I rode the 300 first. And like one finds any four year old saying the darndest of things cute at first, I found the 300 endearing as well. But, only for a while. Then, just like the kid's behaviour, the 300 started to bug me. Yes, its lack of weight was a plus. And, it felt right whether you rode it standing up or sitting down. And, its power never really overwhelmed. But, that meant I had to wring it all the time to keep moving on the sand dunes.
And with its closely stacked gearbox - it's a dirt bike, after all - I found myself shifting up and down the 'box every 21st second. And, did I mention its handling was akin to a four year old as well - restless and in hyperdrive? It got tiring, tedious, and unmanageable after a while.
And yes, I really meant sand dunes! I was in Merzouga in Morocco, in the Sahara desert, to ride Sherco TVS' range of off-road motorcycles. The bike I was referring to was a Sherco. Made and sold in Europe. And, it isn't coming to India any time soon.
Neither is the bike you see here. But, this one carrying the TVS Racing stickers, is way more special.
What you see here is the Rally Lite or the 450 RTR produced by Sherco and TVS together. And, it is a proper blue-blooded rally motorcycle. It also has the honours of finishing second in Rallye du Maroc or the Rally of Morocco, held the week before last, ridden by TVS rider Abdul Wahid Tanveer.
The bike runs a single cylinder, liquid cooled, fuel injected motor with serious amounts of oomph. Now, we don't have the exact output figures - its impossible to get that out of any race team - but, this 450 is estimated to put out around 55bhp. And, it weighs just 135kg dry.
No wonder it wants to imitate a rearing horse everytime you get close to opening the throttle.
It also has a full Akrapovic exhaust system, a 6-speed gearbox, a hydraulic clutch, and a chassis made from steel alloys that's both light and rigid. Then there are the aluminium wheels, the powerful Brembo brakes, and fully adjustable, chunky and expensive looking WP suspension front and rear with over 300mm of travel.
Furthermore, with the navigation tower, some pricey mechanical bits, and sprinkling of carbon fibre, it was clear, dropping this one wasn't an option. Something that was clearly conveyed to me by the Sherco TVS Factory team.
Needless to say, I was nervous about swinging my leg over this one. Which in itself was a task for me at 5' 9". This, the Rally Lite, is tall, tellingly taller than the 300 dirt bike, which wasn't exactly low to begin with. Seat height as mentioned in the spec sheet was 970mm!
Now, imagine when you are told dropping this bike isn't an option, but you still manage to tip it over and break some of those expensive bits. All, while standing still because you couldn't place your feet flat on the ground. Humiliating, I know.
Thankfully, I was saved the embarrassment. The Lite might be tall, but its completely adjustable suspension setup was softer than the dirt bike. So, it just sat under my weight making it easy for me to get at least one foot firmly on the ground. I guess it does pay to be overweight sometimes.
The rally bike, when fuelled up - it takes in 30 litres of fuel in its two tanks - feels significantly heavier that the dirt bike. It was evident the moment I started rolling. But, the softer suspension setup made it more relaxed and stable over small dirt mounds which I couldn't see with the sun in my eyes. And then when we got to the dunes, the Rally, just like the 300, really started moving around.
But, unlike the dirt bike which was easy to wrestle on the dunes thanks to its lighter weight, the Lite being heavier - the irony - needed more patience to pilot. I needed to look way ahead and chart a less aggressive route with the 450. I also avoided quick direction changes, and chose to crest dunes and endure the scary drops on the other side instead of berming the dunes to look cool.
But, with its softer setup, larger dimensions, slower response and torquier motor, the 450 was hugely less tiring to ride than the 300 dirt bike. Unlike the 300, after having spent over half an hour in the 450 riding the dunes, I didn't have aching arms, or sore thighs, or even a knotted back.
Well, the good news is, I rode the Rally Lite for a lot longer than I did the 300. But, I guess its easier nature, better mid range grunt, and the constant fear of irking the Sherco TVS officials ensured that I didn't fall.
Not that I didn't come close, I did. But, somehow sense prevailed every time. And, I opened the throttle instead of chopping it and trying to save the fall with my legs. It's amazing what the fear of annoying people can teach you.