India Bike Week is the Mecca of all things motorcycling, they say. But at the heart of motorcycling are small things. Simple things like a good motorcycle, and a good road. We decided to go back to the basics, and ride to Goa from Mumbai for India Bike Week to get in the spirit of things.
First, we had to select a motorcycle to ride. There are all sorts of them available, from 50cc to 1800cc – street bikes, tourers, race replicas and cruisers. Since Goa is a laid-back place, we wanted a motorcycle to suit that pace of life. That meant a cruiser – but not one that would intimidate us with its power. That narrowed it down to the middleweights, and from there we decided on the Hyosung GV650, aka the Aquila Pro. Hey, everyone loves the underdog! We’ve not had a long ride on one of these, and Sagar Sheldekar from PowerDrift had a lot of good things to say about it. A quick call to Hyosung, and they had ready two identical Aquila Pros for us. A rider must ride alone, they say, but hey, the more the merrier!
Next: the route. Mumbaikars have the option of two roads to Goa. NH17 heads south from Panvel and winds its way through the Western Ghats, while NH4 routes you via Pune and Kolhapur on to the plateau. Those of us who go often to the southern tip to Maharashtra swear by the former route; then again, they are rarely passengers, and the constantly winding ribbon of tarmac that the NH17 is, might not be suitable for a low-slung, long-wheelbase cruiser like the GV650. However, corners are where the enthusiasts separate the men from the boys, so we decided to go to Goa via NH17. Our support vehicle would be a Tata Sumo, generously loaned to us by Tata Motors. We didn’t know what to expect from any of the vehicles on a road like that, but that’s what we do – explore the limits(and not always of motion sickness, I might add.)
As with any trip involving more than one person, we started off late. The Sumo had to be packed with the luggage of all seven people going on the trip so that the motorcycle riders didn’t have to carry anything with them. Finally ready, we rode off into the sunrise. We were avoiding the Panvel-Karnala route this time, because we were in search of the most open route. We opted to go to Khalapur, on the way to Pune, then switch to the Pali road and join NH17 just before Vadkhal naka, the intersection where one turns off for Alibaug. As expected, the motorcycles took off and surprisingly, the Sumo wasn’t far behind. The Aquila Pro is a large motorcycle, and Hyosung has put an appreciable amount of chrome on it (not to mention fantastic paint) so everywhere it went, it was a crowd magnet. But with 650 cubes at the whim of your right wrist, getting out of the spotlight didn’t take much effort.
An added bonus for those of us who are on the road to Goa frequently was a first-timer who had never gone from Mumbai to Goa by road. With extra pride in our tourist-guide abilities, we pointed out the main features of the route. As always, the views from the top of Kashedi and Parshuram ghats awed our first-timer Venkat. We stopped for lunch in Chiplun, the biggest town en route and roughly a third of the way to Goa. Two hundred kilometres in, the Aquilas were doing surprisingly well – nothing had fazed either example, and the motorcycle is so easy to turn, grounding the inside footpeg is easy to do, but in no way does it undermine confidence. The torque was also a godsend on the single-lane highway, with trucks and cars dispatched to the rear-view mirrors with a twist of the wrist. Despite our spirited riding, they weren’t down to their fuel reserve yet. Post-lunch, we decided to tank up anyway, unsure if we’d find good quality fuel if we waited until the motorcycles needed it.
Our stop for the night was a friend’s house in a town called Dhamapur on the way to Malvan-Tarkarli, which are popular tourist destinations for those who want a quiet weekend by the sea. A quick dinner of kingfish, prawns and sol kadi in Kudal, and we could barely keep our eyes open. I’m writing this article on a laptop in a house made of laterite bricks and wood, in a town where only the government-owned mobile phone network is available, but will upload it for you to read through the home’s wifi connection. India, in a nutshell.
We head to the venue early tomorrow to set up our stall. If you’re headed to India Bike Week, do stop by and say hi. If you’re not, we’ll try hard to make it feel like you were there. In the meanwhile, we’re off to gorge ourselves on sun, sand and seafood…