Follow by Email

Monday, October 31, 2016

BiKronicles: Noob diaries

She stood still in my garage. I didn’t quite know what to do with her. As habit would be, I usually turn to Abeer and ask him if it’s ok to sit on the bike. I wasn’t being timid – just silly, misplaced respect for my OWN Bonneville. That’s right. It hadn’t sunk in yet. I had bought my own Triumph. Bonneville. Steve McQueen edition. A British classic. Lusting and jaw-drop curiosity for 2 yrs had resulted in THIS. I still didn’t know what to make of her – 20 June 2016.
Wheeeeeeee... One of many times Abeer lost me to the bike!
Photo courtesy: Abeer
Prelude:
I 1st received a mammoth consignment of reasons why it wasn’t ok to think about buying a bike followed by the idea that a scooter was acceptable. Defined reasons being age, priority, the sanskari Indian girl syndrome etc. No disrespect, but I wanted a geared motorcycle. Had purchased a Honda Maestro in May 2015 for the sole purpose of learning. It served its purpose and more. It was time to satiate an undying lust and greed. One of the Bonneville; that had infused itself deeply. Once again if anyone asks me WHY the Bonnie – I have no statement to justifiably translate the thought and need in my grey/white matter. It’s ridiculously subjective and no 1 reason can satisfy every curious crony. Same reason Sabastian Kent sold lemonade for 2yrs to buy a pony. Everyone thinks it’s cute and appreciates his dedicatedness at such a tender age without asking ‘Why’. That’s why when feverish planning turned to an unplanned evening, Ginger (Bonnie T100) came home and rested her flame orange chromtastic self below my abode. It never sunk in until much later when I rode her about and became the cynosure of lingering stares and pointed glances. There was a presence about her like there was 1 about the roguish charm and popularity of Steve McQueen himself. I suddenly realized that it was gonna be mammoth task for me to separate my desire to ride a Bonneville versus a superficial need to ride her for the visual appetite of those around.
Photo courtesy: Sean Noronha (@blackbuddha)

Baby Steps:
As highlighted in previous posts, I had tried my hand at riding the ER6n. Prior to that and simultaneously, I reached out to driving schools, potential bike trainers and even current crowd of motorcyclists. Everyone had cost involved (fair enough) and no one had an appropriate set of wheels to teach with. I think I understood THEN about folks’ stories where they claimed they just got on and started riding. I got tons of encouragement up to a point that encouragement became a boring template for my specific questions. I was convinced that they didn’t wanna teach me, withheld information or were simply not equipped or interested in sharing their experience. Disappointment followed cz most were ladies who are splashed all over social media with a flurry of comments commending them on their “achievements”. I decided I would take this up myself and leave everything else in a trail of dust.
Watched videos, theoretical gear changes, how the engine works; why the clutch, the brakes, breakdowns, mechanics and a marathon of YouTubing followed (there is a world of motorcycling gyaan out there on video and books that I had sudden exposure and enlightenment to). I also filtered out videos from women motorcyclists who made some simple instructional videos with challenges or experiences they had. I now confirm that theory is scarier than practicals when it comes to motorcycling. I nodded at my laptop screen but in real sense, little clicked until I actually saddled up. I had tried ‘N’ to 1st on the Enfield classic when rested on her center stand. Abeer had done so one afternoon and asked me to use the clutch, the accelerator and the brake just to see which wheels moved, how the bike felt, and how it ‘communicated’ with me. The Enfield intimidated me. The ER6n did the opposite. I made the mistake of riding out with just a helmet; no boots either. Was lucky there was no mishap. But I did a cool 2nd gear and 40 kmph and it was my winning moment; I could ride and I did that on a Kawasaki Ninja 650 naked sportster – 01 May 2016.

Practice mode:
Post the maiden spin, I grew some jackfruit-sized confidence and literally demanded practice lessons on the Ninja out of ego since my pleas to practice on a smaller, shorter and lower powered bike, fell on deaf ears. I decided that I would listen to folks when they said the ER6n was perfect to learn on. Needless to say, an inexperienced me dropped the beast when negotiating a turn, that too just after it was fitted with frame sliders. We all escaped 100% unscathed but following a barrage of dramatic dialogue from Abeer (the on-paper-but-has-to-share-with-me owner), I knew I had to get my own 2 wheels as soon as possible.
There were the friends who offered their bikes that I never saw. The rentals who had unseemly demands for the sake of renting. There was the waiting and frustration. A good pal (who also owns and works for a premium segment line) offered me a free Yamaha FZ that had been lying untouched for a while. Keen to grab this chance, I made every attempt to get hold of the bike that was in Thane; even looked for a mechanic to fix her into running mode. Somehow, fate didn’t allow for such a bloody good offer to culminate in my garage. I spent 3 mnths frustrated and eager to ride. No one proactively helped and that irked me more. A friend reached out to me and we got talking until we had to attend a motorcycle event at Lavasa – MotoDay (18 Jun 2016). Abeer went through his firm since he had to cover Triumph and I tagged along since I wanted to go anyways. I realized here that dependency had become the bane of my existence.
There I was introduced to someone who eventually became a teacher, motorcycle shrink and closet ‘social media’ reviewer in his spare time – Kunal Bhaskaran. He was scheduled to take a class on braking and the practical and appropriate techniques of doing so with his ER6n on standby. Kunal, owns and runs SlipStream Performance in Viman Nagar, Pune and was present in the capacity of a motorcyclist and trainer (or in his humble way “just showed up to share”). We spoke for a while as he understood my learner’s perspective and it was probably the 1st time since Abeer and a rare few that I was able to talk to someone, ask questions and get simple explanations for what I was doing and/or should be doing when training. We met briefly but I didn’t anticipate an encore.
Back home I continued research. I knew I was jumping the gun to a premium segment with higher bhp and capacities rather than gradually moving up. Hence, every second spent experiencing or communicating about motorcycles was good for me. There was a bias involved though – whenever folks met me and learned of my insatiable lust for motorcycling there was an ‘Aha’ moment. Then they’d come to know I was a noob and suddenly I was background wallpaper with faded tints. Here is where I understood female riders who despite being seasoned and having clocked many miles, were sidelined in some way or the other. It was just Abeer and me and we made the most of what I can describe as a privileged 2.5 km stretch of private road perfect for learners. I spun about on the Maestro when the road was under construction, dared a few laps on the ER6n and then one fine day it was the Bonneville’s turn. I realized all 3 happened with 1 progressive act and 1 aggressive dialogue: “Chalo let’s go. You have to do it NOW.” All procrastination and apprehensions were parked away and all guts and glory were keyed into gear. THAT worked for me.

Repetitions:
It was practice, practice, and more practice. I had supervised rides along some crazy roads and back with the brother and Abeer in tow. The Bonneville was heavy; and because of the broad seat ergonomics, a shorty like me couldn’t put her feet down in flats. Elevated shoes and properly cushioned riding boots (TBS or CAT) allowed for that inch or 2 of confidence to balance the bike when stationary or at a bender. Of course, now it’s all in the head since I can even maneuver her in Newfeel flat shoes. Rewind back 3 months, there was a mix of adrenaline rush alongside some serious nervousness each time I warmed up the engine. The maiden rounds were within the confines of my society building. Funny how my residential complex was equipped for a learner as there are flats, tiles, parking, podium (slopes), pillars acting as slaloms, speed breakers and the works. My dedicated security force took it in their stride to accommodate my whims as I zoomed past, screamed for them to get out of the way, open and close both massive gates and the works. They were kind and encouraging, telling me I look good on the motorcycle and that I am doing well etc. Even their simple words echoed and bounced in my psyche against times where I wanted to rip Abeer’s head off for yelling at me when I got something wrong.
I have to add an important piece of equipment or guidance tool here – the Sena SMH10D comms. They served a critical purpose in my riding sessions. We would get on our respective bikes and scooters and communicate nonstop. Abeer was better able to instruct me and I screamed at will when panic or frustration came awash. I also had good riding days and bad ones. Some days I picked up the bike and sailed and some days I cursed my lack of energy or skill. At the end of each session, I learned a new trick, a new skill, strength or maybe a weakness. My turns were the worst but my balance and control were inbuilt. I learned also that no matter what the enthusiasm, never ride when tired. I made this mistake a few times and exhaustion takes focus and energy out of the equation. I even rode when I had 100 things on my mind and had near misses. I frankly did not enjoy riding those times and was more than eager to tuck her in the garage and get on with routine. Even though my vision is a perfect 20/20, I dreaded nighttime riding since poor lighting and peripheral scope make for an underconfident me. Add to that the fear of collision and fatality with the scores of reckless riders who raced on my private road between 6:30 pm till dawn. I have christened the area as ChincholiGP Circuit.
Abeer made me do repeats with turns, making the figure 8 in long and tight areas, abrupt braking and getting into gravel and mucky roads. There were no fixed plans except to do all riding activities between 6-8 am. We started small markers like clearing the Link road and SV road signals, filling a tank of gas at the nearest gas station, getting into some twisty by lanes and the works. On the Mumbai-Pune highway, I was given the bike for brief stretches as long as I was comfortable and that’s where I started hitting 80-100. I could explore 3000 rpm and that sweet spot on the throttle the engine winds down to a buttery hum. In city, U-turns made me break into sweats at subzero temperatures because that is how nervous I would get. I realized that I equated the brutality and unpredictability of Mumbai traffic with my riding skills. To a large extent, riding in Mumbai meant to own the road. Abeer would scream at me that if I didn’t take my lane and own the damn space, someone was bound to run me over or unapologetically ram into me. Easier said than done. It was pointless putting an ‘L’ marker because I figured that the learner sign irks people more into intimidating or messing with you.

