Saturday, October 10, 2020

Dominar 400 - Answering the 'Why'

Bajaj Auto screws up electricals, makes sure its bikes have the worst gearboxes in the category, and has a horrid after-sales setup.

So I went ahead and bought another one.

Why?

Well, had a 10 year experience with a Pulsar-200 and was sure that machines coming out of Bajaj stables are adept to take up Indian roads; or lack of it. I’ve witnessed multiple cases of suspension failure across Hondas (no kidding, I have seen monoshocks snap), and in contrast hold my previous 10 year old Bajaj mile-muncher as a testament to ‘adapting to Indian conditions to survive’. Of course, you will figure out the real reason at the end of this.

So this time, I decided for go for the 400 CC they claimed to be a game changer.

For starters, the Good:

  • The Engine: This boasts of a very smooth engine- certainly the best from Bajaj till date. Rev it hard, and it accelerates you pointedly. Close the throttle, it gets down to a subdued hum. Note: Accelerating and decelerating is an experience in itself, and as a very cautious and well thought through exception, I put it ahead of the Honda engines.
  •  The light (& the front): Mein Gott!! What a looker this is.. Those fierce, unforgiving eyes- they have all  the world’s anger wrapped within- radiating it with those DRLs. Witnessing this machine approach is like … Is like. Its like. Like…: Rocky Balboa sparring with Eye of the Tiger playing in the background, or .. or Angry Vijay Deenanath Chauhan charging at you… with vengeance.
  • High speed cruise-ability: A high speed cruiser indeed. This machine is absolutely at ease at 120 kmph and can stay there for a several hours without any complaint. When I say at ease- I mean the engine does not feel strained, and most importantly, you have confidence in stopping thanks to those huge discs and tires (upgrade from factory rubber recommended).


The Bad
:

  •        Suspension: Remember when I said that the Bajaj suspension is solid? Well, here’s the thing- they took my feedback too seriously and replaced metal in the struts with concrete (I think). The result is a ride quality that tries its best to throw you off its seat at lower speeds. Turning is not that comfortable and your arms and back may feel overwrought most of the time in the city.
  •           Putting it all together/ Mating the engine and gearbox: Getting you all back from that utopian dream of great components: the solid body, etc. How can you screw it up? The answer is- putting it together. The engine is great, but riding at anything less than 50 at constant speeds is often riddled with shudders.
  •           Looks: Besides the aggressive front, rear of the bike is more of a let-down.  For me, impressing ladies is not a priority. If it is for you, stay away from the Dominar.. 
  •          After sales: Remember how our dear Kurt Cobain went out slamming a fan with his guitar, before getting on playing on at the concert?? I have a feeling Bajaj takes Nirvana very seriously and are trying to get there with the way they treat their customers/ product fans. Still in the first year of its life, my bike has to go begging to Bajaj service stations for hearing me out. I have had a few complaints, with regard to the low RPM shudders and softening the suspension, but Bajaj guys couldn’t care less. When I requested for a check to the ECU, they assured me that they have already washed the bike and that ought to fix the issue. 

Now coming to the point why I bought one. For this, bear with this little story:


One fine morning while you cruise easily on your side- you observe that the other side of the road is not that fortunate – an early morning traffic snarl it seems. You also spot that guy on the other side at distance, sans helmet on a Hero Honda Passion, with an open silencer, and a logo declaring his association to a notorious political party.

The joker has come to cognizance of his imminent fate – a possible delay of 2.50 minutes! ! He decides that a person of his importance cannot put up with this.. He has just vandalized a few properties, and now has to get somewhere quickly for his next assignment - to set few buses ablaze, or demolish some outspoken actress' home, maybe – urgently of course. Righteously, he comes on to the wrong side of the road and starts coming head on - bleating his shrill horn and zig zagging in style at the oncoming traffic head on, creating absolute havoc for other law abiding citizens.

‘Jai Maharshtra’ – the maniac’s saffron sticker proclaimed. Mind you: assembled in Pune, the Dominar checks the ‘son of soil’ theory as well and started changing its behavior.

While I was quietly meandering at 30 Kmph, the Dominar clearly did not like my calm. The Dominar decides to take the matter in its own hands and starts assuming control. Machine over man this time..

Magically, my left foot slips to commence some clicks to drop a few gears.. And then..

Gear 1..  The throttle is opened and the front wheel lifts up by a few degrees, while the rear tyre scavenges for grip on the tarmac- a few slips cite victory of torque over the friction. The clutch still in play, the engine revs with quite a distinct roar in the busy road and catches the attention of the entire street.


