It’s not fair. We get the newest bikes but get to have no fun. ‘Wipe those smiles off! You think we’re out here to have fun?’ It’s hard work hunching behind pinty fairings to eke out more kph. Or running another economy test to verify whether it is 113.1 kpl or 111.3 kpl.
So once a year, we take a break. Welcome to the slushfest. It isn’t a test. There are no rankings. And it is intended to allow us to let our rapidly dwindling hair down (Speak for yourself, Shumi. Nandu and I still have our locks – Joshua).
We had planned a proper, well-coordinated test to take our long term fleet (Pulsar 180, Achiever, Gladiator, Zeus and Shine) out for the day and get them muddied, but hopefully, not broken. Slushfest’05 was so much fun, we decided against changing the format too much.
Test one, Aquarium: two monumental water crossings (like a WRC stage: one crossing, run both ways).
Test two, Salmon Spirit: a ride up a stream (yes in the middle of white water, rocks and moss). And finally
Test three, Mud Rush: wind down by powersliding around a bunch of very surprised trees. Except that the water was a full four inches higher than last year, and the grassy knoll around the trees had too much water, and consequently not enough traction.
With Shreenand out enjoying Old Blighty, we found ourselves a bit short on manpower. So, we invited the Open Sky lasses, Noddy and Naughty, er... Geetanjali and Elizabeth. And Shuchi, of course. Andrea, Joshua’s girlfriend, decided to come and do some shutter bugging as well. Then we realised that none of them rode bikes. Enter Vivek Jaising (in the middle), fresh off his Suzuki GSX-R1000 and Neil Grant (next to Shumi), who’s been spinning up his Kawasaki ZX-10R.
At the very least, both would have a different two-wheeled experience. Joshua invited unsuspecting Saraid (yellow chap), friend, riding buddy and neighbour along as well. Plus, there’s Bijoy (ever the enthusiastic mud-plugger), Joshua (the fearless throttle wringer) and me.
The day before the test, a minor tremor was reported from our secret test location. We still can’t decide whether that meant it wanted to bid us welcome. Or shuddered at the thought.
It was my idea to do a ‘50s British trials style slushfest for BSM and it remains one of the best decisions I have ever taken. It is one thing to commute, another to cross continents and still more bonkers to challenge nature with the average Indo-Japper.
I thought the Shine was not inviting enough but it proved to be a true Honda – starts first kick, great grunt for a 125 and super refinement. On the highway, it’s stable unless you get crosswinds. Deserves a fifth gear, though – it feels a tad too stressed even at 80 kph in fourth.
The water was higher this year, I was down on torque – a lot of shoulder went into getting the front wheel off slippery stones. But the rear (Shumi, stop lifting it off, will ya?) worked like a propeller and kept us moving. I was sapped of power (from shoulders and thighs) on the return and thought I would never make it across. But the Shine came up trumps.
Whoa! This was new and this was fun. Can we do it again and again and again? You don’t know how energy sapping this is. No amount of pics can show you how my arms were quivering after a stint. Joshua/Zeus went first and made all the mistakes, so we knew the lines. The trick was to contemplate before the twist – short bouts of acceleration snap the bike clean off the roots and rocks. I’d have loved to do this on the good old Unicorn. Brilliant fun overall.
I learnt that girls can be good riders. Way to go Andrea! This is something all riders should try. If you know what to do when a wheel starts sliding, you should survive most motorcycle dynamics related stuff. I am sure Rossi did this and Biaggi didn’t. The Ambition, er... Achiever, was easy to control and the Apache was nimble too. It is amazing how good a combination of power, torque, leg power and skill you need to do this well.
In a nutcase
The Shine, like a true Honda, went about the return journey as if nothing had happened – the motor ticked away nicely. I was soaked to my inner wear and my shoes had lost their soles. But it felt good – another day lived (as opposed to existed). Someone should invent waterproof undies, though. I want my Unicorn back for next year. Or maybe I should invest all I have in a DR400 and do this day in and day out. – Bijoy TVS Apache
Saraid was hopping and jumping with excitement and lucky enough to snag the Apache ( Joshua wouldn’t have anything to do with that, right? – Bijoy). His report:
‘My first impression of the Apache was that it’s sexy. The Apache is also quite powerful on the highway, though it only touches 100 kph. It is lower than other bikes, which will be an advantage for short people.’