Mechanics 101:
With GopalKrishna and Aditya Raj Kapoor at Shaman Triumph
Photo courtesy: Abeer
I insisted on getting greased up as much as the opportunity presented itself. Our ex-Classic 500 gave us plenty such chances and I never played the damsel who sat in the shade while her man toiled in the field. I instead used my comparatively smaller hands and fingers to get into sockets and wiring and what not to help when our bike broke down. We bought tool kits and fidgeted with our machines. Of course I’d dared not do it by myself however much tempting. Around the time that Mr. Aditya Kapoor went down the familiar path and bought himself a Bonnie like myself, I headed to Shaman for a chance to have a go in the workshop. GopalKrishna the head tech at the workshop patiently let me crawl and hog up his workspace, get my hands into his toolbox and ask a million questions – however, stupid or smart. It was here or never when I would not only pick up at least 10% of something I can handle myself OR more or less get a chance to take apart a bike similar to mine. I can’t say I’m certified to fix everything on Ginger, but when push comes to shove, I sure can take a chance.

Different strokes with Kunal Bhaskaran:
Around this time, I exchanged ideas and notes with Kunal. Abeer shared my riding progress with him and we bounced ideas of how I could get over my apprehensions and work on bettering my weak points. Kunal came with a history of training folks on the track and himself had clocked innumerable miles and runs there. He came with an unbiased skill set and offered to teach me. He had done so before with someone who came from zero riding background and had managed to get her riding on a Duke. I was sold and waited for him to take a break from his workshop and come to Mumbai. We took advantage of low traffic times and early morning routines. Sean and Abeer would drop in to capture videos and pictures probably to get me learning from my stance, braking, turns, speeds etc. Kunal comes with a calm and extremely patient demeanor. My sudden nervousness to ride in front of him was replaced with ease in a matter of seconds. 1st he got me riding or rather showcasing what I already knew or was used to. Thereafter, he stuck to his guns that my training was to be keeping in mind the Bonneville. I wasn’t to touch any other motorcycle or experiment etc. The session/s or practice was to get me seasoned handling the Bonneville. Get its weight, its behavior, turn negotiations, braking etc. consistent since the Bonneville was what I would be mostly riding. Before and after each session I had to have drills. Repetitions and practice to a point that I could do the moves without separating the motorcycle, myself or the road. Everything had to be synced.
Getting a sound hearing :D
Photo courtesy: Abeer
We practiced turns, narrow and wide ones; looking around the bend and where I’m headed to rather than my insecure habit of staring at the front wheels and the ground; understand lean angle capabilities and not wondering if I am about to tip over etc. I know I had done turns on that road a zillion times, but correcting the minor points made a WORLD of difference. I was doing turns without putting my foot down and absolutely enjoying the confidence refill with each successful move. If I were Elsa, I’d be getting treats (that was a joke; Elsa is overfed and pampered for doing NOTHING). Then came slaloms – this was the 1st I had done with cones at intervals over a stretch. Slaloms helped me move my bike in narrow spaces, which in turn would eventually help me in a traffic environment. You see when practicing you have open grounds and spaces and you ride like it’s your “baap ka raasta”. Reality is far from it when the aggressors don’t even allow you the sliver of road that you are entitled to navigate on. Slaloms and narrowing down my spaces helped me balance the bike better.
The subsequent sessions helped me with braking. I had been using the front brakes the whole time. This didn’t pose a problem given how centered and balanced the Bonneville is and that its weight won’t allow for mishaps like frequent/ill-timed wheelies should it have been a light street bike like the KTM Duke200. However, in order to understand the need for using the rear brakes, which was needed for this lassy, I had to speed up to 40+ kmph and grind to a halt in a defined space using the rear brakes. At 1st this posed a challenge. I tried and failed a few rounds halting past the defined line. Kunal got on the Bonnie and alternately showed me how it was done leaving some kickass skid marks in the process (who said we didn’t have fun). Watching and emulating was easier. Imagining an emergency breaking situation in traffic was nerving.
SlalomsPhoto courtesy: Sean Noronha (@blackbuddha)
Other noteworthy learnings were how the engine works, keeping it simple, how to push the bike should it stall or breakdown, how to angle it appropriately on unforgiving surface etc. We spent a collective 3-4 hours between 2 days and would have done more had his travel plans and the weather cooperated. I had the ironic opportunity soon after to lug my bike back to the garage when reserve fuel was reserve no more.
Note: Every time Kunal got on the motorcycle to show me something however many times, he set an example by wearing his helmet and fastening it in place. To many this may seem like a mundane mention. But I noted this discipline because it sets an example for folks who are extremely stubborn and treat the helmet like the bane of their existence. He didn’t thwart it even for the slowest easiest moves in a controlled isolated environment. For me that set the precedent for a good teacher.
Working on turns with a T100Photo courtesy: Sean Noronha (@blackbuddha)
When the tomcats are away; this kitten comes out to play:
Owing to geographical challenges, Kunal left for Pune and Abeer and I continued our sessions combining what I did before with the recent refining of my riding skills. One major dampener were the torrential, unceasing Mumbai rains. Kunal kept following up if I had had the chance to practice; whilst I was stuck waiting for the rain gods to a break. Even if for 30 odd minutes, I’d drag the bike out, quick spin and back to ensure the battery and engine kept running and that I learned how to ride on wet/slick roads (thank you Metzelers).  These were rare and far between. In the interim, I explored smaller lanes, the main roads at dawn and the likes. I was extremely stressed in traffic and given that my area was a 24x7 running call center/BPO area, it was near impossible to get some clear roads and quiet to focus on the bike rather than running into some miscreants. Not to mention the unsolicited attention a girl on a significantly noticeable orange and chrome Bonneville invites from a bunch of underground racers and hooligans who are regulars at the #ChincholiGP. At one point I wondered if I should slap on the ‘L’ on my beauty’s booty but decided against it for 2 reasons: vanity (can’t ruin my bike’s look) and knowing that somehow that sign evokes more irate drivers around you than sympathetic/accommodating ones.

Traffucked:
Kunal showed up in Mumbai on Dussehra weekend. Idle chatter turned to “let’s take you out in traffic.” I agreed my excitement growing at the possibility but not quite committing to it. Early evening, Kunal and Sean showed up and I knew there was NO ESCAPING this one. Geet and Abeer too had made time. I had an entourage of 4 bikes and there was never/if rarely ever going to be a chance soon enough for me to do this. I had been taking spins on the back road and owing to the course high salinity air, my clutch sensors started giving me trouble – bike going off etc. I used that to my advantage but reminded myself, all the practice and the confidence these folks had in me would be for nothing. What’s the worst that would happen? Strange as this sounds, the idea of disappointing EVERYONE was paramount than the idea I might make a foolish mistake that would lead to an accident or fatality.
Entouraging
Photo courtesy: Selfitis!

We rolled out in true Bumbai style: 2 Kawasaki ER6ns, 1 Triumph Bonneville, 1 Triumph Street Triple and 1 Suzuki Access. Had my 1st glitch when I hit some gravel and bike went off but these guys had my back blocking traffic enough to have me get through. Thereafter, I can only describe it as PURE BLISS with a generous topping of nervousness. They formed as much a shell around me or evenly distributed themselves. It was hand holding but not the spoilt kind. I think a healthy dose of nervousness helped because I was extremely cautious, kept speed 40-50 (not that Mumbai would allow anything above this), and tried to ignore the entourage since I had to learn to do this on my own. I was extremely proud of myself as I made some U-turns at junctions, which have been unkind to me on the scooter before and evoked some serious scolding from Abeer. I have to appreciate how patient everyone was as they ensured I wasn’t out of sight. Sean remained on my tail so that I wasn’t lost or lagging behind. To think he managed those low speeds and heating in that horrid traffic on the Street Triple – one big hug J
 Everyone checked on me, worked with me and ensured I wasn’t lost in the crowd. Needless to say our coup drew attention. We made an uneventful stop at Homemade Café where I had my Miss Universe cry inside the helmet (yes I was overwhelmed I made it without a mistake or mishap) and proceeded to treat everyone to caffeine and goodies. The evening progressed, traffic grew by strength and darkness fell. I was nervous about riding back in the dark and of the procession stricken traffic on this day. In the interim distraction with a few spins on the Lokhandwala back road, the main street etc helped. The evening almost poetically allowed a calm to descend on me reemphasizing ‘its all in the head’. Our return back was Abeer and me. He was patient and ensured I was right behind him. This may sound strange but traffic eased me into riding slower and easier than an open road where anyone would jump out of anywhere. I was in tight spots and the clutch-gear-break translated to my arm, back and overheated legs. Lugging a huge bike compared to my proportions has its cons. I also made the mistake of doing all of this and a few practice runs prior to this on reserve. Should the bike have stalled, it would be completely my (un)doing.
Abeer and Kunal (Le Kwackers)
We made it back successfully and that night I slept with a fat grin plastered on my soul. This was as I’d phrase, “The lion(ess) cub who had her 1st taste of warm blood.” – 11 Oct 2016

Apprenticeship:
Once you start riding, its an addiction. Some superficial euphoria followed by that victory gait and walk like Jim Carrey in Bruce almighty with “I’ve got the power” playing in the background. Every moment I was near my lift or garage, I just had to go stare or glance at the bike. Start her up or do some meaningless walk around her that even I don’t understand why I do. Glare at everyone who parks close to her or looks at her. Make fed‑up expressions at every moron who makes that disgusting hand sign letting me know my headlights are on. I just wanted to ignore everyone around save for the cops.
Hereon, I wanted to ride everything (no pun intended). The ER6n seemed like child’s play and I started to appreciate a lighter more agile motorcycle. Here’s where I start to differentiate power, throttle, braking, balance, centre of gravity etc. I rode all over with Abeer as lead. Had a mini adventure one Sunday morning on the Madh-Marve stretch. A gravel and pothole-riddled slope caused me to slip and suffer a near-stationary fall while negotiating a miscalculated U-turn on that slope. I frantically searched for anything wrong with my Ginger little realizing that I had a nasty scrape on my palm thanks to not wearing gloves (lesson learned: WEAR FULL GEAR and don’t pack them in your bag fool). 

