ICB experiences the Royal Enfield RiderMania 2011: Some Epic stuff that was!
Few things would bring me bolting out of holiday, well, barring something like the prospect of riding a Royal Enfield Desert Storm 500 in its natural habitat, the long and winding Indian highways. This is precisely what happened when a certain Praveen Prakash Sathaye, affectionately known as P.P.S. invited me to participate in the Royal Enfield Rider Mania 2011.
17th November 2011 0700 AM: Heading to Mumbai, to Royal Enfield’s company run brand store in Nerul to pick up my Desert Storm, which I would ride all the way to Goa later that day, many memories assailed me. It has been a while since I have ridden long and hard on my Royal Enfield Machismo LB500 and this opportunity gave me a chance to strike off one of my to-do things on the 100-things-to-do-before-I-die list, that is to ride on the NH17, all the way from Mumbai to Goa. However, due to paucity of time, I decided to do things a little differently, although it caused some hardship later in the day.
17th November 2011 1100 AM: Instead of riding directly to Goa from Mumbai, I found myself testing out the top end of the Desert Storm on the Mumbai-Pune highway. I reached Pune an hour and a half later after enjoying the locomotive like torque of the 500cc Desert Storm on the Khandala Ghat, I headed home for a quick lunch break. Time was steadily ticking away and I had to leave to Goa quickly as the folks from Royal Enfield had indicated that us motoring journos were expected in Goa by sun down. With time at a premium, I decided to head to Goa through the easy and boring NH4.
I had traversed the Pune-Bangalore NH4 twice in a span of less than two weeks when I rode home and back on my newly acquired Bajaj Pulsar 220S, and the prospect of riding the same route till Nippani, simply didn’t excite me. Even so, I knew that riding on NH17 with the sun down wasn’t exactly a very bright thing to do, what with the moronic bus drivers hell bent on blinding all oncoming traffic. Mahabaleshwar arrived in no time and the heart prevailed(Remember, I’m riding a Royal Enfield).
Allured by the twisties of Mahabaleshwar, especially on a weekday, I turned towards the hill station. The handling of the Desert Storm was plenty of fun as the longer twisties on Mahabaleshwar made center stand grounding(yes, that one goes before the pegs) a breeze. With Mahabaleshwar under the belt and the clock showing 4 PM, the real fun was just about to begin. Getting down the hills to Poladpur was an experience in itself with the monsoons having ravaged the hill roads, quite literally.
For once, I did miss my LB500′s 19 inch wheels for the crater sized potholes. The roads improved once I hit the sweet spot of the trip, yeah, I’m talking about the NH17. Riding the Desert Storm 500 on the beautifully curvy tarmac with the beautiful scenery whizzing past, it was just a matter of time before the words of Royal Enfield’s rockstar CEO, Venki Padmanabhan at the Desert Storm-Classic Chrome launch earlier this year, began ringing in my ears. “A Royal Enfield is for those who love romancing the roads”. How true, that!
As dusk set in, the real daunting challenge that the NH17 was turning into hit me, straight between my eyes when a Volvo, of the infamous Neeta fame kinds, almost blinded me on a curve. Truckers on the other hand, were truly considerate, dipping every time they saw me and perhaps heard a thump approaching from a distance. From Chiplun with the sun down, it was the superb illumination of the Desert Storm’s high beam that actually made me enjoy the whole experience of riding the twisties at night.
High beam though pointed straight at the trees. Even so, it was a revelation as to how a well adjusted low beam running on a stock 35 watt bulb set up could be so good for dual carriageway highways with plenty of the twisted stuff thrown in for good measure. The roads progressively got worse on the Nh17 making me cringe every time I hit a bad patch, which was once every other minute.
Pali came and went and so did Nandgaon and finally, I found myself at Rajapur at half past ten at night. With traffic rapidly thinning, I felt that this would be a really challenging ride. Challenging it was as I reached Sawantwadi at around midnight. With Goa just minutes away and the roads of Maharashtra in real shambles, I found myself fervently hoping for the good stuff, of the asphalt kind ;-), in Goa. As soon as I crossed over to Goa, the roads simply got impeccable.
1:30 AM: I rode straight on to Vagator where I found Sachin Chavan of Royal Enfield bunched up with fellow Bulleteers near a pub at Vagator. Sachin was kind enough to ride alongside me to the Cochichos resort which I was pronouncing as coochicoos, much to the amusement of everyone whom I asked for directions in the middle of a sultry Thursday night. I dozed off within minutes of hitting the sack of the cosy little villa that Cochichos offers its guests. This is a nice, well run place worth a stay-in if you’re in Goa on holiday.
18th November 2011, 8 AM : I woke up with barely 6 hours of shut eye and quickly showered up. I was quite excited to meet fellow Bulleteers at the event which I’ve always wanted to be a part of, the Rider Mania. The ever smiling and helpful Ravi Kiran of Royal Enfield gave me and my fellow motoring journos a briefing on what to expect along with the itinerary of the whole biker carnival that Rider Mania 2011 was to be.
