Adventure tourers must be the most difficult bikes to build. A careful balance of characters intricately webbed together so as to ensure that one does not alienate the other. They have to be comfortable, be good off-road and still be fast around tight stretches of tarmac spaghetti. They say you can ride an Adventure tourer forever, but how long really constitutes to forever?
And if an ADV bike can really do it all, can it do it all at once back to back over the course of 48 hours?First off, we needed an ADV motorcycle, and what better representative of the class than the Triumph Tiger 800 XCA. For one, it has the electronics set that’s just right, not to much not too little, and for the tinkering toms like your’s truly in the audience, they can be turned entirely off. It’s also the most off-road set up off the lot, with wire spoke rims and knobby tires, heated grips, heated seats, auxiliary lamps, GPS mounts and a 12v outlet.
Think swiss-army knife. This bike was made to do it all!
The question remained then, as to whether it really could? Once we had our bike which Triumph so graciously sent us on a day’s notice, it was time to frame a challenge.The challenge we decided on after a few billable hours in the office, was a non-stop 1,600 kms of ride which had a mix of highway cruising, twisty hill roads and off-road, all to be completed in the course of a weekend. Wagers were made as to the likelihood that I would be on time for work on Monday.
Brimming with confidence, I pointed the Tiger in the general direction of Manali at 6:30 am on Saturday morning. The sharp-bellows of the Tiger’s in-line triple 800cc motor cut through the early morning birdsong in the capital sending them running for shelter. The short run through the capital gave the Tiger a little time to warm up and get into the rhythm for challenges that lay ahead, and while both us contemplated the next 48 hours, the capital slowly melted away in the Tiger’s rear-view mirror. My tracking vehicle, which had set off at 4 in morning had already crossed Karnal almost 120 km ahead. A cat-and-mouse was in motion, and this cat meant business.
The Tiger makes 94 horsepower and 79 Nm of torque but these numbers scribbled on a piece of paper mean as little as the plot-line in a porn movie. The reason I say this is because, I’ve ridden much bigger motorcycles with much more in form of numbers, but realistically on the highway, they require you to be too committed for too long. The way the Tiger is set up with the wonderful flyscreen in front and upright seating position meant that the Tiger and I were soon at a comfortable cruising speed. Reeling in the tracking car with every passing minute in less than an hour, I was crossing Karnal while my colleagues in the tracking car were just passing through Kurukshetra. The big cat was on the hunt as the triple set into a mild hum in the background.
In the next half hour, the tracking car was in my sights. While we sipped our tea, the Tiger had claimed an audience of eager people armed with smartphones intent on selfies. And after we enjoyed a celebratory cup of tea, I set off, leaving the tracking car and its occupants in the dust.None of us is in the Army so we do leave men behind. Also, there was a mission at stake here. Soon we were turning off from the highway onto Bilaspur. The rutted winding roads lined with trucks marked the starting of the ghats, on any other motorcycle after having spent more than 5 hours on the road, my wrists would have been crying for mercy, but the Tiger’s WP-sourced 43mm upside down forks, 220 mm of travel on the front shocks just soaked it all up, floating over the rutts like Md Ali in the ring light on his toes but with a sting like a bee.
I meanwhile, was beginning to enjoy the twisty section with a view as we ascended into the mountains towards our night halt in the hill-town of Manali in Himachal Pradesh. The air was beginning to get noticeably cooler but my Tiger’s tyres were just inviting me to push her lower and lower through every corner, dive wide and dive in just a little lower. This little courtship continued over the next few hours. The green hillside came alive with the sound of the Tiger’s triple cylinder engine wailing between hairpins.
Really there are few words that one can use to describe this symphony. I was so busy being a child hooning through the hills, that I entirely forgot that I was supposed to be saving my strength for the long ride and exhaustion was beginning to set in.Luckily, we had only a few Kms to go before we stopped in Manali, and thanks to the Tiger’s almost schizophrenic duality all I had to do was literally tune myself down a few notches straighten my spine and keep riding. The Tiger too went into an almost purr-like whistle and the remainder of the journey by intent was uneventful.
We entered Manali in time for Tea, completing the first and shortest leg of our little ridelogue. Sunday was going to be even more eventful. Ride through Solang from Manali, turn around and head back to Delhi and be home in time for work on Monday. I was beginning to think that as usual my ego had got the better of me, and even though the Tiger is a genuinely phenomenal motorcycle I was not going to make it to work on time. Dang, it!
The next morning I was expecting to be stiff from the previous day's ride. Although I call myself a “rider”, I do the majority of my commutes inside the confines of an air-conditioned car, thanks to Delhi’s air pollution and traffic. Hence, it was strange that I woke up literally itching to get back in the Tiger’s saddle and to ride out to more scenic vistas. This added vigour and energy made me feel like maybe I still did have a shoe in of a chance to win this. Maybe I could sit smug at my desk on Monday morning and be sipping my coffee.
I was feeling so confident at how well I had bonded the previous afternoon with the Tiger and its dynamics that I decided to painstakingly setup the Tiger for the next leg. Turning everything up to max, and turning the electronics down to minimum interference all while I sipped my morning cuppa. This made everything a lot better, but I do still advise that you atleast take a whole day of riding before you do this because the Tiger is a tall machine standing at a max seat height of 860 mm and it does weigh a full 215 kilos. So it’s not exactly light and it takes a while to get used to even for more seasoned riders.
Before I knew it, I was setting Manali in my rear view mirrors and making a break for the hills and greener pastures. As the Tiger quickly slipped out of the Manali city traffic, the landscape turned into flowing green mountains with snow capped peaks. This meant that for the first time since I set off I could stop thinking about how amazing the Tiger is, and just watch the hills as they turned in front of me. I did after all have the best seat in the house. Riding through the dense foliage in Solang I got to the best bit of riding an ADV, If I'd have been riding a cruiser my heart would be in my mouth on every tight downhill corner and I'd be tired with wrestling an oversized mammoth through the hillside. But on the Tiger I was able to settle into a rhythm and just enjoy the scenery because even though it is 200 kilos + and quite tall, it is extremely easy to ride.
After another cup of tea to warm the cockles of my heart in the Solang Valley and we turned around and set our sights on Delhi. It was already getting to be 1pm and it had taken me the whole day to reach Manali. Once again my campaign was looking grim. I began a spirited charge down the mountainside. Aux lights turned all the way up, I was pushing the upper limits of my own capabilities but the Tiger was barely getting warm and dispatched the ghats in the matter of a few hours. With the highway ahead of me and a couple of hours of daylight still to go, the Tiger had brought me back on track.
As I charged down the highway towards Delhi, I thought about why I loved ADV motorcycles so much. Life is too short and money is too less to buy a specialist motorcycle, one for the track, one for open stretches of highway, one for hooning and a dirt bike to go off-road. Instead, you can have a Triumph Tiger that can do it all with a smile on its face and song in its heart. The last 1600 km had a mix of everything above and even with my ham-handed approach the Tiger had little dirt off its shoulders, it just soldiered on. Which is also why adventure tourers are catching on so much in the sub-continent, there’s really no better way to go looking for an adventure. And as I sat at my desk at 9: 30 am on Monday morning smugly drinking my coffee waiting to claim my rewards, I couldn’t help but relive the previous night over and over in my head. I felt like I needed to be out again soon on the Tiger, but next time a notch further. Till then the Tiger would have to go back and the sorrow is no less than a break-up after a short but charged infatuation.