Waiting for Shiraz – by Minoo Avari

This is an article by Minoo Avari, an avid biker who owns a CBR250R is just 66 years old! You can read his previous article here – Motorbike Mania – A Tale of a Biker & his CBR250R.

“Hey, you want to exercise the Fatboy?”

“When? Where?”

“Khushru Bandrawalla just mentioned that his son Jahan is riding to Kodaikanal from his college in Mysore. We can accompany him on his return.”

I sensed this would be a golden opportunity to do my first interstate ride. Joe couldn’t come and I was nervous about doing the return journey to Kodaikanal alone. It didn’t take much to convince Shiraz, though he did have a provision. “I don’t mind but I will also have to service my bike and the only Harley service station, south of Hyderabad, is Bangalore.”

Of course that made it even more exciting. Earlier Shiraz had made overnight travel possible on my CBR 250R when he gave me a Harley Davidson cargo net. It affixes my baggage comprehensively to the pillion seat and I am now able to ride without strapping a heavy knapsack on my back. I am indebted to him for making my rides painless.

“No sweat man! We’ll spend the night in Mysore and ride to Bangalore the next day,” I volunteered.

Joe Antony, my constant companion on his CBR 250R (without the ABS), looked sad. He is an avid and excellent rider. Disappointed not to be accompanying us, he sportingly offered to book a room for Shiraz and me at the Bangalore club and, without further ado, we were told that room sixteen was ours for the night of the 12th October 2011. All that we had to do was show up! There wasn’t time for much planning after that because Jahan had already arrived in Kodaikanal and begun moaning about having to get back to Mysore so quickly: I suppose it always seems like that for kids having to get back to college.

“You have to dream before your dreams can come true” – Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam

We were to meet a kilometre from my house, in front of the Bharat Gas agency, at the junction of Law’s ghat road and the foot of Fern Hill Road. I was there ten minutes before the appointed 6:30 AM and waited until 7:00 AM when the Harley Davidson Fatboy arrived, followed shortly after by Jahan on his Pulsar 220.

All was forgiven in anticipation of the ride. We set off with a plan to stop after an hour, at a spot overlooking the Palni temple. It is just below Melpallam and commands a magnificent view of the plains. While Jahan and I were waiting for the Fatboy, a Gujarati couple pulled up in their taxi and began admiring our bikes but, when the big Harley Davidson rolled in, they were completely blown away.

“Manae aye bike ghani gamech” pronounced the lady.

It was to be the story of our entire trip: the moment the gleaming monster arrived it would immediately arrest the attention our bikes were getting till then. From the lustrous chrome, reflecting the sun in front of the bike, to the dual silencers shining brilliantly behind, it drew plenty of ‘oohs and aahs’.

When they were told the price it was ‘Aiyyoe!’ in Tamil Nadu. Heaven knows what they proclaimed in Karnataka but it was always a gala affair wherever we stopped. Shopkeepers, happy to serve tea, took their time boiling the beverage and, as we waited, even larger crowds would gather. With bystanders developing a sudden urge for tea or coffee it certainly was wonderful for business. Such was the excitement that I’m sure those shops are still being pointed out, by breathless bike fans, as the place where the twenty-one lakh rupee Harley stopped and three helmeted knights took their tea!

If we had been a little smarter we might have had some biscuits and a banana thrown in for the price of tea but we didn’t think of it then. I guess it was just too hot down in the plains. Standing there in our thick riding jackets, sweat pouring down our faces, we fortunately didn’t draw the kind of attention that was strictly reserved for the Fatboy.

The ride was by and large leisurely; punctuated by plenty of stops and the adulation from crowds that seemingly sprung from the ground. By the time we made Satyamangalam, after fuelling in Dharapuram, it started to rain. Shiraz and Jahan, seasoned riders, decided to stop and put on their rain attire; transfer their mobiles to dryer pockets and do other imponderables, which left me, without such accoutrements, with a burning desire to get up the hill as quickly as possible. I left them at the foot of the Dim Bum ghat and did the twenty-seven hairpin bends on my own before waiting, atop the Deccan plateau, for the two of them to accompany me in the erstwhile Veerapan (the bandit) territory.

