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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
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.

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.

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.
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 CafĂ© 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

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 ;)