Thumping into the venue at Vagator Hilltop at around 10 AM, fellow Bulleteers, many still groggy eyed from all the partying last night, were slowly filing into the venue. The venue in itself had a distinct biker ambience to it, an ambience that made me feel at home right from word go. It is really incredible at how an annual biking event brings Royal Enfield owners of all ages together. From a somebody to a nobody, it was truly a classless event that revolved around only one enduring theme, motorcycling and motorcyclists.
Post lunch on a lazy Friday Goan afternoon saw the first event of Rider Mania, the slow race begin. Covering the event was an experience in itself even as the competition was intense amongst the various Bullet clubs, who had ridden to the event from across India.
Post the slow race, a team event, the figure of 8 began. The day ended with good music played by a band called Zedde. Oh, it was Goa and beer flowed freely at Rider Mania. Yes, a pint at 20 bucks when a bottle of mineral water costs 15 was paradise to most folks. Now, that’s yet another reason for you to ride to Rider Mania 12. In the meantime, yours truly headed to Baga for a spot of dinner at Brittos, apparently an institution in itself, for dinner. Some lousy service later, some authentic Goan pork vindaloo saved Brittos’ reputation and the collective wrath of motoring journo ilk.
19th November 2011: The day began at GBST; Goa Standard Beach Time, in other words, at midday, with one of the most anticipated events of the Rider Mania and one of the most challenging too, the Dirt Race. If you think Bullets can’t really get down and dirty, you need to think again.
Looking at the way Royal Enfields thundered down the dirt track, sideways, I was already making plans for Rider Mania 2012, but with me hustling a Royal Enfield on the dirt track than doing the snapping duties. A tumble here and a skid there, the event ended with no one seriously injured, barring a few minor scrapes.
With the beer drinking event out of the way, the second big event of the day was the trails event held just before evening turned to dusk.
This was another event which was extremely challenging as it involved some real skill and bike control with most obstacles proving to be too hot to handle for most participants.
By the way, Bullets still sell as solid trails bikes with Royal Enfield’s UK importer Watsonian Squire, selling trail speced Royal Enfields.
The Indian rock band, Thermal and a Quarter, were at hand to rock the audiophiles even as most of us motoring journos headed beachside to the Baga Saturday night market and then to Anjuna to have our fill of the sights and sounds that the Goan sea side had to offer.
20th November: The day began with the cleanest bike of ‘em all, where gleaning Royal Enfields lined up to be inspected and rated by a jury straight from the Royal Enfield factory. A little bit of spit to get things spotless never broke anything, did it? was the underlying spirit with which contestants battled for the cleanest bike of ‘em all. Soon after, the Assembly Wars event kicked off for some intrepid motorcycle wrenching.
At noon, the ride around the Goan beachside began where over 200 Bullets(Ok, Royal Enfields) thundered around the quaint and narrow streets of Goa, reverberating off many a Goan villa’s wall. The ride was an experience in itself and though this many Bullets were creating a thump symphony, things were quite orderly. Full credit to Sachin Chavan, Praveen Prakash Sathaye and company for the clockwork like organization.Back at Vagator Hilltop, the place at which Rider Mania 2011 unfolded, arm wrestling began. The women’s event was a smooth affair but tempers and testosterone levels rose in the men’s event.
Things however were well managed by the folks at Royal Enfield and the event saw some more good biker camaraderie prevail at the end of a very hard fought men’s arm wrestling final. Anushka Manchanda(Remember the tall Viva girl?) was there to “judge” the custom bike event, but in my reckoning did a much better when she enthralled the crowd with her rockstar like performance in the after event concert. We motoring journos, for our part headed back for a quick splash at Cochichos pool before dinner at one of the beachside shacks.
21st November: Pack up day. We went back to our respective destinations, disappointingly so in jumbo jets, as the Bullets had to go back to Chennai. Bummer that Royal Enfield, but perhaps another day another time. Before that, just as the Goan sun began warming up the beautiful seaside, I thumped away towards the Vagator beach for a quick photo shoot for the Desert Storm 500/Classic Chrome 500 review. Yes, that comprehensive review is just around the corner on ICB. For now, be sure to check out the full gallery of what I managed to bring home from the Rider Mania: A must for every Bulleteer, simply for the sheer camaraderie that this iconic motorcycle manages to evoke.
True, there are many motorcycles that outsell the Bullet, with a massive fan following to boot, often many times to one. But that isn’t the point really. The sheer camaraderie that Bullets and Bulleteers revel in, is unmatched amongst most other motorcycling circles. The energy and enthusiasm that the event inspired from evn those who had nothing to do with Royal Enfield motorcycles has to be seen to be believed. For instance many foreigners holidaying in Goa, willingly paid the entry fees to come along and enjoy the proceedings. Cult brand, anybody? That perhaps exemplified what the Royal Enfield Rider Mania 2011 was all about, “The thump that binds”.