Monday, November 2, 2009

Road Trip- Salem and back..

As Vivek handed me his wedding invitation and declared that his wedding was on a Sunday just 200Kms away, I knew that I had to go. So a week before, preparations were on. I got a new sprocket chain assembly and new sparks for my Pulsar 200. Though there was no problem as such, but I like to treat it well. And hypothetically, I am determined to keep my bike Ladakh ready. If an opportunity to drive down to the toughest motorable road in the world comes up, 'my bike is just not ready yet' is the last bahaana I want.

Thanks to my extravagance, I had just enough money to buy fuel to drive me to Salem and back. Saturday evening, I get a call from my office people that they would not be able to make it. Yes, I would convey their wishes and no, I would not take their advice and take the bus instead of driving alone.

I suspect all readers will point out my madness. I'm used to it-"driving down??!! On a highway?? On a bike?? Too far; Its way too risky!!!". I'm used to comments of this sort.. And I won't deny that. Riding a motorcycle is risky. Period.

But if you are a cautious driver, I believe that driving on some highways is safer than driving in the city. I do find out the details of the roads I have to travel before undertaking an adventure. I would never dare to drive the highways on Delhi/UP/Harayana on two wheels. Driving cars is risky enough there. Thanks to some first hand experiences from people as well as some well maintained blogs, I knew the highway (NH-7 to Salem) and its stretches fairly well. The roads were good and the traffic is moderate. And most importantly, my bike is in top condition. And it is a reliable and proven highway machine. Attempting such a feat on a Yamaha-YBX or Caliber is stupid.

The events of Saturday night though entertaining, did not turn out to be in line with my pre-road trip schedule. I returned late and found the fuel pump shut. Contrary to my plans of sleeping early, it was midnight by the time I slept.

I got up at 4:30am and started getting ready. By the time I had had a light breakfast and mounted the bike, it was 5:20. The new helmet and the gloves gifted to me were a boon, they were one of the reasons I was in a mood to ride forever today.

It was still dark outside and I cruised the bike at moderate speeds of 60-70 on the Hosur road. This is the major part of NH-7 where construction is still on. At 6am, I saw the first rays of the November sun. As the road lit up, I opened the throttle and was riding around 90-100. Occasional drops were thanks to fog at some places. Though I was looking for fuel pumps ever since I started, none were open yet. Heights of stupidity! On a National Highway you don't have any 24X7 pumps! Our usual early morning fill-ups on NH's and SH's whenever I'm on a road trip with my parents had got me a bit overconfident about fuel availability. NH1,24,2,8,10, 58, 91- I can recall filling up early every time. Though I had enough fuel for another good 150Km's or so, I like to prepared. Plus, I also had in mind to stabilize my bike further by adding weight to the tank. Here are a couple of other things I'd done xtra to be xtra careful knowing that I was riding alone:

1. Kept the tyre pressure low (a unit or two below my standard figure) for more grip

2. Add more weight to the front (for most of the journey) with lots of fuel.

3. Never bend down. I do this at 3 digit speeds to cut down the drag and increase the mileage & speed. But today, caution was paramount.

Finally, at 6:30, I found a pump open at the other side of the road. I had to go a couple of KM's extra for the U turn, but I did.

Now everything was the way I wanted to be. Since all the specs and rules in my notebook were checked, I opened up the throttle. I was cruising at 100-115Kmph for most of the time. Though there are enough of crazy maniacs here, the density of stupidity is low thanks to the low population density across the highway. Soon, I was the only KA registered vehicle amongst the sea of TN number plates. I might as well have replaced it with a plate called ‘tourist from outer town’. However the traffic was moderate and mostly comprised of trucks and buses. The only good vehicles that overtook me for the entire journey was one Skoda and a Honda CRV. The Marutis and Indiacas could never catch up. However, I slowed down whenever I felt I was approaching a village or any miniscule habitation. I strongly advise anyone who drives on this highway to not to waver from this rule. Also, don't be shy using the horn. I usually slow down even if the road crossing candidate has stopped to allow me to pass. However, this was seen as a sign of weakness and people would start running when they noticed me slow down a bit. Honking furiously helped to maintain aggression from my side and keep these candidates off the road. The variety of antics people put up are hard to describe in words. Here is some stuff I noticed & I suspect most are rules for the people here. I have noted down some of the local rules followed religiously by people here:

- Never look before you cross the road

- Overtaking is never dependent on the vehicle you drive. For eg- It does not matter if you are driving a TVS champ and you want to overtake a BMW on a highway. If Rajnikanth can do it, so can you.

- Attempt overtaking everytime. Whether its possible or not, we'll see later. That there is a bus coming the wrong way, you must still attempt the impossible overtake maneuver and back out at the last life threatening moment.