WFG: Wear FULL gear
Sunday mornings are bad for misadventures on your bike. Getting an open workshop or towing service proved futile for an hour given that my clutch lever snapped in 2 at the neck thanks to that fall. All else was intact and seamless; praise be the crash guard. I wasn’t shaken up and was in fact raring to continue riding. Abeer slowed me down and gave me the lever piece in my hand popping the fantasy balloon. We finally hauled a mini tempo that offered to take Ginger home for free; but we paid him. A bunch of men lifted her booty in and we harnessed her with whatever rope we could find. The rest was up to me to keep her from tipping over.
Applying my basics
Supervision: Abeer's snarl
3 days of agonizing wait and finally sourced a spare clutch lever from Shaman Triumph. Spent the evening putting my mechanics 101 into play and with guidance from Abeer (a tutorial video from Kunal);fastened the lil sucker into place. Bike was up and running and all the criticism and jokes of my fall suddenly faded into nothing. Its all me, for me, about me, with me and by me. Nothing or no one else is to encroach into this story without my permission.

The RTO gig:
Testing waters with the KTM Duke 200
Bike courtesy: Harshal Kalyanpur
Photo courtesy: Abeer
I had been riding on a learner’s license for 2 years and even haplessly renewed the same learners twice owing to bureaucracy and the laziness of dragging myself to Dahisar for the formalities. RTO processes had become stricter, linear and an agent serves a fraction of the purpose they do now compared to up till a few years ago. I had to prioritize my permanent license and set about it. Booked my slot and asked Abeer to take some time off since I needed company. Another predicament reared its head – what bike should I take for my test. My friend Harshal was kind enough to loan me his KTM Duke 200, which I thoroughly enjoyed zipping about on. It was lying unused and near disheveled state until the day before my test. Harshal, Geet and Abeer spent a few hours doing some maintenance work and bringing her to life. She worked beautifully despite no power and barely functioning front brakes. I passed my test impressively (yes sir I did) donning a salwar kurta, a Spartan Kranos helmet and riding shoes. I was a hilarious sight for all waiting their turn. Yes, I also screamed out my prowess to everyone on whatsapp as if I had earned a Green Card or passed my IIT-finals and landed a crore worth paying job. With a permanent license comes a permanent warning. Now I’ll be held accountable and will no longer be considered a noob - 24-25 Oct 2016.

Aftermath and Lessons:
As of today, been zipping all over the place like a 3 year old high on sugar and way past her bedtime. Anything on 2 wheels continues to have my attention – even more so now if that’s even possible. Understanding the fine print of riding, the tech and specs and getting greased up is what I continue to work on and aspire. Next up is highway rides and clocking some major miles. But not before I get my hands on some really sensible, durable and fitting gear. The latter point has been a painfully annoying challenge (marked in a separate post) which I am trying to overcome with some help from friends and unexplored links now that I am not just a pillion rider. I also learned that in my eagerness to get to places faster and fuel my confidence, I’ve been abusing my clutch a tad much, aka too much MotoGP and snapping the clutch back instead of a gradual release. Today I consciously worked on overcoming this bad habit because once in a while the bike stops short and someday I might get hit badly by a speeding something from behind. I’ve also learned to turn a deaf ear to over eager honkers, lane cutters, those who urge me to break the signal and generally distasteful folks on the road who are aplenty. Also helpful is the fact that I’ve made many riding buddies who have offered to be part of rides with me and basically be patient with a noob. In the past, I dropped out citing speed and lack of experience. Now I am happy if anyone says, “you wanna ride right. Come we’ll take you and you can learn slowly.” Abeer and Kunal (including the closet teacher – Geet) will continue to teach me or rather turn me into an experienced motorcyclist. I’ve been warned against the lure for superficial reasons to ride which is not a worry for me.
I get whacked when I'm pillion too.
Photo courtesy: SJCamM20
Abeer showing me clutch and gear changes while on the move.

Some apprehensions continue to plague me ie, making mistakes. The mistake part isn’t a bother as much as I allow the negativity or fun-at-my-expense get to me. As someone rightfully said, everyone makes mistakes but they are too chicken shit to admit it and will take it to their graves. Another one surprised me re: a few men being insecure of women riders and cannot separate plain riding from gender bias. I suppose there is gonna be all kindsa peeps in the world and I need to practice my own preaching – shut them all out. Till then the road, the throttle and the freedom are narcotic enough – I wouldn’t need anything other reason except probably to keep breaking free ;)