Clutch.. Gear 2 .

As the engine is mated to the transmission with some of the clutch in play, the rear tyre screams for grip, and the front tyre experiences a lift-off again. The throaty engine whips out the 35 NM torque and equal number of horses for the road..

Now that the Dominar has transformed into a rocket, we do have our maniac’s attention. You can see him watching you in confusion, slowing down a bit, and see fear building up in his eyes, as you determinedly barrel towards him.. Head on - collision course..  

Clutch

Gear 3: We are building the revs again. While the speedo determinedly builds up towards areas where the third digit would be needed soon, the engine has not yet got to its redline (the rev limiter kick in – in Dominar’s case). Noting that we have three more gears left, we keep accelerating. As a final war trumpet, we activate all the DRLs.

Our nitwit is visibly troubled now. His miniscule brain gets into overdrive, computing the probability of his survival after being rammed by a heavy machine, with a crazy look, angry lights, possessing that kind of momentum gained at that unmentionable speed.

Noting that the Dominar may be out to annihilate him, he sights the nearest opening in the road divider and darts to the stagnated traffic on his (correct) side of the road.

It’s job done, the Dominar switches off its lamps, engages the brakes and glides back into its moderate civilian speeds.

All this – from the downshifts, acceleration to braking back to normalcy: abating aggression with aggression, was concluded in less than 20 seconds.


Now lets address that earlier question: Why are we buying this? 

All that aggression.. Or countering aggression - You could do all this at Rs. 160,000 ex-showroom (non-ABS). For any other machine to have undertaken such a feat, you would need to shell out multipliers (BMW 310, KTM RC 390, Ninja?). The Bajaj propels Uncle Scrooge to that mid level sports bike category at a substantial discount.  Precisely why this fellow with a blue cover- 4 lion embossed passport bought this.

 

PS: Having said that, I plead all serious bikers not to waver from the RC 390, no matter what other bikes claim to do, or the discounts they offer. Regardless of whether you are highway king, stunt master, track racer, chain snatcher or a criminal on the run, the RC 390 triumphs for all your needs. Work harder, stop being a scrooge, beg or steal - and get the KTM..

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Belgium: Ghent, Bruges & Brussels

Bruges - Belgium
Tintin &the Gang


There is little contention that there have been many influences that have shaped us, structuring the way we think and the way our minds behave. Admittedly, this stands true for me, and amongst people, I have many to thank: my wife, parents, loved ones, Robert Pirsig, Akio Morita, Gen. Rommel (Desert Fox), Keynes, Taleb, Our scriptures, the list is a bit too long.



The list above is pointless, but I cant help highlight the one queer outlying influencer amongst the above- Tintin. The Belgian reporter created by Herge/ Georges Prosper Remi.

Tintin features here because the Belgian reporter brings back to me a memory and mindset of a picturesque European background - and regardless of age, it takes me back to that faint memory when as a child, I would experience Tintin's world. So pristine, so perfect, where people were concerned  about mysteries, adventures.
I use that memory quite often, and it is immensely therapeutic. I see hunger, murder for survival and treachery for miniscule awards in my world. Just as I am about to lose faith in humanity, I go and touch upon that sweet memory - the world of Tintin.

Ghent - Belgium
Needless to say, Herge is no fool. The real Belgium was hardly different from that utopian feel that I talked about - that is; if you stay away from the big cities.

So with a resolve to keep you away from Brussels and Antwerp, I wish to take you to Ghent.

There is a fascinating history to the town. Which I forget. But what Gent is to me is that perfect utopian world of Tintin. People are spotted laughing in merriment, evenings are marked with slightly loud conversations in the city centers - where it is difficult to find food, but you have a variety of 220 beers to keep you busy and your volumes up.






Ghent Square
Mugs of beer, hale and hearty conversations in the evenings, in the backdrop of constructions of 650 BC. Don't get offended with the measly history, for Ghent has archaeological evidence of human life from the stone age and iron age as well.

In the city center, you park your cars well outside, and walk through the doors of history, all for beer (be well fed in advance, hardly any food around) and a conversation with your buddies.
Sounds like a good plan? Imagine if you have to do this everyday!

Welcome to Ghent.

At meine bruder's place, couple of queer things noted:
  • Magpies are not that big a menace (remember Castafiore's emerald and havoc at Capt. Haddock's Marlinspike?). The bubbly birds are cute and keep hopping around harmlessly, with no stealing of silverware et all on their agenda.
  • A person dressed for office, with a tie, etc. along with his office bag, is surprisingly crossing the  road carrying a canoe twice his size.
  • Is it the 240 different variety of beer playing tricks on me? I rubbed my eyes. No.. A canoe it is. confirmed.... And a set of oars. Yes..
  • The follow crosses the road, dips his canoe in the stream, hops in and pedals away!
  • At this juncture, may I ask how do you get to work?