- If you are a lorry driver driving at the top speed of 40Kmph and there is another lorry driving at 39.75Kmph, thou shall not reduce the speed by 0.25kmph and follow it. Thou shall take 3 full minutes to overtake it. For 3 minutes, you shall race the slow-poke parallelly and jam the highway in the process. Rajini saar never reduces his speed when he's driving.

- If any other driver shows signs of caution, he is a weasel (specially the one on the blue Pulsar 200). Carry on with your crossing the road, evasive movement, etc. He is no match for your bravery.

- If going on the wrong side of the road saves you 10 meters, in that case- driving on the wrong side is your birth right.

- Rear view mirror is a useless device. And changing lanes doesn't mean you have to bother about others. They'll take care of themselves if they can. (Again, using the horn to declare my presence helped a lot while overtaking lane changing trucks)

By 8:10, I was entering the ghaats area. The odo said I'd done around 160Kms. I stopped for a while for fuel and took a couple of pictures. The ride through the ghats is majestic. It is by far the widest road I've seen in a hilly region. The roads are well banked and I was doing around 50-70 without compromising on safety. The interspersed speed breakers in this area are well marked so not a problem. I entered Salem city at 8:30 and opened my second google map print out of the city of Salem (the first one was about the NH7). I was at the venue at 8:45 without ever asking for directions. Jay google devaaya namah! It took me 5 minutes to take off my alien attire (helmet, gloves, jacket) and packing it up. Thankfully a former colleague found me and educated me about the rituals and do's and do-nots as soon as I entered. I liked the event immediately. Everything was simple and on time. When the thread ceremony was over, I stood up. Having mastered my line breaking skills in UP & Delhi, I ran up on the stage from the other side and greeted Vivek. And yes, he was visibly happy and astonished to see me. The photographers ordered me to pose and I complied while they blinded us with their flashes.

Vivek's father then directed me for the 'thindi'. As food kept on coming on the banana leaf, Keanu Reeve's Matrix voice echoed in my head "There is no Spoon...!!". In my case, it was less about philosophy & self-realization and more to do with lack of the metallic object. Since the way I eat using my hands is as good as my tongue blabbering Greek, I was in bit of a fix. However, I carefully observed the actions of the gentlemen sitting next to me. I managed pretty well and the food was great. However, when the people next to me left, I noticed that they had left the leaf cleaner than I had. After jogging my brains for a while, I requested for one more dosa and swept my leaf clean. I left the table happy and pride to continue taking pictures. As people were leaving, I reckoned I should make a move as well.

I started around 9:30 and stopped in the ghaat region to take pictures. Soon after I made a stop at the BP A2B plaza. This is the best place for stopping with a proper restaurant, washroom, etc. I bought as much fuel as I could. The high octane fuel is around 2 bucks cheaper in Tamil Nadu. After this I drove continuously and enjoyed all the way. In one of the routine rituals: i.e.- taking off a glove and touching the engine to note the temperature; I figured it was heating up. I had been driving for more than 90 minutes at 115kmph so this was something expected. The 200 Pulsar has a partially oil cooled engine. The engine base is cooled by circulated oil and the rest is air cooled. That I had managed to run the engine continuously at 7000-8000rpm for this duration without a problem astonished me. Noting the heat levels now, I carried out the standard series of tests:

1. Close the throttle and open it again. There was a miniscule lag.

2. Reduce speed to 60, shift a gear down and accelerate. There was a small drop in power (around 5% if you concentrate) as well.

Both are signs of excess engine heat. I made a stop and chatted on the phone with my dad for around 10 minutes allowing the faithful engine to cool down.

Though I agree the engine did heat up, I am still impressed that it took so much time. My experience with air cooled bikes is far worse. The CBZ and Fiero would overheat in around 10 minutes if they were run at anything more than 90 on the NH-24 to Noida. I've heard stories about the Apache as well. Hence, this bike did me proud. Though I do wish I could have the liquid cooling system like the new R-15.

Henceforth, the ride was pretty easy and I covered the next 40Kms fast. The traffic after Hosur ensures that you limit your speed to 60Kmph. I was home by 12:30 pm.

I will not be able to provide accurate mileage logs as I filled up excess fuel from TN. In the initial run upto Hosur in the morning, the P-200 returned a mileage of 46.7 Km/litre. However, I know that the bike gives around 39-43kmpl when I'm driving at 3 digit speeds. The numerous runs on Mysore road certify this.

Travelling 435Kms, attending a marriage, stopping for pics- all in 7 hours 10 minutes.. Not bad at all!!


  1. seems like a wunderful drive....
    damn great u did it all alone.
    U (and ur bike) r indeed ready to hit the roads to Leh...
    lemme no wen u r leaving...

  2. amen to that..
    Recruitment is on for Leh trip.. You are the first one on the team my friend.. Hunting for more :)