‘It appeared scary but after I watched the Shine go through I was confident. The submerged rocks were mossy and you couldn’t get a good grip, though. The clutch action was prompt and the bike went through smoothly. I really enjoyed the rush. You can’t see what’s ahead or under you, you never know what’s going to happen. Would definitely love to do it again.
‘This was the most fun, and the most difficult, part of the ride. I don’t think any other bike could have done better. The only problem, I think, was the full tank – every time I jerked the bike I could feel the fuel moving around. (No, that was just Shumi pushing the bike around to upset it – Joshua)’
‘The mud circles were good fun and I didn’t expect the bikes to move around so much. I tried the Yamaha (everyone’s favourite) too, but I think the Apache slid about the best. Learnt that the farther you open the throttle, the less the bike moves. Next time I’d try going slower through the muck.’
In a nutcase
‘I was a bit tired especially after the upstream. But we made it back home in good time. The next day was the worst – all kinds of ideas in my head, why I did not try something else... The arms were sore, I think regular off-roading would be good for the muscles. I was surprised how all the bikes made it through more or less unscathed. I seriously thought something would get damaged. There is only one word that can describe the entire day – awesome.’ Yamaha Gladiator
Having been on this very Gladiator before, Vivek plumped for this one almost instantly. Obviously, we hadn’t told him that the Apache (Saraid) and Achiever (Neil) were 150s. Here’s what he went through in his words.
‘These are basic commuters – low cost transport with decent build, made to sell in volumes. On the highway, top speeds feel low (Compared to what? 296 kph? Heh heh -Joshua) and overtaking can be difficult.’
‘I was scared at first. The water was cold and daunting. But the bikes did surprisingly well. They’ll stand up to a lot more than what the average rider may encounter. I have a new respect for these – I stalled it in knee-deep water and it started up easily despite being underwater.’
The upstream looked very tough – the water was fast and low, and it was all rocks, covered in slipper algae. I skipped it. The other bikes did a fine job and came back in one piece. Amazing.’
‘It was eye-opening – chart a course around the trees and have so much fun. This was my first time, but definitely not the last. I had a great time and the more powerful bikes turned out to be a greater challenge here.’
In a nutcase
‘I was so tired. It looks a lot easier than it is. I’d do it again (and this time, I’d get my own rain kit... thanks Josh) in a minute. (But it’d take you hours, eh – Neil) Any bike would be fine. They all stood up to the test. Here’s to extraordinary, good, outdoor two-wheeled fun.’ Suzuki Zeus
Last Slushfest, I was spectator/ navigator/ support crew. Not this time. The Suzuki wasn’t my first choice, but it is a mobike and I’m not complaining.
The Zeus still misses a battery (we’re just too lazy to replace the faulty OEM one) so no horn and keeping the lights on made the engine feel weak at low revs. But it felt adequate for the highway. Overtaking was easy and the Zeus matched the Shine.
The Zeus was the last to go in. And go it did. Wide open throttle from go (not to be repeated, ever) had me dive in with a big splash. The momentum carried me through, dispelling my fears of the fender-high water. Lesson: on the throttle, off the clutch and look where you want to go. It couldn’t be simpler.
Having thoroughly enjoyed the river crossing, I was really enthu and went first. Initially it was easy, but enthusiasm and impatience got the better of me as I rode higher. The Zeus was beached a couple of times with the engine cowl taking most of the beating (it’s still intact) while the handlebar came loose. By the end, it seemed as if my hands were going to disengage themselves from my arms. Although the Zeus is the torquiest of the 125s, it struggled through this challenge. I really wish I had a 150 for this leg .