It was eerie standing there alone in the middle of the forest. It did give me time to reflect though on the large numbers of Langurs I passed while doing the hairpin bends in the rain. Much larger than the rarely spotted specimens, at the foothills of Kodaikanal and sporting much longer tails, the black-faced white coated primates are a sight to behold. Even more incredible were bonnet monkeys intermingling with the Langurs. I have never seen that before!

The rain ceased for a while, allowing the three of us to pick our way through the wet forested road. Then the heavens opened once again; this time around coming down in buckets. Seeking shelter in a dilapidated cowshed, with leaky thatch for a roof, we waited interminably before deciding to brave the remnants of the weather and continue riding. Two, perhaps three kilometres down the road, it hadn’t rained at all and we soon dried out, riding on at some speed, along some of Karnataka’s better surfaces. That didn’t last too long:

Chamrajnagar. We lost Shiraz here. He had been following us and then the Harley’s automatic bright headlight beam wasn’t there. Jahan and I waited, tried calling and drank innumerable cups of tea but, at the end of an hour, when even the few onlookers got bored looking at a mere CBR 250R (even with its ABS braking system) and stopped ogling at the good looking Pulsar 220, we debated on our next course of action. Someone confirmed there was another route into Mysore so we decided to ride on, confident we’d meet Shiraz there.

The road became a nightmare. We didn’t take the straight rutted stretch to Nanjangud but turned right onto another rutted stretch, which bumped and jolted us for at least thirty kilometres. As though the road was not bad enough it was interspersed with unmarked, jagged speed-breakers that only some delinquent could have thought up and implemented. Riding side by side nonetheless, it did give us a chance to talk.

Looking back to see if Shiraz was following by any chance, Jahan said, “No sign of Shiraz. It must be tough riding such a heavy bike. I don’t think it can go very fast…”

“Don’t you believe it,” I told him. “On our last trip together Shiraz was doing one hundred and thirty Kilometres an hour between Odanchattram and Palni and I couldn’t keep up with him. I think he’s just chilling this time around.”

Then we hit a good stretch of highway where, in my enthusiasm, I overshot the Mysore Sports club and had to follow Jahan a short distance back, to the parking lot of this magnificent club. A minute later Shiraz rolled in looking as pleased as punch. None of us had any idea where we parted company but rallying to the motto, ‘all’s well that ends well’ checked into our room after Jahan rode back to his college.

We started for Bangalore early next morning. Shiraz had an appointment with the Harley Davidson workshop on Lavelle Road, while I would have to search for the Honda workshop to have my bike chain tightened. It was a great ride until we took the flyover into Bangalore city. Thanks to work on the proposed Metro there was an almighty traffic snarl-up. The traffic lights contributed too; constantly beaming down with a red smile. When we did arrive at a Honda workshop on the Mysore Road, they insisted on seeing the instruction booklet before attempting to tighten the chain.

That seemed weird. When I mentioned this to them they said they had no idea how to work on the Honda CBR 250R. They suggested that I go to their main workshop, Silicon Motors on R.V. Road, and ask for Mr. Kumar.

New to Bangalore it took awhile; asking directions, getting lost repeatedly, asking again and again, until I finally reached my destination. I was met at Silicon Honda by a young mechanic who said it would take another two hours before anyone could look at my bike: “See how many bikes have come for service”, he said with a majestic sweep of his arm.

I was tired. Sweating profusely in my Joe Rocket red jacket, with the metal shoulders and elbow guards, I asked to see the Manager and requested permission to take some photographs. He was puzzled and looked quizzical. When I told him I would like to write about the Silicon Motors workshop he called immediately for my bike. As I clicked with my mobile camera, the rear wheel of my bike was spinning and the chain in the process of being lubricated. Apparently there was no need to tighten the chain but Sreedharan and Kumar insisted the handlebar was too tight. Once that was fixed I had to wait fifteen minutes for the lubricants to dry before riding to the Bangalore Club.