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Bonnie and Quest

I can’t recall the exact date and time I walked into Shaman Triumph but it was 2 years ago and there was something about the Bonneville that clicked. This click refrained from going off when I voraciously visited other superbike showrooms and never looked back at them (names withheld for fear of digital lynching).Everyone has that dream material acquisition of sorts. They have a visual inspired or plagiarized from some source; working its way through their grey matter, inducing endless sleepless nights and undergoing extensive customization, finally evolving into that 1 obsessive dream that won’t leave even with numerous attempts to shake it off. That is precisely the Bonneville for me. It wasn’t a Triumph so much as THE Bonneville for me.
I’ve been around bikes quite a bit. No, I didn’t start riding on a farm when I was 5. I didn’t get any motor hand-me-downs, no one in my family is a former legendary racer and neither was I inspired by pre/current MotoGp professionals. I loved bikes. Plain and simple. I loved how open and freeing they were. Someone I dated in the past took me around on his Avenger followed by his RE Bullet 350. Back then, RE still made ‘em bulls like they were meant to be: raw and sturdy. Owning one was like modern day Triumph ownership: exclusive and with a slight snob value. Sadly, that is not the case now (digital lynching alert). The closest I came to calling a set of 2-wheels my source of everything rowdy were my cycles that Dad generously showered me with to play every ruffian game under the sun with the boys. The last pair of wheels owing to being unused for a few months was sold to an eager raddiwala; an act left unforgiven and looking for redemption.
We have “been there done that”. Abeer and I fed into our motorcycle instincts and bought a Classic 500cc – learnt an expensive lesson and sold it off. It seemed like the appropriate hierarchy to buy an Enfield, go nearly bankrupt whilst graduating to a premium segment of wheels. We replaced the bull with a Japanese beast – the Kawasaki Ninja ER6n. The understanding being we BOTH would pitch in 50:50. I was averse to the idea of sports bikes. Probably all those years my eyes were assaulted with ridiculous sounding AND looking Hayabusas and other massive ferringED versions cruising down Bandra and Andheri by lanes, really scarred me. While others marveled, I turned my head away for fear of witnessing atrocity of ill-articulated art or customizations. Combine that with some chocolate boy and NO HELMET and you have completely lost me. This was best compared to owning a St. Bernard or Siberian husky in Mumbai’s tropical climate. I could imagine Uday Chopra dhooming his way on what can only be explained as mechanical monstrosity.
The ER6n is a naked sports ‘tourer’. An initial test ride on a busy SV Road at peak hours was a bad yet informative idea. I felt like I had climbed a mountain and my beloved was doing breaststroke. The view from ‘atop’ wasn’t appealing given that EVERYONE was staring at us. I was just missing a tank top, 2 layers of makeup, low rise peekaboo denim and oodles of misplaced attitude to go with my sudden ascent. Abeer was inversely… excited. We rode a tuned bike and the power was something I wasn’t used to and felt was unnecessary. To keep it short I didn’t like it and wasn’t quite open to buying one. Secretly, I hoped he would consider and help me realize my dream of the Bonnie. In the end, we bought the ER6n cuz I knew how much he adored that bike and as of 3 months now with it, I LOVE THAT BEAST. Like marriage, I didn’t want anyone to pitch in for my Bonnie without offering to do it themselves. It was never to come out of undeserved coaxing, plaguing or begging. It was too pious for me to have any story but a good one.
My lust for the Bonneville didn’t die there. As much as I grew to love the ER6n and appreciate its reliability and torque, my restlessness for the Bonnie grew like a juvenile denied toys while his/her sibling got one. This ‘toy’ was ‘shared’ with me and we had ‘joint playtimes’ but there was something I needed to call my own. Female bikers have been around for a while. However, social media presence and publicity boost has made them and their stories more accessible and visual in recent years. Seeing them on 650cc+ machines is not only inspiring but also empowering. At 1st I was proud and in awe. Tis’ true we don’t need to gender-define this activity. However, truth is women on bikes (an avenue ruled primarily by the opposite sex) is a refreshing breath of O2. When I say that I mean in gear and in motion. NOT in bare or no clothes and posing on the machine like flowers fallen from the tree under which the bike was parked. This constant bombardment of women doing what was initially a fantasy thrill in my head without the fuel injection to make it a reality, was becoming an incurable itch. Combine that with a well-versed and equally encouraging boyfriend and you know that YOU MUST RIDE.
I love riding pillion. It’ll always be a part of me – sitting behind the man I love and traveling places together, fighting, struggling, riding, smiling, loving, cheering and what not all in X cubic meters of space. All relationships should be tested like this. You can’t leave each other, hence, you must endure and love each other and find middle ground in difficult times. I would go as far as to say Abeer’s and my stints with and on the bike (no pun intended) have made us stronger, closer and more in ‘tune’ with each other. The bike was like a 1 room home where we had to express and experience a plethora of all that goes on between 2 people in love.
During all the above randomness that veered from the actual purpose of the blogpost but was intended to emotionally draw the reader into my world, the Bonnie made guest appearances. We showed up at Triumph showrooms pan India. Every time I looked at the bikes, I behaved like I was seeing ‘em for the 1st time. I yearned to take them out but did not have a license nor the proper skills to handle a bike of such proportions. I would nod and remain fixated on the Bonnie in the midst of the bike catalogue sermon from showroom sales force. Few marveled at a female rider showing so much interest and the sheer grit to own one of these classics. I would smile and make it amply clear I was a WIP; secretly wishing I could vroom out on the classic in pure Desi attitude… then descend back on earth. We would take the bike out for a spin and I was transfixed reminding myself that it’s JUST a test ride lest I have the urge to steal it and hide in some village in remote India. Whom am I kidding, that bike would stand out like sore eyes. *hmmmppfff*. Once attempted to take a friend’s SE Bonnie out in Goa and the result was a giggly mess.
Aside from physical visits and the torture of having my new office located next to Shaman Triumph in Mumbai, I became a huntress online. Every social media feed that lured and satiated my frenzy became prey. I pictured what I eventually wanted my bike to look like. I was clear in its concepts and needs; not wanting it to look like the showroom’s accessories catalogue had purposefully sneezed all over my bike – something that appears to be an epidemic with Indian bike owners. Laugh or scorn if you will but that’s sad and true. This was evident when I had multiple bouts of going on OLX, Quikr and a plethora of pre-owned superbike forums. I was subjected to motivation and demotivation of the same feelings that had settled with idea of purchasing the Bonneville. Folks not only misspelt the bike’s name and model, the reasons for selling appalled the liver out of me. Add to that the insult of reading endless lists of accessories slapped on the poor bike for no fault of its classic beauty – that too in terrible English but with swelling pride. I had many who were selling cuz they were headed “ebrOd”, 2 owners were distracted with a car cuz they refused to wear helmets and safety gear, and the rest were mainly untouched vehicles as a result of indispensable cash overflow or the need to upgrade to a sports version. Good for me but bad for the bikes in question – Why? I’m an emotional creature. When I think of the Bonnie, my immediate thought veers to me handing it down some 20-30 years to a worthy adversary or equally insane mini me. There is an attachment to it. I would think of the Bonnie as I would of my 2 incomparably useless feline rulers at home who ascended the throne to royalty moment they set their demanding paws in my territory; but I love them fiercely and cannot do without them at all.
In my quest to learn the right way, I invested in a preowned yet impeccably new Honda Maestro scooter. Abeer spent every minute teaching me to ride. The father was offended since it had been his dream/wish to buy me a 2-wheeler through college and my initial working years. Company transport or the nightmare of having all my offices in the worst lanes of Andheri East made this is a defunct idea. I was, needless to say, demotivated and adamant not to own anything since I was convinced it would guzzle fuel or have me killed. Now the urge was back but with a different purpose; hence, the arrival of the scooter. I spent hours perfecting my riding on it but continued to remain nerved by Mumbai’s merciless and homicidal traffic. Abeer was strict and then pure nasty strict (his version of saving my life). We fought and made up a zillion times in the course of these lessons. At the time, I yo-yoed between wanting, wishing and actually planning for a Bonnie. I was unsure of my own intent – at one point deciding that maybe I was being a spoilt brat and this wasn’t for me. It’ll die a natural death. These things DON’T DIE. They are like roaches roaming and taking shelter in hidden corners of your white matter so that the grey cells can’t find em.
I got into gear; went through a nightmare to sort my license and decided I’m buying the Bonnie. Preowned and make it my own. I had 3 rescued stray cats, one preowned scooter… so maybe I was meant to buy a preowned motorcycle too. The only perk being I was arrogantly jumping straight to a ~800cc machine. I prepared myself for that. I had no time to waste and no patience in reserve either. We settled on 2 Bonnevilles and 1 Street 750 as a backup– given that preowned bikes have an issue with upfront payment. Just as we were about to close in on our decision, my Abeer, the inside man at Triumph (by then he had changed jobs and had Triumph as a corp comm client – seriously the IRONY), informed me that new bikes were in the pipeline and they were all BONNEVILLES. I felt so cheated. Here I was on the brink of a much-procrastinated decision and he just ruined it by telling me about new Bonnies. I feverishly followed the launch of the bikes overseas and instantly fell flat, tongue and eyes out. In the ensuing months, the bikes launched one after the other, we bought the ER6n and I realized how monumentally underpaid I was or overpriced the superbike market had come to become. I was lost. I learned my riding on the ER6n which wasn’t a wise idea given I am too short for that beast and my feet barely touched the ground. Nonetheless, with Abeer’s and the brother’s help I managed to learn the basics on the Kawasaki but didn’t gain much concentration or ease of ride.
A certain boost of ego and pride came about post a salary revision in June 2016 and I instantly thought NOW I can pick up anything. The StreetTwin 900cc Bonnie was on my radar. What absolute sweetness… almost made for me. Could smell doom following me but couldn’t imagine what could possibly go wrong. I set the date. July 1st 2016, I was gonna book the ST in Pune under Abeer’s name. This came after a year of argument where I was adamant that the bike was to be mine aka under my name. A childish wish of having something on paper in my name was trumped with his rationale of saving a bunch of 1000s by purchasing from Pune – something we had done with our bikes so far. I made peace and pissed on the idea of the Bonnie being in my name. Turns out its possible to get it on your name with a lil here and there. As I waited, doom caught up and slapped a revised Maharashtra-only octroi and road tax on 2-wheelers. A 13% increase on premium CBU models meant a temperamental +1.5 lakhs at least. This whole journey had started to feel like the unleashed torque of a powerful bike behind an annoying truck crawling in front of you, hogging a whole lane and deliberately depriving you of open roads. Upset was a thing of the past and I was officially depressed. I knew that I was being a spoilt brat but this was a dream. Passing year after year with no consequence or conclusion. It was giving me mixed messages if I was ever meant to ride or own a bike or… The only person who absolutely understood my pain and didn’t undermined it was Abeer. It was absolutely his wish as mine to see me ride. By now Cyrus (his well-meaning Versys owning Bawa boss) could comprehend my feelings too. They sat pulling strings and working to make my dream come true. I was humbled and embarrassed that this had turned into a rescue operation lest I drop myself in some deep ravine out of misery over this.
On Thursday, 09 June 2016, we sat for breakfast at Starbucks. An exhaustive list of possibilities, some anger and oodles of disappointment hurled at the bloodsucking MH government had been spewed. I had, in desperation considered purchasing the ST from a chap from Kochi who bought but didn’t register the bike, the Delhi showroom who assured me a Delhi registration and absolutely no-issue warranty of sorts, the Kolkata showroom who confirmed that bongs were as pricey as MH govt. and that the manager was also a non-speaking Bongalee like me. What an adventure. I think INDIA got to know I needed a Bonneville almost like one gets priority bump up the organ transplant list. My love, Abeer, I think couldn’t see me disappointed anymore or my rather silent mode off late had given him the heebeedeejeebees. We opened OLX and solemnized that we would find a bonnie for me like a desperate homeless puppy with loads of potential waiting for me to notice and adopt it. We instantly laid eyes on a beautiful 2014 Bonneville SE purchased, refurbished and up for sale by a Bawa uncle. Instantly called him and set up a meeting the same evening. Abeer was already sold and just maintained that the meeting was a “formality” but subject to supportive echoes from Shaman Triumph, this was the girl I was to bring home. I spent the rest of my day building hope but not soaring too high lest I fall and crack a rib. Meanwhile Abeer was at Shaman Triumph for some routine work and called me with news of a beautiful burnt orange and black T100 standing there. I was least bothered since T100s were not my choice. Heating issues and extended wet weight had me not consider them. Upon repeated insistence, I headed to Shaman post-work with the understanding that Abeer and I were to hop on my trustee Maestro and meet Bawa uncle for his Bonnie. It was S.O.R.T.E.D.
I walked in and saw her. What a ginger delight. Was told this shiny chrome lassy was going for the same price as Bawa uncle’s offer. Holy smokes I was in a conundrum AGAIN. I blamed Abeer for this. Master of spirals and whirls. He showed me the ginger babe and said… “Nah, don’t get hung up on her. Have a look at the Bonnie SE.” Suddenly everyone there who recognized the suffering soul i.e. me, had an opinion on what to buy. Shubrata Marmar was incidentally present and literally looked me in the eye and said “Buy what YOU wanna buy. Don’t listen to anyone. It’s your purchase.” I left the showroom knowing all too well, THIS orangina was coming home. We met the amazing Bawa uncle, rode his bike, met equally interested parties who were at all the same places as us. Post the meeting, we sat down for a Parsi bhonu. As I wolfed down dhansaak, faarcha, eeda anne chawal under a dark cloud of decision making, I put my foot down and said THAT BURNT ORANGE BIKE IN THAT CONDITION AND FOR THAT PRICE WAS A STEAL. Any fool wouldn’t ignore that. Abeer asked me 100000 times if I was sure and I was bloody sure. That was that. Spoke to the manager of Shaman at an unearthly hour and literally insisted that he had my word, I was buying the Ginger. She was mine and not a fly was to buzz around her.
The following morning I spent 3 hrs at the RTO, got my learner’s license reissued and showed up in the most unruly manner to put down a booking amount as a sign of my commitment. Apparently, there were hawks swirling the place hoping for me to be a no-show. Little did they know me or my chase for one of these. Through this whole saga, Abeer kept in constant touch, called and assured me, his boss Cyrus also worked a little out of his “jurisdiction” to make things possible for me, Arash (Bawa #3) at the showroom seemed to connect with the wired up me and then there was me trying to catch up with me. Finally, things were falling in to place. Once Rajesh (manager Shaman Triumph) swiped the card for 50k, it all became too real. It hit me. I’m buying a Bonneville. I stared at her from a distance too afraid to touch her and eager to get to work lest I lose my only loan-paying gig.
Thereafter, loans, long waits, banking errors, the mother’s endless joy accompanied by even more endless sermons on shubh mahurats and finally the very disappointed and misjudging father were the norm. This wait was agonizing. We shamelessly dropped by and took her for a maiden spin like a kid in boarding school out on a break. She left gazers everywhere. I was afraid of this. I didn’t want people looking at me and the chrome and color on her was unavoidable. I slipped the news to few folks and held back tight in general. Well aware of my jinxing karma, I just held on to some realm of patience and sanity. After many issues and potential delays, she rolled out of the showroom with us on 20 June 2016. This date like Abeer’s bday and our anniversary will be etched in my memory. I entered Shaman with unexpected rolls of tears. It was awkward and my hands shook. After gaining some composure, fixing things, waxing and polishing her up and many queries later, we left around 12:30pm. Rode straight home to the ecstatic and vermillion wielding mother. Allowed her the luxury of putting her customary swastika and tying the mata ki chunni with the understanding its gonna come off soon. She took a pillion spin and her glee for me knew no bounds. This was pure happiness. Abeer was ecstatic and enjoying HIMSELF teasing me that he’s a Bonnie convert and the ER6n would be sold. We smiled and laughed like it was the perfect spring day. Too good to be true. From 2413 we clocked straight 2509 in one day. She endured heat, dust, rains and mud all in that one span of existence. Met Harshal who owns a Ducati Scrambler, played a prank on a fellow Bonnefied advocate Abhinav and generally abused our social media accounts with the latest addition to “our garage”. It was all in a Bonnie’s worth as we parked her late at night back into my garage. Soaked to the bone but content in every realm.
Today (21 June 2016) I did my maiden ride on Ginger. Abeer made it a point that I understand her as soon as possible and break into her by riding however slow at 1st. Weight and the nervousness of a beauty being my learning platform stood temporarily in the way but that hasn’t deterred us any longer. Spun around my building with slopes and tiles and bumps and parking traffic. I was nervous but a babe humming under me with unleashed power under the garb of classy poise was an indescribable feeling (no pun intended). We’ve decided to take her to the beach and spin her about there while I get a good hang of her. I’ve already got eyes rolling, judgment spewing and eyebrows soaring as I respond to questions like ‘Did YOU buy her’ or ‘was that cost in LAKHS’ or ‘you work in underworld or something’ even worse ‘so it’s like an expensive bullet’ (the last one pisses me off). Worse still are the misconceptions that I either work in an overpaid job that gives me time off, I have too much family money or that I am borderline psychotic if I’m yet unmarried, not a mother but have chosen to empty all my savings on what is conceived a senseless impractical buy. They know nothing about me and I couldn’t care about knowing them. For now, I focus solely on 3 hot things: the man, the ER6n and the Bonnie. I was practically broke all month, to a point that I could not buy sweets or had to choose my commute to and from work, had completely shut down my social life but was rich in a way I could not describe. It just looks shiny and black and feeds a hunger inside that has been starving for way too long.

