What is the best thing about riding a sports motorcycle with slick or semi-slick tyres on a racetrack? You trust there is grip under the tyres, you trust you can lean into a corner because of that grip. I’ve always liked knowing there is clean tarmac under sticky tyres, but TVS Racing had other plans when they let us ride rally-spec Apache RTR200s on a dirt track. Welcome to an off-road workshop with TVS Racing’s ace rider Aishwarya Pissay.
It is almost surprising to me how much can you learn about a new sport you’ve never had a go at before in one workshop. But we were in good hands as Miss Pissay walked us through the techniques of riding on dirt – one drill at a time. The first thing to learn about riding off road is to unlearn everything you know about riding on road.
The day started with some loops to learn the correct body position. The instructions were simple – keep your head above the handlebar, hold the motorcycle between your legs, keep the ball of your feet on the foot pegs at all times, and keep your arms up for better flexibility. But what actually happened on the very first corner was the complete opposite of all of it out of force of habit.
Another colleague who is an off-road enthusiast did warn me that the unlearning is the hardest part. Turns out – true that. It’s a reflex to lean with the bike, or use the knee as a pivot on corners. But there’s a reason why MotoGP riders use their free time to ride around dirt tracks – it teaches throttle control and helps with maintaining the correct body posture.
So, these were rally ready RTR200s. But how different do you suppose they are? Turns out – a lot. They’re taller, to begin with, because of the modification to the suspension damping but they’re slim and lightweight. I don’t have the torque figure but I can tell you that these bad boys accelerate nothing like a standard RTR200. They’re much much quicker.
The other tricky aspect besides getting the body position right was judging how much traction there is to work with and takes getting used to. Where it looked fairly okay to ride on without focussing too hard, there happened a violent tank slapper that left me wondering wide-eyed in my helmet that why did that happen. That’s what learning throttle control is I suppose – it’s not the same when you pin open the throttle on a road bike. But these bikes have proper knobbies which can hold on to the ground.
The highlight of the day beyond having fun on the off-road track, however, was to witness Aishwarya up close doing what she does. I remember leaning on the table with another rider just watching Miss Pissay doing laps of the track and talking about how much of a delight it was.
The 23-year-old clearly has what it takes to be a professional racer. She has won seven championships in women’s category of Raid De Himalaya 2017, Dakshin Dare 2017 & 2016, Indian National Rally Championship (INRC) in 2017 and 2018 and TVS Apache Ladies One Make Championship 2017. She has also won Indian National Motorcycle Road racing National Championship 2017.
She started her international career in 2018 with her participation in Spain Baja. In 2019, she participated in Dubai International Baja and Portugal Baja and currently leading in the Womens’ Category and second in the Junior Category in the Baja world cup ranking.
Aishwarya has been racing since she was 18 and hopes to race in the Dakar Rally. With the discipline she has, I’m certain I will hear loads of news about her achieving breakthroughs in motorsports. Speaking of discipline, we dared ask the champion lady about her workout regime. She said she spends five hours a day on physical and psychological fitness, which was followed by an awkward silence with us just gently nodding in approval for her but utter dismissal for our own.
Extremely talented on the track, Aishwarya remains a level-headed young woman who’s confident off the track as well. She knows what the game is and she sure knows how to deal with questions from the media. And I am happy to learn just a smidgen of off-road riding tips that I could from her.
Motorsports may not be as big in our country yet, and women participation is further away, but having met people like Aishwarya Pissay, I’m sold that India will rise to higher grounds of the international motorsports scenario – and soon. I have nothing but applause for TVS Racing for letting young talent get on motorcycles and race for glory.
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