains it"  "you don’t act like an only child" used to get on my nerves. In general, other assumptions are - We are spoilt, selfish brats, impatient by nature. Time went by, and I reached the age of reason & slowly stopped giving a damn about all these people with misconceptions of my upbringing. I really enjoy my "alone" time. I find "attention seeking" nonsensical and just dont get it. With all this said, It was easy for me to take off alone and thats exactly what I did on the 20th of March 2015 (inspite of the fact that more people were supposed to join me but dropped plans later). I was reunited with the horse in Delhi in crowded Paghat Ganj. The plan was to leave early the next day and munch some miles to get to Himachal on day 1. It would have been apt to call this post "Plains to mountains - III".

It was Saturday, and a great day to be on the road. One of my many quirks is "wearing" pants coz I hate wearing them. I am a shorts guy. But today 900d polyester fabric won against formal clothes and that would be my attire for the next 2 weeks on the road. I just loved it ! With lots of riding, I managed to reach Chail, HP on day one, Saw lots of monkeys, Ate some parathas and slept like a log. It was an eventful day and I was already in the mountains that I cherish most, The Mighty Himalayas!

And, Be a wolf...Coz -

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Effective Marketing and Harley Davidson's have ruined my Country

The only harley I will ever ogle at will be this one. Period.

1975 — Evel Knievel on his Harley-Davidson XR-750 gearing-up for the Wembley stadium bus jump

I live in India and I love it. We are more of a continent than a country. There are so many languages spoken across India, that its not even funny. For example, I was born and grew up in Tamil Nadu (as shown below in "Orange", marked in the southern tip of peninsula) and I can only read write and speak English (taught in school) and my Native language (what we speak at home) Tamil. Yes, No Hindi people, true story.

We have rain forests, hillocks, mountains, The Himalayas, beaches, low altitude deserts, high altitude deserts, lakes, rivers, river beds, more beaches, islands, high altitude lakes, trails and a lot of unpaved roads. 

So, you get the idea. Now, back to marketing and harley davidson. Firstly, I'd like to acknowledge the fact that they have been commendable ever since they step foot and opened shop. In terms of selling junk and world war II technology to people of my country. It takes a lot of ingenuity to fool the general uninitiated population of the 2nd most populated country on the planet or, maybe not. 

Yesterday, there was a report published by for "Who makes the most reliable motorcycle? " - Well, that would be some interesting statistic. But, here's what the Top 10 looks like

I am not surprised to see the "All Jap" or Big four right up in the top of the list, But it made me wonder what the success criteria was. After much reading, this is what they looked at - 

"With a larger sample size than in our previous motorcycle survey, now counting 12,300 motorcycles, we were able to add more brands and resolution this year. For this analysis, we adjusted for mileage driven over a 12-month period and estimated repair rates for 4-year-old models without a service contract."

First of all, the above list represents a pile of horseshit (At least to me). Because there is no KTM in the list. You can disagree with me, but just go and google "Marc Coma" and what he rode to win the Dakar. Not once, or twice..But 5 freaking times. He started riding a Suzuki in his maiden dakar, but was pinned with a DNF badge, and Once he went KTM, there was no looking back. 

After much more reading, taking a closer look at the component failure list, these were reported - 

Now is when the sensible reader pays attention. Equate the above to the motorcycle you ride. Especially if you do the long haul and not stupid "Chai & pakoda rides" or go to IBW (India Bike Week, it totally sucks BTW and is a cheap imitation of the sturgis)

I like machine shops, special tools, wrenches and iron in general, oh I forgot...Greasy hands too ! Things that you can do with your own hands are so underestimated in todays world. If you can relate to this, then you'll love this upcoming film called " The Greasy Hands Preachers " 

But I digress, So back to the component failure list. Pay attention NOW.

1. Electrical system - At a very primordial level, all you need to know is all motorcycles will have a stator / alternator, an Ignition system controlled by a ECU/CDI (basically a smallish computer that tells the ignition system when to send that much needed spark that magically turns into ponies). Complex electrical systems mean disaster on "long hauls" as parts and skills are hard to find where you are stranded. 

Harley's are notorious people ! - Here's why

2. Accessories - I dont even know why it made it to the list. I cant think of any accessory failure that can kill me. Accessories can sometimes be redundant. A GPS receiver in remote parts of the Himalayas is just a very very expensive compass.  But, Harley owners love this crap. Its literally a life saver for them. Especially if its leather. pun intended. 

3. Brakes - Yes, You ride long enough, those sintered pads are bound to need replacement, I get it. Read "Brakes" as cycle parts and all of them require your attention and inspection folks. But, some motorcycles are just designed in a crappy way. Like Harley's. 

4. Fuel system - Now this is an interesting topic. Throttle bodies/Fuel injectors Vs Old school carburetors. I personally prefer the carburetors and carrying a couple of main & pilot jets along, just in case. They are simple yet comprehensive, easy to fix when they fail & you cannot rebuild a "failed fuel injector"

5. Clutch - Yes, I get this one too. But, some motorcycles are just designed in a crappy way. Like Harley's, because here's why

6. Body panels - Seriously ?

7. Drive system -  My bikes, like most bikes run on chains and sprockets.They're Mechanical, easy to clean & lube, has a predictable life span and Wear is inevitable.  HD's takes the cake on this one. Harley's are belt drive and supposedly thats a USP. But, Doug Wothke called bluff a bluff and changed the belt drive system when he needed a real world motorcycle. 

The dirtster !