Next stop: A post on my journey so far on the Bonnie, her maiden ride outside Mumbai and a plethora of trips already lined up and yearning to be executed (#BiKronicles). This girl needs a badass image makeover.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Sh/\kes™

She squirmed and wobbled in my arms. The back of the rikshaw seemed like an appropriate place to her for some acrobatics. Then she quickly changed her mind, curled up in my arms and rested her tiny blob of head on the crease of my elbow; staring with button eyes at the noisy traffic out. Unmoving. Unflinching. Unperturbed.
Day 1 at su casa

I logged into my Facebook account scrolling for mundane updates of “significant” posts on “insignificant” activities. The 3rd post was by #WorldForAll. I never miss their updates. Can’t help but check the cutesy bundles they rescue each week. Them and some alerts from #YODA or #PetsForAdoption etc. WFA had done something different this time. Saw a video post. Assumed it was a documentary or awareness movie. Clicked and watched. 30secs into watching a helpless kitten wobble on her tripod like gait to becoming a hilarious bundle of unbelievable strength and budding life was all it took for me to ball my eyes out, like and comment. I wanted her. Ok… I’ve wanted a lot of the animals they have rescued so far. However, her story cried out to me as if it was a message tailored for me. Later on as the comments poured in, I figured the same sentiment resonated from others.
Shakes (or as I have trademarked her Sh/\kes™) was a 2-month old baby girl found and rescued by Nasreen’s help in Andheri E. She was unforgivably tormented by Mumbai monsoons and was shaking beyond a cold damp shiver. She would have most certainly met her demise had she not been rescued that fateful day. She was fostered by Nasreen and looked over by a vet who diagnosed a unique case of Cerebellar Hypoplasia (in this case Feline CH*). 
When Shakes needs me
*Cerebellar hypoplasia is a condition in which the brain, specifically the cerebellum, is underdeveloped or small for size leading to effect on motor nerves and sensory disturbances. This affects gait, balance, and movement primarily due to tremors and incessant shaking which aggravate on excess stimulation, excitement, fear, hunger etc. and completely die down to nil when the animal is calm, sleeping, resting or not triggered by any emotion. Shakes is a rare case of CH. This can be due to genetics, malnourishment of the mother during pregnancy or possibly due to injury or physical disturbance when the mother was carrying the litter.
I educated myself on the condition and didn’t care for what it brought forth. I wanted Shakes and the only way to do this was to convince the boyfriend, Abeer, to adopt her since I had spent 2 years trying to get my father to warm up to and cuddle up with 2 rescued brats already ruling my kingdom. Abeer was always an animal lover who claimed to be a dog person but had a hidden catman somewhere in that massive heart of his. From being occupied with Elsa’s antics or lack thereof (my eldest boy) to being smitten with Ella’s grace and agility (my baby girl and Elsa’s begum from arranged marriage); I was sure he loved the little felines as much. Abeer’s mum was home alone and seeing the benefits, the presence of a pet can bring to folks home alone like my dad, was a card I played to my already expanding list of excuses for him to adopt her. For the 1st time ever Abeer did not resist. He hesitated and was anxious like a 1st time adopter but did not say NO. We took time off and went to visit Shakes at her foster. She was brought out fast asleep and just eased into my arms. It was as if I was standing outside an orphanage or a NICU and was entrusted with the most precious thing they had. She was a doll incarnate. The next 20mins we stared as she wobbled and walked, drew EVERYONE’s attention (Taro, Nasreen, her son and 1 more member from WFA included) and proceeded to curl up into 1/4th her size, decide she’s fascinated us enough and plonked off to sleep. I knew then that my gut was right all along.
My beautiful (hot and happening) family
Abeer’s eyes lit up and he was in love with her. He said ‘yes’ as soon as we had a private moment and I couldn’t have been elated. We explored what all did Shakes require in terms of care and handling especially more than the average cat and headed home to prep the place for her arrival.
On 15 Sep 2015, Taro (cofounder of WFA) personally brought her over to my place. He also had the chance to meet my famous duo Elsa-Ella and proceeded to ease Shakes into our lives. Abeer and I went through the formalities and forms and some cutting questions regarding her care and parvarish god forbid something were to go wrong in any situation. I was taken aback but thought these were good questions to ask folks here especially when they just as easily abandon their pets because their “pets” never really were considered “family” in the 1st place. After the formalities and a very bad cup of coffee I made for Taro, Shakes was left to be acquainted to US.
Abeer was a natural. It surprised me and then it didn’t. He cared and that’s all that mattered. If you care, the rest falls into place. This coming from someone who was a nervous wreck when she handled baby Elsa. Shakes unlike other cats seems to ease into her places. She is curious, but never looks like she is scared or bothered or whining. She sleeps and wakes up and gets exploring as if that’s her expertise through the vast expanse of her 2-month old existence. She was wary of Elsa-Ella’s presence but not scared or bolting away. Instead there came the familiar crouch and observe like an FBI tactical force veteran and then her trademark signature tripod stand. *Yes Shakes, you standing so tall alone scares the bejesus outta everyone*.

