4 May 2008

My First Serious Road Trip

I can think of it as my First Serious Road Trip. I started on Wednesday from Hyderabad and came back just a few hours back (today is Sunday). I have done a few other trips before this. But I have always wanted the trip to not end when we return. This trip is an exception -- I was not too sad that the trip ended soon.

I left Hyderabad and rode my Unicorn to Bangalore. I met a couple friends and spent the night at Chenthil's place. Next morning, we rode over to Wayanad from Bangalore: me on Chenthil's Justforkix, Chenthil on his 650, and Poo on his Maximus (a Thunderbird). That was my very first time on a Royal Enfield. Like I expected, the bike was brilliant: it was a pleasure to ride. A few tiny problems here and there on Justforkix and the 650 made the day more interesting :-)

I met most of Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Club people. I must say it was very much fun staying with them. Everybody in the gang was "somebody" and they had something interesting to say or show. For example, Sam drove a Maruti Esteem at real high speeds in the roads around Wayanad. I was just amazed by the way he handled the car. He got a new nickname which was a hilarious event. To cut short the story, a lot of interesting things happened and I enjoyed being with them.

Me and Chenthil rode back to Bangalore on Saturday. We were keeping good speed (good speed according to my standards -- Chenthil was riding slow on his 650 so that I could follow him easily). Suddenly Chenthil stopped his bike and told me that it was going to rain. We wore our rain wear and got ready to face the rain. Within a couple second after we started to ride back, rain started pouring. I was surprised how Chenthil figured that out and happy that I was ready for the rain. We kept riding in the rain albeit slowly. This is the first time in my life to drive this far in rain. Thanks to my jacket and helmet I didn't get drenched. We reached Bangalore in daylight and everything went alright.

I didn't want to miss the opportunity to taste my favourite Corner House ice cream. I went out and picked up ice creams and food for the night. Started sleeping happily at around 11pm. By that time I didn't know the next day would be more eventful and interesting :)

I left Chenthil's house at 5.25 in the morning. It took a good 40km ride to reach NH7. After driving for about 70km in NH7 I fell off the bike[*] and managed to break the front brake. Somebody helped me lift the bike. Thanks to my riding gear there was not even a bruise in my body. Front brake had failed completely -- it didn't respond at all. I drove slowly to a nearby village and asked a mechanic to help. After looking at the brake he said there was no brake fluid in the brake and refilling it would fix the brake. I remembered brake fluid dripping off after the fall. He told me that I can get it fixed only in Penukonda (which was about 40km from there).

In Penukonda, another mechanic examined the brake and tried to fix it with all the tricks he knew. The brake was adamant and refused to work. After spending about 30 minutes he gave up and asked me to try changing the brake pads (which cannot be the problem as the brake pads are only a couple days old). I had to drive the bike till Hyderabad with only the rear brake. To compensate I learned a few braking tricks.

After writing them down those tricks look very simple -- but I learned them all after making small and big mistakes on the road. No need to say, I had my life on stake when I first learned those tricks. (Gear braking was the hardest: I didn't correctly release the clutch for the first two times. Oh boy, I was scared to death when my bike was running fast behind a lorry going at 40kmph.) Slowly I got used to those tricks and started riding fast. In less than an hour I was proficient enough to overtake (which includes slowing down and getting behind the lorry if suddenly a bus appears from the opposite side).

I never wanted to call this an adventure trip: but the last day was indeed kinda adventure (at least in my definitions). So that's about it -- the trip was a lot of fun, and I want to do more of it :-)

* Why did I fall down? My Unicorn has a very good front brake -- it's one of the safest disk brakes I have used. Since it's safe to hold it, I apply slight pressure on the front brake even when I just have to slow down. On Justforkix (a Thunderbird) I did something similar subconsciously and I was on the ground the next moment :(

Advanced Braking

Welcome to the Advanced Braking session, ladies and gentlemen! Let's say you are riding a motorbike and you want to stop your bike. What would you do? You would apply both front and rear brake and maybe shift down gears if you have enough time. Correct? Imagine you cannot use the front brake. How would you stop then? Applying rear brake alone will not even help to slow down the bike, let alone stopping it. If you don't know how, you have come to the right place :-) I will first tell you about a few braking techniques before answering this question. We will start with something called Gear Braking. This is done by shifting down the gear when the bike is on the move. Steps to follow: (i) Press and hold clutch lever, (ii) shift down, (iii) leave the clutch lever. Step (iii) is very important. If you keep the clutch pressed, the bike would go faster making things worse. If you shift down rapidly, the engine will make noise (because it runs at a higher RPM than it was before you shifted down). Don't worry about that; the bike is safe. When is it appropriate to use gear braking? When your bike is going in a moderate/high speed and you have to slow it down a little, but for some reason you can't use the brakes. The next one is very simple, and I bet you already know it. Rear brake. With your toe push the rear brake pedal down and that applies brake. Simple, huh? Next one is Pull Brake. When your bike is going at a very very low speed (say somewhere around 10kmph) you want to stop it without using the front brake. With rear brake alone, it might be hard to correctly stop the bike in the targeted place. (E.g. you want to stop the bike under the tree not near the tree.) To apply Pull Brake, you put one of your legs on the ground and pull the bike back with your hands so that it stops moving (sounds funny, huh?). You may also simultaneously apply rear brake; that will make things much simpler. Be careful when you do this; if the bike is not slow enough or you don't balance the bike properly you and/or the bike might get injured. Enough techniques. Back to our question: how do we stop a bike without applying front brake? One very important thing to keep in mind is that slowing down the bike without using front brake is a long-term plan, while stopping the bike without front brake is almost a 3-minute plan. As we already discussed, you can use gear braking to just reduce speed. To stop the bike completely, (i) Use gear brake and slow down, (ii) keep shifting down until you reach first gear, (iii) apply rear brake and reduce the speed still further, (iv) when the bike is really slow, use pull brake to bring it to complete halt. I know, I know. There are several other, maybe better ways to do this. But this is what I did when the front brake failed in my bike. So what is your favourite trick? PS: Exercise this with caution. I am no expert in biking and this is just what I did -- I have no clue how good this is to be recommended to others (i.e. I am not recommending this to anyone). PPS: Read my trip notes for more background information.