Motorcycling (or riding a two-wheeler) is often taken for granted by most people in India, since it is usually the fastest means to go from A to B. Riding has always been special to me. The initial seeds of interest were sown by my dad with his Yezdi 250 Deluxe. It was later cemented by the easy access I had to the various bike and car magazines. (Having a library near a street food place is a good business model) I found myself poring over pages having ‘Shootout reviews’ filled with torque-speed curves, and engine specifications.
Intro to riding –
As the Yezdi went away way before I could get to the legally rideable age, I had to wait till I was about 17 to have my first ride. My cousin’s goodwill (and a bit of luck 🙂 ) made my first bike ride the then coveted TVS Suzuki Fiero F2. These were the days when Bajaj’s Pulsar had toppled the market-defining Hero Honda CBZ, and was ruling the Indian bike market. Every manufacturer was trying to capture the 150cc segment and it was a good time to start riding. Bangalore used to be more navigable than it currently is as well. Since buying a motorbike was a few years away, I improved my motorized riding skills using the affable TVS XL-Super which Amma (mom) bought for my daily commute 🙂
The XL super was a brilliant first vehicle. It was powered by a 2 stroke 70cc engine which had a power of 3.5bhp @5000rpm and a torque of 5Nm @4000rpm. To put those numbers in perspective, it could go to a top speed of about 55 kmph (35mph) without any issue, and comfortably take a load of about 100kg (220 lbs) around the city quite easily. Having a low powered vehicle is the best way to learn balance (as lower speeds require more balancing skills) and vehicle control while driving in a fairly crowded city like Bangalore, these were the early 2000s. I looked forward to my grocery-shopping trips with Amma around Jayanagar. 🙂
Cut to a couple years later. I had been showroom-hopping to understand the different bikes that were available in the market. I was not keen on the Pulsar as I did not find the rider position to be comfortable, the initial models had a bulged tank which compromised on rider safety and comfort for looks; it still sold pretty well though. The other 150cc options were Honda Unicorn and the newly introduced TVS Apache. I had my opinion about the Unicorn being a make-or-break bike as the Honda engine was seemingly ‘delicate’; the first 1000km (600 miles) would be very very critical for the life of the bike. I liked the looks of the Apache, and the specs that TVS had. It seemed like the next big thing after the Pulsar to be hitting the Indian market.
The Apache Chapter –
After very little convincing, I was able to take Appa (dad) to a nearby TVS showroom to ‘check-out’ the Apache as it had just about started hitting the roads. My intention was to get him acquainted with the bike and the features, so there would be a possibility of getting one in the near future 😛 We walked up to the showroom. The manager was a gentleman in his mid-50s. As two bike enthusiasts, Appa and the manager got talking on the various old bikes; they spoke at length about the Yezdi 250, Java and the Bullet. We then got to exploring the features of the Apache, and took a short test drive to get a feel of the bike. As I depressed the clutch and teased the throttle, little did I know that we would end up booking the model the same evening!
We rode on a few streets near the showroom to check the response and navigability of the bike. At the end of the test ride, appa nonchalantly asked me “So, do you want to book the Apache?” to which I shot a boyish grin and nodded vigourously. 🙂 We booked a matte-black Apache 150 for about 48k rupees. Amma’s XL Super was traded in for about 8k, a huge value for a trade-in. I was supposed to get the bike in about a month’s time.
I got the bike in a month as promised. It so turned out that the matte-black model was not made anymore because of logistical issues, so I got the glossy black finish instead. As a 19 year old, I was super excited about my new toy and took it out for no reason, as and when I could. 🙂 I used it for grocery shopping, daily ride to college, visiting friends and relatives and so on. The highlight would be the road trip which my cousin and I did from Bangalore to Chennai; much against my mom’s wishes but with a steady, nuanced support from dad. We did 350 km in 6 hours with status calls to mom every hour, and a 15 minute break for snacks. (On the way back, we improved the time to 5.5 hours :P) I had my Apache for a good five years, doing around 12000km. This also included the ~1 year I was at Mumbai, so it was effectively 4 years of riding. With a heavy heart and loads of memories, I sold my Apache before I shifted to the US for my studies.
Since I’d found a job in the bay area, the thought of getting a motorbike had been haunting me from time to time. The weather is congenial most of the year for riding, gets neither too hot nor too cold. I had been putting it off for a long time since I had a car already. I checked different options: superbike, cruiser, touring. Narrowed down on the cruiser category since it would be the most practical, budget-friendly and fun bike to ride for a longer time. Also, my wife does like the cruisers more than the others. We had ridden the Harley Iron 883 to Nandi hills in Bangalore, the rental of which our good friend had gifted for our wedding :). I thought about the Harley 883, the Yamaha Bolt and the Kawasaki Vulcan. I preferred having a liquid-cooled engine over air-cooled as the ride would be cooler; and a belt driven system instead of a chain, as the durability is higher and maintenance is easier.
The groundwork had been done. Options had been considered. Engineering differences had been compared. The desire to have a bike reached a tipping point. An encouragement boost from my wife pushed me over the edge. I finally gave in to the urge and bought a Kawasaki Vulcan 900!
It weighs a little short of 300 kg, but feels remarkably fluidic while riding! As with most bikes, you can feel the engineering at work. A rocker switch for the ignition sets the 4 stroke engine going. The 55 degree V-twin comes to life with the dual-beat note. The clutch is slightly loose owing to it being a new bike. Switching to first gear meshes the engine to the drive and off we go, using about a third of the max 78Nm of torque! The gear ratios are set to climb to 60mph with ease. I haven’t exceeded 60 yet as the engine needs to break in.
Many years ago, I wrote a post about wanting to ride a Ducati in New Zealand. I never imagined back then that I would be outside India, and then own a tried-and-tested cruiser! About 7 years later, I am happy to say that I have been lucky to go New Zealand and now own a Vulcan. It helps to have a family that enables your addiction 🙂