She stayed the night with Geet and me and I had a gala time entertaining her. She was feisty and sporty and adorable all in one. Her absolutely tiny frame was no hurdle against her urge to scale massive peaks like my laptop bag or the giant pillow on my bed. As long as she is watched while on a height and resting always on a soft surface, I was ok. Soft landings for her lithe body was ok with me until she got a little fatter and stronger. She bolted from one corner to the other only to bang into furniture and take a few seconds to gather herself. She loved 2 other dangerous things: climbing and playing with strings. The latter she is a huge fan off. Simplicity and bundles of love came in from watching this baby grow supremely happy with a few strings. That’s all it took to see her eyes light up, her inhibitions disappear and her nose turn pink-er with excitement. She loved human touch and connection. Leave her space for a moment and you’ll know never to underestimate the power of a kitten’s meowing. It’s the cutest loudest sound and you’ll drop/rush through whatever you are doing. Willingly.
The next day I dropped her off to Abeer’s and that’s where the real adventures began. Father and daughter ganged up and enjoyed their time together. Abeer’s momma and sister watched as he transformed from a regular Joe at home to a dedicated daddy/adopter. Abeer’s sister was 100% occupied with Shakes since she would head back to the UAE soon. Shakes was the center of attention, love, food, games, pampering and all that a new little one can possible accumulate. She loves cuddles and sleeping – no sleeping alone. She ate and played while you watched her. She was surprisingly litter trained but there came the challenge of ensuring her balance while doing her business. She constantly shook and lost her balance and fell into her poop. This was patiently resolved with wet wipes and conditioning her to balance and stay strong.
Biker girl in the making!
She was a delight. She didn’t demand anything which made it important for us to fix a feeding schedule, sleeping and pooping routines. She hijacked anything her paws touched and her big button eyes blackmailed out of us. I for once found myself traveling to Abeer’s more just to spend time with her. She made me feel like a momma too. I realized how much I missed kittens or more appropriately how fast my own 2 grew up that I missed when they were babies. Here was Shakes, filling that void.
Over the course of a few months, her personality traits came out in the open. She openly threatened and growled at other cats and dogs – absolutely unnerved by their size despite her having to strain to look up at them. She ran amok and ran into things often bumping her head and waiting to gather her wits. She learnt to scale higher objects and furniture by using her fore paws and landing from heights on her belly and hind knees. This makes an ugly sound and each time I find myself reaching out to grab her and comfort her. She doesn’t seem to need any. Abeer and Shakes have grown inseparable. He rushes home to her, wakes up at 5am to prepare high protein meals and even cleans up incessantly after her. Her comfort and needs come above all and I became the happiest most content spectator to it all. Somewhere watching your man turn to a puddle rearing for a little one is endearing and draws me closer to him.
WIP Relationship
He speaks to her and she seems to understand what he says – aka translate it to whatever she assumes is said. There is undeniable connect when they look at each other and she responds with paws on his face. A miniscule sense of envy washes over me when I see her literally hug him and sleep. Yep, Shakes is a cuddle bunny who hates sleeping alone. She knows the curvature of my boyo’s arm just right enough to fit herself in. Shes spoons herself into his sleeping position and usually buries herself in my hair if I’m around. Her preoccupation with attacking and playing with my hair for hours stumps me. But I’m happy to play the part too. We went through the ritual of vaccinations, neutering and even her 1st bath. I was stumped as she stood perfectly still almost submissive and awaiting the end of her 1st aqua experience. It is a blessing if no other term describes best her presence in our lives. Some people have children, we have Shakes. Her care and upbringing is in our collective priorities and we enjoy every second of it. When she was in foster care, Abeer would swing by on the bike, ask me to hop on and we would take off just to spend a few hours with her. I knew then that Abeer was a doting father/figure and when he cared, he did so from every crevice of his heart. Her tremors overtime reduced, although prominent on profound excitement. She has a tripod like gait and still walks with her hind legs stomping rather than gracefully gliding like cats do. Her head shakes when she eats but she has better control of her food and water now in a soft plastic bowl. Litter management is easier and instances of her soiling herself are far fewer.  
When we open the door, seeing Shakes anticipating us is a huge moment. She stands right at the door and brings her tiny soft self to unload her cuteness on us. There is no doubt that she loves having us around. She hates being alone and maybe sometime soon we might add a companion for Ms. Shakes. Till then I will record every moment she waltzes out victorious from a massive pile of something she has successfully managed to crash.
 
Momma and baby girl
Daddy and his princess











To my love and baby girl. Nothing is bigger than you 2 in the world for me. Ma Famille
For more pics and updates, visit: https://instagram.com/gatacdo7/
https://instagram.com/tipsies/

Friday, August 21, 2015

BiKronicles 7 (Part une): Pune – Goa – Hampi – Bengaluru

Southern sojourn we’ll call it love. You get a head start before me and I’ll chase you down :P
How else will sparks continue to fly between us love! *said I to my unromantically romantic Abeer*