Boy, oh boy! I could hardly wait for this. Last year, the boys went crazy and this year I had my chance. I started off with the Shine, and spun it right around before I managed a dignified take off. A couple of other harmless spills were part of my initial run. As things progressed I got better and later decided to try it two up with Andrea. Big mistake – I’ll be paying for that spill for a very long time.
In a nutcase
The Zeus was more capable than I expected. One beaten up shin, a sore hamstring and two tub loads of muck from my gear isn’t going to stop me from returning to the trail after this issue goes to press. The bike? My trusty old ‘69 Bullet. And that’s only because I can’t get my hands on the KTM 640 I rode a few months back. As for the Zeus, she’s headed for a diesel wash and a brand new battery and some TLC. – Joshua Hero Honda Achiever
Neil had the only other 150 in the bunch. Of course, he didn’t know it until later. We even had to tell him it actually had a push-button start!
‘All I wanted was a disk up front. Zero expectations. The build quality did astonish me, though. Working mirrors were great – I’m used to lifting my elbows. I’m also used to more revs and power, so overtaking felt cumbersome.’
‘The Achiever achieved. The water crossing was daunting to watch and the torque factor (the lack of it) did scare me. But one learnt something every second of this feat. Get shoes wet. Get knees wet. Bash through. Get stuck. Bash through again... After crossing 20 meters of a flowing stream, my muscles felt like I’d climbed a 20 meter, 80 degree rock. But it added up to a great experience. The Hero Honda’s clutch and gearbox were top notch and I learnt that no matter how much torque I had, I would not have had the traction. A difficult task, unless one did it day in and day out for about a year. So I’m in for the next 366 slushfests.’
Not for me. I knew I had to ride back in a couple of hours through (probably) torrential rain. And watching others do it made me doubly sure. It was like digging a grave with a toothpick. But full points to the lads who bashed it through.
‘What one really needs to get the next time is a photo of the fresh grass with one tread mark in it and then an ‘after’ shot of when we’re done and there isn’t a blade in sight. This was the funnest bit. Riding in the mud is pure recreation. On tarmac you’re always going somewhere. If I could, I’d ride only in the mud always.’
In a nutcase
‘Next time I’ll put myself in a zip lock bag and try to return with soles on both shoes. And hope no one notices the fat rear knobbly with close to no air in it. Pottering through rain and heavy winds, I discovered a 20 kph difference between riding upright and full tuck. So I kept my head down. At the first opportunity, I handed the keys over and got a chauffeur-driven auto rickshaw. I remain astonished by the whole thing, though’. See you monsoon
Well, that just about wraps it up for another edition of BSM’s off-road event, Slushfest 2006. We learnt two things this year on the ride. One, it doesn’t have to make complete sense to be outrageously fun. And two, it isn’t as difficult as it looks. Especially in hindsight. And now, since I’m tired of having pushed all the bikes that got stuck now and then, tired of having walked Aquarium and Salmon Spirit with every single motorcycle, if you don’t mind, I’m off.
Odd women out
Neither Geetanjali nor I had any idea of the things our colleagues do with bikes and cars, despite trying hard to grasp the Greek and Latin they publish every month. We do understand that theirs is a one-of-its-kind magazine catering to another genus – the Motor Sapiens.
We set off in a cheery mood, ostensibly for a monsoon excursion. We did stand exactly opposite where we were supposed to, and ended up running an hour late. Then came a traffic snare and a deluge in the middle of the road – it was the perfect day for a slush fest.
Six bikes braving a monsoon-crazed river some twenty feet wide, taming a rocky stream... what, for heaven’s sake, were they doing? Trekking on bikes? They’ve done it for years, I guess. For me it was madness, complete with a photographer to capture it perfectly. The word-painting was entrusted to one of the insane ones.
The romance of the unspoilt green lasted only till Bijoy drew a track with his Shine. Then it resembled a green and muddy skating rink where even seasoned bikers (like ours) would eventually slip and fall.
Joshua rode best. His correspondence course in swimming helped him wade through without exerting his other skills. We had fun, and they did too. I think we should have traditions like this in Open Sky as well. – Elizabeth ‘Naughty’ Thomas