Bruges
If Ghent was not adequate to pique your senses, give Bruges a try.
This is a fairytale land indeed taking us back by a couple of centuries. With its cobbled roads, the Flemish city can take you from the first century to present.

Our recommendation on must do:
  • The Belfry
  • The Markt (square) - UNESCO world heritage site
  • Delirium, Brussels - Max Beer Q
  • Torture museum




Brussels:
We came here to meet Vikram, and that was our number one high for the city.

Thanks to Vikram, we did get to see the palace, the Squares. Most important find was Delirium - the only one on the planet to offers this kind of variety on beer.

Swiss adventures (contd..)








Next two days, we scoured Interlaken; or should I say Switzerland. Our hosts were kind enough to provide us a local transport pass. (tourists- focus only on the rail pass, don’t get conned into pre-book local transport passes remotely through your devious agents - almost all hotels/ Air BnB will provide this free of cost.). They say to see Switzerland, flock to the trains. Right they are; for we North, South East or West. You can get anywhere to anywhere in a couple of hours.

Touristy pressure means that you will have to go to either to Jungfrau or Mount Titlis are a must. So off we went to Mt. Titlis.

It is a picturesque ride in the train, with lake Breine and lake Lucerne (try to camp here; as against more expensive and commercialized Interlaken).

At Interlaken - not to be missed: the rail up to the top

Our recommendations:
 
  1. Harder Klum:
The affordance and convenient ride on an aging Funicular (gear train) is a great experience in itself. The ascent is startling and the fact that this simplistic machine does it many a jerks may get you anxious enough.
The view from the top is something to die for. Pictures say better.

  1. Any small town outside Interlaken
The lake is a good sight; but we fail to see the charm (and expense) of Interlaken. Should one rather fan out to the surrounding villages? Cleaner, cheaper? Any small village Lake Breinz, Sarnersee, Lucerne? If anyone is up for the adventure.



Swiss Adventures - Zurichhhh... Ringenberg


The most beautiful place on Earth - or so they say.

With that image-  was even conned into visiting Khajiaar, which advertised itself the 'Switzerland in India'. With such hype around the name, we were pretty excited to finally be here.. Here at the Zurich airport. Pardon me, Sona says it better - Zurickkkkhh Flughghaffen (airport).

Yes. Zurickkhhh (cough cough)

Switzerland.

Our adventures began immediately. The car rental agency we were booked with plainly declared that there were no cars available . Would we be fine to wait for a couple of hours (without any guarantee of another car)? So much for Swiss efficiency.

After some wait, they offered us a Mercedes Vito. Growing up in Ghaziabad, I have learnt 2 issues about the said vehicle category:
Mercedes Vito - 2 big for 2
  1. They are a major hit in the kidnapping business
  2. Mileage of 12 seaters would never be great.

Reason 1 was a major deterrent, as two of us would look silly in a twelve seater; plus - the idea of being interrogated as suspected kidnappers at every check post did not seem inviting.

So we fled back towards the trains. Now is when the real issue of Switzerland becomes apparent. The place may be beautiful, efficient, whatever. But it is ridiculously expensive.

With a heavy heart, I walked back from the ticket counter. I had just traded my lifetime earnings for two sets of three day Swiss rail pass.

In the process to get to Ringennberg, we were supposed to change two trains with a difference of no more than 3 minutes each. Initially the idea seems preposterous, and to a seasoned Indian rail traveler, the following doubts prop up:
  • Average delay of a train will certainly be more than 3 minutes, and you are bound to miss your connection.
  • Also think of : will we get a place in the crowd. What if platforms are so crowded that we are not able to get to the train (We live in Mumbai)
However, the western Europe would have none of these problems. And over the next few days, Sona had mastered the art of switching trains to transcend maps and borders in couple of hours.

In the picturesque train ride, we did get to Ringennberg, just as sun bade goodbye.

Now another set of problems waited to assault us.

Loneliness.. And darkness

Getting off in Ringenberg, we realized there was a pronounced dearth of humankind. Or any other organism for that matter.

Deserted Ringenberg (day)
Our plan of living in the interior had raged its vendetta against us here.. Let me elaborate the scene there.