Locations and Distance:
Mumbai-Pune via expressway [150 kms]
Pune-Goa via Kolhapur NH4- entering the state border through Karnataka (Chorlaghats) and BelagaviNH4AandpassingMollem. Headed to Anjuna Beach via Mapusa [430 kms]
Goa-Hampi via Ponda - Hubballi-Dharwad (NH4A) – crossing Hospete (NH63) to Hampi [360 kms]
Hampi-Bengaluru via Hospet – Chittradurga (NH13) – Tumkuru (NH4) [350 kms]
Fuel: INR 4000/- that included 6 refills through the whole stretch. We always tanked up because fuel costs kept getting cheaper and we saw that as an advantage. Pumps aren’t easy to come by on long stretches so we thought it best to be cautious and full rather than wanting for trouble. Hired a scooter on the other side of Hampi that cost us 150-100 (the latter for petrol).
Road conditions: As we proceeded south,NHs were divine. There were uninterrupted stretches of highway that felt like we were gliding on butter paper and they were good to the bike and the rider. Mileage was positive and journey time was cut short extensively when the anxiety of bumps, potholes or ill-time speed breakers were not primary. Small villages and talukas are always marked with small steep speed-breakers or multiple ones. That is something I have learnt over the rides. Keep an eye out for villages. Forest roads and ghat roads always seem to have a steep slide on the side of the road – if large incoming vehicles decide to hog your lane and force you off the road, its best to find the closest spot to “off-road” or else the bike will slip and fall on the side. The Kolhapur NH was brilliant. Waves and stretches of untouched scenery was breathtaking and the weather was an added bonus. There was just one McDonalds and KFC side to side on the highway (Sarnobatwadi service road). The Chittradurga-Bangalore stretch was one of the most memorable stretches we did this time. We touched 120 easily and didn’t falter or need to stop.
While entering Goa, the state border was a nightmare. Additionally, 30kms of the Karnataka stretch when leaving Goa was pathetic and dangerous. Clearly, Goa was unforgiving at both times for some strange reason. Not so good roads were also the case from Goa untilHubbilli-Dharwad enroute to Hampi. The roads to Hampi were amazing except darkness fell super fast. Once we crossed the busy town of Hospete, we were met with poor to zero light on raw to near raw stretches. The roads were jungle-like but it was impossible to tell if there was anything or anyone ahead. High beams is another major issue as night time riding was quite marred with those abusing the beam feature causing near accidents. I was perplexed to see lone standing men or women under canopy of creepy looking trees and foliage in absolute darkness. Their silhouette was outlined only when our bike headlight temporarily illuminated their shapes and I could not imagine even walking that stretch alone. Getting to Hampi was slightly tough after darkness fell as no one was in sight (literally) and most folks spoke in Kannada. Few conversed in English as we seemingly neared the destination and helped us get through narrow by lanes of a village and then to Hampi main street. Abeer was tad lost as the view for him had changed from nearly 8 years ago when he had visited. Apparently, a lot of the structures and hotels had been torn down and I was glad as it looked like the result was more visibility to the rocks and heritage site. At night they looked threatening and eerie but that focus shifted after the 2nd day there. We also encountered some RE bikers on the way to Hampi and went back and forth on the highway. They cruised at leisure but Abeer gunned her because of his anxiety with inability to see in the dark. Traffic discipline in Karnataka state is worse or at par with Maharashtra. Everyone is in a massive hurry to get god knows where. Our main issue was cattle and animals. They seemed to sunbathe EVERYWHERE. Breaking at a speed of 120 without making steak sandwiches of them proved to be a massive learning. All this was overshadowed by the changing scenery. By now I had seen shades of nature only painters at the Louvre could imagine on palette. There were massive windmills projects and I was stumped and ridiculously elated to see sensible use of natural resources to power the state. Sophisticated windmills stood tall in fields and clusters. I intended to get a good shot of them but didn't manage one. The roads within Hampi were surprisingly commutable. Even within the village, the network through parallel roads were clean, well-kept and navigable. Such instances surprise me as the affinity for a jam was high and yet I found no jams, no incessant honking, yelling, or any of the traffic crimes city folks come installed with. We stalled the bike for 2 days to give her and us some rest. Thereafter we were constantly on foot as we always do. We even navigated to the other side of Hampi (wild or sinful side) by boat (takes about 5 mins and a few bucks per head). Thereafter we explored Sanapur Lake, Tungabhadra Project strewn landmarks, Hanuman Temple, Whispering Rocks and many internal roads that diverted along the rest of the REAL heritage site. We hired a scooter at the embankment for 100 (petrol cost)+150 (rent cost), which made our commute super fun. Mopeds are available too but lack of storage and possibly lesser fuel capacity is a deterrent. However, I vouch for it.Roads are well made, maintained and have bleak traffic or none whatsoever. Thereafter, the final route for this leg of the journey was Hampi to Bangalore. We wound our way out of Hampi towards NH13 and gunned for Chittradurga. Enroute we met a fellow Enfielder and now fast friend from Auroville, Sriram. Made a quick stop at Chittradurga town had lunch with Sriram and his father and gunned the bebe to Bangalore via NH4. Traffic hit us at Yeshwantpura but we reached Nandi-Durga road in 15 mins.
Speed: On the best roads as described above, we hit 100-120 easily with no breaks. On the worst and especially weather-beaten roads riddled with fatal potholes, we cruised between 40-60. The chilled air and sometimes-poor visibility and forest canopy slowed us down even further. The route after Bangalore (BiKronicles 7 [part deux]) had us restricted at 80. Route from Hampi to Bangalore via Chittradurga was 60-80 followed by a straight 120 on NH4. Within Hampi, there was no scope for speeding, however, on the scooter run the speeds were 60 on clear roads.
Weather: This was done through the month of August which is monsoons or receding monsoons in India (I call it moody monsoons). It is the 1st time in a span of 2 weeks I experienced biting cold, torrential downpour, incessant drizzle, spring sun, intense heat and general good weather. It was an amalgam of all seasons chasing us to our destinations. I’d say we coped supremely well as we routinely shifted between rain liners, plain t-shirts, boots and trekkers, waterproof covers and just hanging it all out to dry. Our gears were #Spartan and #Cramster pro gear mesh jackets. The bebe (Royal Enfield) was used for transporting us and our belongings in chameleonic shapes and forms across state borders. She held well through horrible stretches that proved near fatal while inversely well through the smooth roads. There was intense heat at night in Goa contrary to the early evening weather, which prompted us to get a non-AC room and cool again the following morning. Load shedding was present from 10pm through 3am – worst time ever for me. Hampi was pleasant weather all evening and early mornings but would pick up its signature heat through the noon.Bangalore was the same and remained absolutely pleasant until 11 Aug 2015, when it rained heavy and incessantly – crippling my chances at catching my flight on time*.
Stay: Amigo’s Guest House/Homestay, Anjuna, Goa (INR 700/night). Run by a sweet couple and family with the sweetest boxer and dachshund to protect you. Self-contained large rooms, equipped bathrooms;3 mins stroll to Anjuna beach. Self-contained rooms, with a balcony, overlook the garden at the back. Mango, banana, pineapple, jackfruit and avocado trees grace the surroundings, as does the various spice bearing vegetation.Hampi we stayed at Reshma’s homestay (INR 200/night) and it was perfect, pleasant, comfortable and convenient. It is located in the lane of Mango’s restaurant, which we attacked for ALL our meals. Bangalore was with the baby brother.
Random notes:This trip began on a 1-destination note: Auroville. Wishlist since 2 yrs to have Abeer visit the French colony and revive the Francophile within. After 2 failed plans, I concluded that fate had the bike within the Auro frame; hence the incessant delays. The plan changed face in the 2-weeks prior to departure. We ho-hummed through Coorg, Varkala, Munnar, parts of KA state and the likes. Even contemplated just sticking MS state. Finally, at random, it was decided – Mumbai-Pune-Goa-Hampi-Bangalore and back home. I was content. Abeer left for Pune ahead of me and I followed suit after a lengthy workday and a painfully long bus journey. I had the chance to stay and catch up with an old school friend – more like my baby sister from the yesteryears and she was ever so gracious in keeping me amused and comfortable till 2 am where we stayed up and chatted about school and words we exchanged. Thank you darling Tarana. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I tried to adjust from a pint sized 2 ft baby to a now grown gracious woman with her own flair and business sense. She cooked for me, her father spoke to me till I finished my absolutely delicious dinner of kheema, mutton curry and rotis. I was at home. Till I surprisingly found myself adherent to the 5:45 am departure the next morning that boyo had warned me off. A grumpy sleep deprived start after, we took off. Everything as mentioned above was perfect and I enjoyed the whole process. I even patiently put up with the numerous attaching and detaching of the rain liner in the Spartan jacket. Truth be told, it can get painfully hot in there. We reached Goa, drenched, frozen and wet. Instead of wanderlusting after Agonda or Palolem we gunned for Anjuna out of sheer exhaustion. After a quick survey of a few homestays, we settled on Amigo for a simple non-AC room (frozen that we were). The evening was spent cleaning up, strategically laying things to dry and heading to the beach for some beers and dinner. By now I had not slept 2 nights in a row and my body was screaming for rest. We gorged on seafood platters and 6 bottles of beer. Yep we did. Just then, around 10 pm, lights completely went out and all our adjusted pupils could catch was dark rocky silhouettes in the ocean. We headed back in and got another beer for the yet unsatiated boyo. He needed it and I obliged. All that beer had to vent somewhere and my huge pet peeve of bathrooms came to haunt me as we walked in absolute darkness to bathrooms that looked like Japanese horror movie scenes. I was afraid if I shown the light to any corner other than where I was, I was sure to find a face and some long dark hair. We went back to crash in for some much-needed sleep. I swear I slept about 30 odd mins before waking up to harsh humidity, swarming mosquitoes and no breeze. This went on till3 am and Abeer had a tough time getting me to sleep. Apparently, the 6+ beers worked magic for his brain. He was riding so I didn’t disturb him. Next morning after a few bites not really breakfast worthy, we left from Panaji city for Hampi. 