8. Valve train - You wouldn't believe me. But its true. Harley's use "Plastic" as cam chain slider material or "shoes". Guess what, they wear pretty darn fast. This can be catastrophic at many different levels. Even harley wanted to fix something this disastrous, so they came out with a "new hydraulic tensioning system". But this was a mere workaround and not a solution. Be aware that it can fail as soon 15,000 miles (in extreme cases). Even the newer hydraulic system can fail at 50,000 miles or less. The cam chain tensioners have a section in every service manual that covers the Twin Cam engines and is very enlightening. If your pipes are loud (which all Harley's are), you may not hear or get any warning. The oil pump passages can clog up without making any noise whatsoever except when the engine starts tearing itself to pieces. The scary thing is every Twin-Cam engine has the potential to have the cam chain follower issue, even the new models. Yes, be offended, but throw your tantrums at Harley, not me. Dont kill the messenger ! Read more here

9. Suspension - First thoughts are, They are non existant on Harley's. I cant elaborate on this enough, but suspensions make or brake a bike. Dont fall for marketing gimmicks folks. 

10. Cooling system, Piston & Transmission - These components have a below 5% repair and is more or less applicable like cycle parts on any motorcycle as wear is inevitable. And, I am not going easy on HD's on this one. 

Considering the above, and evaluating what your ride, If its a harley, you are bound to be very disappointed. But, there is no perfect motorcycle, and there are loads of things that are not in our control. Its a matter of choice at the end of the day. But, taking advantage of ignorance is something else altogether. Shame on you Harley ! Even though I am disappointed with the actual outcome of the survey, I must say that I am happy to see BMW in 9th place. Because, just like Harley's they have quirks and flaws too and deserve it. All hail the Japanese ! (and the Austrians, if they ever make a light weight 'do it all' motorcycle - I hope someone who can take 'real' decisions at KTM India reads this)

Whats next is the continuation to the Winter chronicles...and here's the teaser ...

"No Harley" Zone

Snow capped peaks or Bust !

The Road from Puh

Not for the faint hearted, and certainly not for Harley's

Friday, 3 April 2015

The Winter Chronicles

It was the 3rd week of March and I was shipping my motorcycle again. Its not riding season yet, But I was on my way.  I was going to ride to Kibber, Kaza. Some 100's of kilometeres into the trans himalaya in Spiti valley, A place I still could'nt get over from my last visit.

The Spiti valley looks very different during the month of march. The excruciating water crossings are frozen, The spiti river is not gushig thro' the valley, but gently flowing through instead. The entire valley is covered by a white blanket !

Little did I know, that 2015 was going to be greatest adventure ever yet. With minus temperatures at nights, it got gnarly cold even in the day time, especially on a motorcycle with wind chill playing a huge role. One of the nights I spent as the only tourist in Tabo, People were in sheer disbelief that I had come there on a holiday. The conditions were inhospitable. There was bad weather, slashing rains, slush fest on the roads, and No motorcycle's on the road but me. The only way out of the bad weather was through it. March 30th, the daily published this.

"SHIMLA: Heavy hailstorm lashed Shimla and other parts of Himachal Pradesh on Monday afternoon and the weather will remain the same across the next few days. The meteorological department has given warning of heavy rain, thunderstorm and hail storm in isolated places in Himachal Pradesh from April 1 to 3. More rain and snow is in store for the state as fresh western disturbance would become active from Tuesday night.There would be no respite from cold weather conditions as rain, thundershowers and snow have been predicted for many places till April 5. On Monday, high hills of the state received fresh spell of snowfall while lower areas received rainfall. Maximum temperatures decreased by 6 to 7 degrees Celsius while minimum temperatures decreased by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius in the last 24 hours.Keylong in Lahaul-Spiti recorded 14cm snowfall. Manali recorded 52mm rainfall, Gohar 41mm, Seobagh 38mm, Bhandal 36mm, Kalpa 35mm, Kumarsain 30mm, Kukumsheri 28mm, Reckong Peo 27mm, Joginder Nagar 26mm, Bhuntar 22mm, Sundernagar and Bijahi 21mm each, Hamirpur and Bangana 20mm each, Bajaura 19mm, Tissa and Mehre 18mm each"

I have read about phenomena like "Photokeratitis" or "ultraviolet keratitis" or known to the simpleton like me as "snowblind".. Everything is so white that so much white makes your eye burn. Or thats what It felt like. 

The nights were a different ball game. If you're out there with insufficient gear, you could literally die of the cold. It was so cold one night that I was quite confident that I was gonna die in my sleeping bag. Well, lets just say it was not fun.

"Ability is of little account without opportunity" and "It takes more courage to suffer than to die" are 2 of the greatest quotes that can describe the conditions here in Winter, and to think about it, I was not even winter ! It is indeed the land of the gods and its no place for man, or mere mortals.

Grit in psychology is a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual's passion for a particular long-term goal or endstate, coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective. Thats would be the thesaurus meaning of the word 'Grit' and you need a lot of it to endure an unsupported lonesome journey.  I learnt so many new things, met locals and travellers and lots of tiny tiny moments that I will cherish for life and will not exchange for any other experience at whatever cost. The entire journey, the uncertainty, the danger zone,  the exciting and unusual experience is what makes it an adventure. Its nothing short of a psychological arousal which is a fine combination of fear and flow which brings the balance and yet keeps you on the edge. This is not some sort of recreation or anything equivalent.

You just overcome everything and As a person, who entered Spiti as a gnarly adventurer comes back a beastly adventurer, ready for anything uncertain or dangerous you can throw at him. In short, you gotta be nuts, to be missing out on something as awesome as this. The open roads, what can I say...The road to heaven is paved !