As soon as the train left the station, there was pitch black darkness on all fronts.
What Sona was trying to explain a few days back, became very clear to me thanks to the live example:

Black Hole radiation power law equation

The outcome of the above equation dawned to me now - black holes  do not let even light escape. Which was precisely the case here. Darkness. Pitch black. Black hole..:

So we are 2 backpack laden tourists staring at black holes on all sides.

Darkness

No signboards

After scavenging for our AirBnB host address, we were enlightened with the following:
Claudia, ####
Ringennberg

No street, no area, no chowk/ nagar, near neem tree, etc.

After spending 10 minutes discussing our chances of survival, we decided to start  to the left.

We kept walking on a meandering road with meagre lighting which seemed to be leading to nowhere.. There were a few homes, one on that mountain, another on another mountain. The question was, was it worth trekking up and knocking the door?

A modest inn appeared and we rushed in the hope to make contact with humanity again. Fortunately, there were was one aged lady at the counter. We were so relieved to see a fellow homo sapien.

Another challenge came up. The homo-sapien knew no English.

In my broken Deutsche, I tried to explain the problem at hand.

The Alte Fraulein (Old lady) asked for the address and number, which I was happy to share. However, she got really upset that she had never not heard of a 'Claudia Ringennberg' (as stored in my phone)- in her little village. I tried to reiterate that Claudia was our host and Ringenberg was the destination (both mutually exclusive), which we were happy to be at, but she would have none of it. Remember Amrish Puri asking his evil henchmen.. Mr India…? Misterrr India…?

We witnessed a same trance here.. Claudia Ringenberg?? Claudiaaa …Ringenbergg??

She hollered her husband, who knew some broken English. Between one broken English speaker and a horrible German speaker, some communication commenced. The result was assurance from the property-owners that though they knew of no Claudia Ringennberg (Yes, even after killing minutes, I failed to communicate her surname),  they would be happy to spare a room -should we fail to find shelter tonight.

That was a big assurance.

The mind dropped from panic state to a more measly troubled state. And we marched on in an unknown direction again. Since the mind was working again, it reminded us that we were carrying the Tom-Tom GPS device, purloined from my brother (we were supposed to be in a self-drive - remember?). We immediately opened and presto - it was alive. Fed in the address and after a few decoys, we did reach our destination.

The spectacular AirBnB stay @ Ringennberg
Claudia was not home, but thankfully her Musser welcomed us warmly and led us to her abode. My o my - what a spectacular chalet!

Recounting our adventures for the day:
  • Car rental screw up
  • Forced to trade my lifetime earning for Swiss rail passes
  • Passed one of the most depressing cities - Bern
  • Almost stranded at night on the Swiss alps

Our only achievement was that we survived.

Bali


A trainer by profession, my wife often coaches me on different personality types.

Conveniently forgetting all the psychometric models I had been taught, I concocted my own.

Categories here -

Apt Cat (Aptivaa category) 1: Adarsh, Paras, Ashley, Jagan, Ganesh, Dinesh, Sreejata, Satya: Their demeanor and confidence proved that they were in their home turf. Looking at them you start pondering - nature is what maketh a man/ woman. One look at their face, and you could see their minds screaming - "Good to be home again"








Apt-Cat 2: Vivek (BB), Sandip, Nyati, Sayan are the ones who were in the phase of extending their relationship with nature from casual acquaintance to deeper love . 

Apt-Cat 3: Vibhor, Deepak: Though this was not going their ideal way, with the route* decision overridden by Group 1, they were  enjoying the journey  and the sights nonetheless.

Apt-Cat 4: Abishek- battling a sprain, Manish - warring perception and Shweta - cursed with inappropriate shoes - battled on. When guessing what strength drove them to fight all odds, one may conclude that their love for nature was perhaps fiercer than Group 1 

(Note: Jagan could not be grouped here. A careful observer could decipher that his seemingly boisterous exterior clearly belied a turmoil raging within… find out why ->here)

While a psychometric professional could create better groups and model the characteristics, what I am concerned within my framework of groups is the common underlying factor amongst all humans -
respect for nature
and the connect with it,
Be it in varying degrees of intensity.

We had seen quite a bit of Bali - some enchanting temples, the party places of Kuta and even the beaches. But this is when we got our minds free.

The trek offers picturesque views and the summit is a treat in itself.  Up here, do savor the fresh eggs - boiled in volcanic steam.


No money can buy you cleaner air, or fresher views.


What this did in the end was getting us understand each other better - with nature playing the most important and equalizing catalyst here.



* There are multiple routes to get to the summit, offering differing degrees of vigor - upto you to select your own. Our travelogue documents one of the tougher routes, based on Group 1 overrides and absence of a democratic process..