1st time I learnt that breakfast in Goa is mostly vegetarian. Eggs and sausages would have to wait. We made the mistake of wearing light clothes and I went a step further by donning shorts. The result was incessant rains, biting cold and discomfort. Abeer made the 1st stop after we crossed the Goa-KA state border. I noticed a tiny jam at the state border (Karnataka) where trucks and large multi-axle vehicles quietly waited as a mother tried to shield her newborn calf who had strayed to the middle of it all. She nuzzled the little one to keep moving to the side to safety. It was a moving sight for me where everyone waited patiently for the whole moment to pass. This was followed by something unpleasant and potentially dangerous event too. Once we took a break, there were peering and sleazy eyes scanning me all over. Literally, people had paused to see me in shorts;I was drenched and uneasy from the peering now more than the weather. Abeer insisted I go and change into jeans, which I desperately wanted to do anyways. I found a hotel with a bathroom a mile behind the main restaurant. There were no women in sight. I walked hesitantly inside, walked past walked looked like a bar, some stretch of corridor and to a near horror looking bathroom that wasn’t worth changing into. The male and female toilets were poorly covered by an outside meshed window. I quickly managed to get out of my shorts into my jeans using my boarding school skills but was wary of a man standing with a sickle about 6 odd feet near the bathroom entrance almost blocking my exit. He inched closer and blocked my exit by precariously standing with his back toward me. He stood there breathing heavily, not directly looking at me but his body language screamed anything but minding his own business. I was instantly gripped with fear and wondered if I would be able to reach my phone and call Abeer in time as the phone was sealed in a waterproof neck bag. I focused on getting the pants all the way up, buttoning it and getting ready to shove and bolt (if needed). All the wet clothes, skin and weather coupled with no one within earshot AND a sickle wielding man did not make things quite smooth for me. I decided to call out loudly in the hopes of startling him. It sort of worked but I took the opportunity and ran with my boots still unlaced. The fear had caused tears to stream down my face and I was very relieved to see Abeer who told me that next time he would come with me to such places. We ate eggs and pav (I barely managed to swallow lumps of it) and instantly left. Thereafter, it was a trip on Mars surface for a good 30 kms, I lost my MiBand fitness gadget, we dropped a ‘hopefully drying-now wet’ shoe and I ran back a couple of meters to retrieve it, and then stopped at a village centric highway dhaba to grab a grub. I was very happy to devour a thali and we moved on from there. The roads were fantastic and the weather even better. Vehicles irrespective of their size, shape and condition cut across lanes 1-4 in a matter of seconds with the efficiency of an F1 racer who expectedly came in the top 10 but not quite. There were some close shaves and some patient maneuvers. A few triumph and RE riders were conspicuous by their style and of course gear (us included). By now I was used to being a spectacle especially when we stopped for breaks in populated places. The route to Hospete-Hampi was a dream ride. Although we were gunning the bike, darkness was sinking faster than anticipated. We captured a fantastic sunset at the outskirts of Hospete and then proceeded to battle major darkness and ill-lit roads into Hampi. Was perplexed myself how folks stood in absolute darkness in corners, under shrubs and canopy and behaved like there was no apprehension or fear. Of course, locals I guess. I didn’t dare look back for fear of encountering one of the many movie demons I’ve fed my stupid brain. We managed to make it to a near packed Hampi. Our stay was one of many new learnings and fascination for me. It reminded me a lot of Gokarna. Friendly, open-minded locals, home stays and mini boarding and lodgings. Fantastic organic meals cooked with respect and ingredients used to their full wholesome goodness potential. Absolutely EVERYTHING one would need for the duration of your stay there. Bare minimums and simplicity being the key. We stayed at Reshma’s guesthouse. She was a hospitable young lady who ran the lodge with her mother. Everyone wakes up at 5 am and begins holy rituals and the day’s start. Hot water was the result of the old-fashioned heater prongs, which meant saving electricity and using only as much as we really needed. I was in love. Abeer and I had a tiny room to us with a large bathroom and a bed with mosquito netting. Some inbuilt wall shelves and a mirror. That’s precisely the extent of the materialistic content of this room and it was perfect. Parked the exhausted RE and proceeded to have 2 blissful days of just us, explorations, sunrise and sunsets, fantastic food and good weather. It was pleasant, cold nights, and inversely hot days. There were cafes and internet booths, which were WiFi enabled. Apart from that, no part of the tiny town was network riddled. In a way that’s PERFECT. You disconnect yourself and connect only when needed for a brief period. Mango café became our home and abode for the duration of our stay. There were several foreigners and Indians. But the plethora of folks was a likeminded bunch. Several bikers also visited here in pairs, lone travelers or as groups. Don’t be perturbed by the guesthouse or hotel accommodations. They are indeed fantastic inside as a 1st timer may assume there is better than this. Although we were drained out when we arrived, Abeer insisted on taking me to the banks of the Tungabhadra that overlooked the ‘other’ side of this town. He insisted we stay at the same place he did some 8 odd years ago. We realized that much of the town, that was recently built on tourism demand, was torn down and a basic bare minimum was retained. We turned back and stayed inside the main city. The Virupaksha temple and scores of boulders and mantappas that loom in the dark surround it. Everything from bovine beings, cats, dogs, insects, bears and even monkeys coexist in perfect harmony. People were accommodating, kind, and eager to make your stay more than comfortable without questions or judgement. This characteristic is the polar opposite of helpful city folks who with the intent of helping you, go the extra mile with a lecture or a taunt in order to have you choose the alternative they preferred or profited from. The other side of Hampi is equally or rather more beautiful and takes you ‘inside’ the world of Hampi. Stretches of inexplicably balanced boulders against a landscape of toiled and irrigated fields meet the eye. The roads are well connected and semi pucca. Scooters and mopeds on rent are your best bet. Besides I'm always for giving the locals a bit of business. We scootered our way up to Sanapur Lake and the Hanuman temple which is a decent trek up a massive boulder spot. The reward up topisn't just divine blessings but a breathtaking view (360°) of Hampi. Surprisingly well connected with 2 housing buildings and a water tank on the ‘peak’ had become one of those ‘anything is possible’ junctures in my life. We lunched at the Whispering Rocks (an organic rustic stay in the forest area of Hampi) and vowed to come back during season time to stay on one of their huts or eco cave lodgings. New friends - check. At one point, we took the bike out to the closest town with an ATM to withdraw some money and have the bike checked by a local mechanic. Apart from the routine oil changes etc.the thing that struck me was when the mechanic dislodged a trapped dragonfly from the engine, walked carefully to a tree nearby and lay the insect to rest there. I thought ‘wow if this was any other place, they would crush or throw it away like solid grease'. I was awestruck with the humanitarian attitude and smiled. We ran into the Wolfpack Enfield riders (Vivek and Co.), exchanged a few notes and moved on like all routine encounters. The approaching side of Hampi is pure vegetarian cuisine and no alcohol zone. One does not even get eggs here. The across-river side is everything-goes area. One maybe dismayed when you read this but trust me, you won’t feel any remorse or withdrawal unless, drinking and partying is the aim. The other side can be crossed by a ferryboat that leaves almost all day till about 5pm for a nominal fee. Alternatively, one can road trip it by going around Hospete-Hampi roads by covering an additional 50 kms. We preferred to stay put and rest the bike.
The day we left Hampi, I was sad. Something had been bothering me on a personal level and the reality of the trip coming to its planned demise was what I was preparedly unprepared for. We packed in a good breakfast, bid our temporary farewells and set on the road to Chittradurga. Language proved to be a challenge and then not with all the hand movements and big grins… Despite the communication in a mix of English, Hindi and Tamil, we managed to make it to the main route toward Chittradurga. Roads were half-decent but not as bad as the worst I had seen so far. I was looking forward to Bangalore for some city feel, friends, family visits and the breweries. There came a moment where some random “smart” dude tied his bull to one of those mileage markers on a bridge and left her unattended on a 4-way highway. The result was the bull walked all the way to the opposite end with the rope noosed around her neck. We slowed the bike down only to have the rope caught in our engine. I got off and lured her to a standstill, got the rope separated from the engine and prompted rest of the traffic to slow down as well as the bull would be dragged and surely killed if it continued the being frightened, stuck and attempting to cross back. I still pray it’s safe. After this drama and yet another visual lesson stuck in my head, I focused on the road. Somewhere along I flashed my thumb and a smile under all my vigilante-esque gear at a lone Enfielder who was on a 350 with quite the gear load on him. He intercepted us and we stopped for a chai break and routine bike notes exchange. Jaya Sriram is a young 20 something architect from Chennai who resides in Auroville and like us is a solo rider. He has covered many terrains on his classic vintage 350cc and prefers his own self for company. He was only too happy to have us give him “pseudo” company and we realized we are all headed to Bangalore. Sri kept his speed to a decent oscillating 60-80 while we gunned the girl toward a 100. After 2 brief breaks AND exchanges, he suggested we halt at Chittradurga for a quick bite and then move on nonstop to Bangalore. As we decided to do so, somewhere along the way, an Enfield with 2 mid-elderly gentlemen intercepted him on the way. They all seemed familiar to each other until Sri cruised by us telling us with a beaming smile that the pillion was his father. We were already at Chittradurga and all 4 of us sat down for an Enfieldian meal of puris and bhaji. Was an interesting exchange where Abeer was given advice and a soft nudge to carry on from Bangalore and head to Auroville and further down south. There was jest and laughter as they all realized in mins I would be the one missing my boyo. Thereafter, we hopped on our bikes, said our goodbyes and moved on. We cracked Bangalore in a swift <3hrs. Roads were butter paper and traffic well behaved. Weather too was exceptionally decent. The bike at this point had started to rattle and vibrate a lot. To a point that her mirrors wouldn’t stay steady. The engine clearly had a mishap somewhere and no matter how hard we tried or Abeer tried to give her a listen, we couldn’t figure the EXACT problem. At Hampi she was decently serviced with a brand new oil change as well. None of that mattered at this point when even attempting to make her hit above 80 proved to be strenuous. It was probably the 1st time she refused to cooperate with us which was criminal on a road and conditions such as the ones I described. We reached NandiDurga Road and instantly hit the RE service center. Without so much as a loosening a bolt, a diagnosis of crankshaft issues was made. This is like a doctor listening to you describe your fever and bluntly state you have dengue or malaria without the appropriate tests. We proceeded to take her to my brother’s place and rest her for the night until we decided what to do with her. It was Monday morning and I had a flight the next evening back home. Abeer had a train back to Pune with the bebe in cargo. Somehow, I knew it was not to happen.
We proceeded to hit the haunts: Church Street social, Watson’s, Windmills craftworks, The big pitcher etc. over the next 2 days. We even browsed forums to check the most highly recommended mechanic in Bangalore, someone named Nandan near Yeshwantpura, who looked at bebe and declared a good 3-4 days' worth of work. We were stumped and disappointed to a degree I can’t state here. Abeer opted to stay back the rest of the week and I was to fly home and make his travel arrangements available when they were ready. To this point, Bangalore weather was hot to pleasant until it decided to create the biggest jam for me and send out torrential rains making it impossible for me to make my flight. This made it officially a black mark on my flawless “no-flight-missed” track-record. Some quick thinking from the brother and kind GoAir officials, I was changed from an 8:30pm flight on Tuesday night to a 5:30am Wednesday morning flight at no extra cost. For me having to share one more night with my love was more than I could ask for as the familiar heart-in-my-throat feeling sank in. Yes I’m spoilt for loving him so much. After a few hours of rest, I left. Weary, sleep deprived, mix bag of emotions and NOT ready to touch work. I landed and headed straight to work in my avatar reserved only for the office premises and the kind no one recognizes me in. I had accidentally left my office ID card behind and given the organization I work for, a tempID was out of the question. Hence, le brother and boyo had to rush to BlueDart it to me at INR 400/- and it arrived in the nick of time (no adventure however miniscule escapes us). Thereafter, the bike bled us dry day after day until the cost reduced from 23k to a yet staggering 12k (this after some heated exchanges with RE officials that Abeer had gotten connected to). We were both angry with her and #RoyalEnfield for the shoddy piece of junk metal that she was eventually reduced to. 11 August 2015 marked her 1-year anniversary with us and it ended with a celebration followed by slumping unholiness. We decided to sell here there and then itself.

What ensued after is in my next blog post and frankly I was in for a HUGE surprise. :D 
Posthumous mention: After this trip, on 18 Sep 2015, Sriram informed us that his father passed away before his time due to a fatal cardiac arrest. I met him so very briefly and yet the experience over a lunch followed by numerous conversations with Sriram revolving around his father and his influences, almost felt like we knew him. A sad and untimely passing indeed. May he RIP.