Shiraz sauntered in about the same time. He had left his bike at the nearby Harley Davidson workshop, with the assurance that it would be ready by evening. After a quick shower I walked around the premises of the Bangalore club, amazed at the facilities it offered, while Shiraz went into the city in an auto. He had to buy cat and dog food, which like municipal water, is not available in Kodaikanal.

Later we walked across to Lavelle Road. I gawked at the ten or so bikes on display until I came upon the Night Rod. She was resting resplendent in a corner and I was completely captivated by her. With a liquid cooled German Porsche engine, made especially for Harley, she crouched as though ready to spring into action at any moment. Fascinated, I didn’t notice a Herculean figure approach.

“Like the bike?”

Actually it wasn’t a question so much as a bald statement. “Yes. She’s quite different from all the rest of the…” I was about to say claptrap and had to bite my tongue.

“Hi. My name is Reddy. This is the Night Rod, Harley’s Sports Cruiser.”

I could only look longingly at her. With that price tag there was nowhere in hell I could find the money. Yet, that night, I dreamed of riding her back to Kodaikanal and Reddy’s words, “You can retrofit a turbo on this beauty,” were still ringing in my ears when I woke up.

Later Shiraz told me that Reddy is the CEO of Tusker Harley in Bangalore. I made a mental note to congratulate him: Tusker Harley carries spare-parts, accessories and has a complete section of Harley clothing – from boots to bandanas – upstairs. This constitutes eighteen percent of their total profit. On the other hand, Honda workshops and showrooms carry nothing. No spare-parts, no accessories and absolute no apparel… no, not even a Honda jacket. Come on Honda, wakeup!

We left early that morning. The first tollgate out of the city cost us fifteen rupees each. After that bikes are allowed free through myriad toll gates on the National Highway to Salem and onward to Dindigul. Narrow lanes skirting the sides of these tollgates offer bikes free-passage and the irony didn’t fail to strike me. Here we had a twenty-one lakh Harley getting through scot free while some poor sod, in a second hand Maruti 800, worth perhaps no more than fifty thousand rupees, was shelling out large sums at each tollgate.

As so often happens, we lost one another. Shiraz had mentioned stopping at a MacDonald for breakfast but, caught up in the moment of actually riding on a four lane highway, I overshot. I waited an hour by a tollgate before Shiraz showed up bearing two chicken sandwiches. I must have been hungry because I ate both and felt terrible… one of the sandwiches was meant for him but he never said a word until I finished!

The Thoppur ghat served up some interesting twists and turns. Intent on imitating professional riders, I practiced releasing my leg from the tank; trying to point my knee in the direction of the turn. It must have worked because I soon lost complete track of Shiraz. With the afternoon giving way to early evening, there was an appreciable respite from the heat. It boosted my energy and I began covering long distances in very short times. I must admit it was fun.

Waiting for Shiraz at the last of the toll gates, we rode into Salem together. There we found an Arya Bhavan close to a Bharat Petroleum Bunk. We stopped and, on closer inspection, found that the restaurant had earlier been a Bharat Petroleum Bunk. It has plenty of space and the kitchen and dining areas are immaculately clean. Except for the adjoining petrol bunk, it is isolated. The couple running the business insist on self-service, which merely translates into carrying your thali from the counter to your table.

The food was good and because of its location, Shiraz was able to digest his meal without the distraction of having people fiddle with his bike. After an ice-cream dessert we rode on into the evening where I awaited Shiraz by the Dindigul by-pass. A cup of tea, a brief halt at Batlagundu for gas and we were back in Kodaikanal for dinner. My bike trip meter read nine hundred and sixty-six kilometres which, with four ghat sections thrown in, isn’t a bad distance to cover over three days.

– Minoo Avari